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HR Tackles Coronavirus Fears Featured

Human resources departments and employers are stepping up defensive and protective measures abroad and at home amid the growing coronavirus threat.

corona 4893276 640 small The market continues to convulse and a growing number of cities and states are going into lockdown mode amid increasing fears about the virus and its ballooning infection numbers. The potential damage that the virus could cause to businesses was noted in 27 earnings calls at the end of January from S&P Composite 1,500 firms, including Apple, Starbucks and McDonalds, CNBC reports. Some recent reports paint an even more ominous picture about the financial and human impact of the pandemic. 

Many firms that are able to have already instituted plans fo move the majority of their workforces to full-time remote for the time being. Other firms have had to lay off large portions of their workers due to mandated business closures. Still other managers are communicating regularly with their teams and are generally trying to help inform their workers and calm their fears.

Against this backdrop, the Society for Human Resource Management has devoted a whole page to coronavirus with information on infectious-disease plans, workplace concerns and what employers need to know. That page also features FAQs about the virus, including questions around the Family and Medical Leave Act for sick employees or their family members; paying workers’ compensation to sick employees, and whether the Americans with Disabilities Act restricts how an employer can engage with employees because of the virus.

“The ADA protects employees with disabilities, but during a global health emergency, as recently declared by the World Health Organization (WHO), employees can be required to be medically examined to determine if they have contracted the disease when an employer has a reasonable belief that employees will pose a direct threat due to a medical condition,” the SHRM notes in its FAQs.

HR teams would be wise to review their sick and employee leave polices and to make clear to their sick employees to stay home. “From an HR perspective, you may also want to proactively consider how you will address racist tropes that may occur in the workplace,” Lars Schmidt, founder of HR executive search and consulting firm, Amplify, writes for Fast Company. “As xenophobia and racist incidents against Asians are on the rise, companies must remain vigilant about harassment in the workplace. The World Health Organization has a guide for addressing stigma with examples and tips on actions to counter these attitudes.”

SHRM’s chief executive Johnny Taylor says the coronavirus scare may prompt U.S. firms to improve their paid sick leave policies, The Financial Times reports. This latest crisis also may lead firms to pay more attention to some basic, core issues within their overall organizations that have been ignored, says Peter Cappelli, director of the Wharton business school’s Center for Human Resources.

These companies “literally did not know how many employees they had [or] where they were distributed across locations,” Cappelli says. With more firms paying more attention to disaster planning that might move “them toward better accounting on those simple matters, which then [make] it easier to do all kinds of things like planning.”

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