As the number of confirmed cases of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) increases worldwide, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the primary means of COVID-19 transmission is through direct contact to droplets from the infected. It has an incubation period of 2 to 14 days, making the virus harder to contain.
Employers Duty towards Employees
In a nutshell, labor laws protect the welfare of both the employers and employees. With this, employers need to evaluate any emerging risks in order to ensure that their workers, as well as the business, will not be severely affected especially during a pandemic like COVID-19.
As stated in the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970, employers are entitled to have a safe and healthy working environment, free from any hazard which may cause death or serious harm. With the disease reaching public health emergency, all businesses are required to prepare and properly implement plans and programs in order to keep their employees safe. It is also the employers’ duty to address the employees’ concerns regarding the pandemic. This is where labor laws come into play.
Strategic Plan against the Pandemic
In line with OSHA standards, businesses must implement plans that will support its employees physically, mentally, emotionally, and even financially. The main goal for a thorough strategic plan against the pandemic is to preserve and protect the employees’ morale and welfare whilst ensuring minimal loss to the business’ profitability.
The duration and severity of the COVID-19 could not be determined. The pandemic can continue for weeks, months, or even more than a year if not contained properly. With this uncertainty, businesses should implement long-term plans. Otherwise, they risk loss of profit, loss of business activity continuity, and loss of proper and sufficient manpower. Long-term strategies may include the following measures:
a. Drafting an outbreak response plan
b. Providing sufficient shelter for the company’s remote or on-site workers
c. Addressing the impact of business interruptions
d. Preparing for an adjusted workflow based on revised working arrangements (work from home, absenteeism, etc.)
Short-term strategies, on the other hand, are also needed in order to remedy the upfront complications caused by the pandemic. These strategies include, but not limited to:
a. Work from home/stay at home working arrangements
b. Health monitoring of sick workers
c. Urging sick employees, especially those with underlying health problems, to stay at home
d. Reiterating proper handwashing and health guidelines
e. Reiterating coughing and sneezing etiquette
f. Daily disinfection of all surfaces.
Both long-term and short-term strategies will work hand in hand in order to protect employees, as well as prevent the spread of the virus within the business processes.
Basic Guidelines for Labor Laws during a Pandemic
With the COVID-19 response plans in place, employers must prevent unlawful practices that will endanger or harm the employees. Labor laws are implemented based on humane and compassionate efforts to protect employees. Employers must not dismiss any work-related concern that the employees will raise as a result of the pandemic. Factual discussion, between employer and employees, is encouraged to provide proper information dissemination.
Workers who frequently travel for work must be informed of the risks of travel. In case an employee needs to travel, as per his nature of work, he must agree and be aware of the current conditions and possible risks. A worker’s refusal to travel, because of the fear of being infected and of the personal inflictions of the given circumstances, must be taken into consideration.
Employers must mandate strict quarantine protocols for their employees. Individuals who are experiencing flu-like symptoms, have travel history from COVID-19 infected countries, and/or have had direct contact with anyone with travel history from COVID-19 infected countries must undergo health screening and subject to a 14-day quarantine. This is to ensure that such individuals are negative from the virus and to prevent the spread of the virus in case they are positive.
To further the prevention measures of virus spreading, flexible working setup and environment could be considered. Working from home, flexible working hours, and other out of office work policies allow employees to continue their work without the risk of getting infected. Remote work policies employed by businesses are helpful in mitigating the risk of virus contagion.
The limited face-to-face engagements caused by remote work setup, however, can greatly affect the business processes. Employers will experience hiring a large-scale remote workforce. This unique setup needs proper planning, monitoring, and cooperation from employees for it to run smoothly.