Coronavirus and the Workplace

March 10, 2020
Inside HR
Health & Wellness
Read time: 3 mins

The coronavirus outbreak continues to make headlines and the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the situation a global emergency last week. At this point, employers would be wise to consider how the virus—or indeed any type of flu virus—could affect their organization and determine whether they have appropriate plans and policies in place to deal with it. Read on to learn about coronavirus and the workplace including how employers can address employee safety and disease prevention.

How Do Organizations Prepare for Infectious Disease Outbreaks?

According to an upcoming survey report, Workplace Emergency Preparedness, conducted by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans between December 2019 and early January 2020, most organizations have precautions in place to prevent and mitigate the effects of illness on day-to-day business operations.

The most common precaution is providing flu shots at low or no cost, offered by 74% of responding organizations. Nearly half of organizations (49%) have specific return-to-work policies for workers, and 45% have policies that allow workers to work remotely when caring for a sick family member. Less common, 13% of organizations have formal procedures for handling a disease epidemic such as Ebola, Zika, etc.

ifebp article

Workplace Emergency Preparedness found that the flu and common cold have caused interruptions in day-to-day business operations for one in five organizations over the past five years. Comparatively, just 1% of organizations reported a disruption in day-to-day business due to an infectious disease outbreak or pandemic. Looking to the next five years, 23% of organizations anticipate that the seasonal colds/flu will negatively impact businesses, and 4% anticipate a negative impact due to an infectious disease outbreak or pandemic. At the time of the survey, slightly more organizations anticipate that illness will negatively impact their business within the next five years.

How Should Employers Prepare for a Possible Coronavirus Outbreak?

As reported by The National Law Review, “Providing education and information on the virus itself should be brief, and reiterate only what official sources have issued. In educating employees on this topic, “less is more” in many ways. Employers are generally not experts on the Coronavirus or other viruses, and will want to avoid opining on the effects or contraction of a disease.” They added that an employer’s goal “is to instill confidence in employees that it is continuing to monitor a virus outbreak, and will proceed with the employees’ best interests in mind, including taking proactive steps as necessary.”

In many ways, employers can communicate prevention information as they would with the flu. See Top 7 Questions Employers Are Asking About the Flu at Work for tips on how to handle employees who show illness symptoms and for advice on preventing the spread of illness in your workplace.

The International Foundation is hosting a webcast with a medical professional on Wednesday, March 11, 2020 so employers can learn about the Coronavirus (COVID-19), how to help protect against the virus and what considerations employees should be aware of as it relates to international travel. 

Source: Rebecca Estrada, Research Analyst, Word on Benefits Blog, ©2020 by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (, Brookfield, WI. Reproduced with permission, all rights reserved.