Your Guide to COVID-Crisis Management
It’s natural to fear the worst, especially such an ambiguous a time as this.
However, fear is only harmful if it is debilitating. When channeled into caution, prudence, and preparation, these concerns can actually drive better responses if a crisis does occur.
If you are like most others in leadership roles, you are likely rebuilding your business plan, managing your dispersed workforce, and maneuvering your own remote working, potentially alongside multiple others in your home. However, effective and swift management is crucial if one of your employees gets a positive test result. Moreover, the issue must be dealt with the utmost sensitivity and empathy.
This is not an easy task. This article will help you turn those rightful concerns into a step-by-step action plan for you to have at the ready in case of a COVID-19 exposure in the workplace. Using government resources and recommendations as guides, we will walk through the key considerations of pandemic-related crisis management and how you can use this information to respond in an effective, efficient, and safe manner.
Good crisis management does not begin when the crisis does – it must start long before. Not only will preventative measures be key to limiting the risk of illness and lessen the impact of whatever illness does occur, but such measures will also serve as the basic infrastructure of action which can be scaled up in the case of an incident. Implementing this will take more time and effort upfront but will save you precious time when immediate action is required.
Since every workplace is unique, a risk assessment is useful to identify the potential areas where illness could spread, and measures can then be taken to mitigate this risk or improve these conditions. This process must involve frontline workers, supervisors, and joint health and safety committees and/or worker representatives. You should continue to assess the workplace after to ensure all risks are identified and appropriately managed.
Follow Protocols and Recommendations
Governments at all levels, industry professionals, labour boards, and basically everyone else have been releasing protocols and recommendations on best practices as new data rolls out. Be sure to stay up to date with the government recommendations for your area, but below are four standard practices that have been widely adopted (if not mandated) to help reduce the spread of COVID-19:
- Pre-Screening: Encourage employees planning to enter the workplace to self-screen at home prior to coming onsite, meaning they are experiencing none of the following: symptoms of COVID-19 (such as coughing, shortness of breath); temperature equal to or higher than 38 oC; or are waiting for the results of a COVID test.
- Screening at the workplace: Employers should conduct an onsite symptom assessment, including temperature screening, prior to each work shift. If symptoms develop, the employee should be sent home immediately and abide by the regulations for such cases.
- Wearing a mask: Ensure all employees wear a cloth mask in accordance with guidance and any provincial or local requirements.
- Social Distancing: Employees should stay at least two meters apart from others and practice social distancing as work duties permit in the workplace.
Providing training to your employees regarding the workplace practices above will improve overall compliance. Be sure all information is presented in an accessible manner to your employees. Use multiple communication methods to remind employees of prevention practices, provide updates, and increase workers’ understanding of information and recommendations. Making sure everyone is aware of their responsibilities is integral to a successful preventative plan.
Having a designated contact responsible for pandemic-related issues will not only be key in navigating a crisis scenario but will also aid in prevention as concerns and questions can be directed to a single reliable source. This person is a key resource in prevention but will be invaluable if an employee tests positive in the workplace.
On top of the new policies required for the return to the office (we have a whole post on that – read more about it here), your current corporate policies need to be updated – at least temporarily – to better suit the situation we are in. Re-evaluating your sick leave and remote work policies are of particular importance. Being extra flexible and accommodating is necessary not only for the health and wellbeing of your staff but also for the resilience and smooth operation of your company.
More rigorous cleaning schedules will help keep illness at bay. Focusing attention on high-touch areas will make disinfection efforts more effective. Encouraging all staff to contribute to keeping spaces and surfaces clean and sanitary can make this even more effective.
It happens: you get a message that an employee has tested positive. The initial panic may set in, that’s natural, but mitigating spread can be very easy as long as steps are taken in a timely and appropriate manner.
Below are steps you can follow to manage the situation effectively and systematically. It is crucial that throughout this process, you approach the situation with empathy, understanding, and support for those involved. Now is not the time for pointing fingers – the health and wellbeing of all employees must be prioritized.
First things first – the ill employee must be sent home if they haven’t been already. Again – this should be done with care and sympathy for their situation. They are probably experiencing a lot of stress and emotions, and your care and sensitivity can make their situation a whole lot easier.
Depending on their situation, a positive result may be more or less troubling for them. Give them a chance to express their concerns and communicate your support.
For more information and assistance, encourage the employee to consult:
- their health care provider
- a telehealth service
- their local public health unit
Next, you will need to figure out who, if anyone, have been in close contact of this employee. A close contact is typically anyone who has been within six feet of your employee for a prolonged period of time two days prior to symptom onset but be sure to check the most recent public health guidelines for clarification.
Once you have this list of names, these individuals must be contacted and informed of the situation, ideally via phone or video call. Once again, refer to the most recent guidelines on protocols for close contacts and what procedures they must follow. The instructions will be different also for those who have or have not been vaccinated.
Throughout this communication as well, understanding and support must underlie all messaging. These employees will likewise be nervous and have questions. Provide the information that you can; if they have medical-related questions, don’t attempt to answer outside your expertise but rather direct them to more resources or contacts who could provide such information. Do reassure them of your care and support as they navigate this change.
Not only is confidentiality important to maintain the dignity of your employees, but it’s also a legal issue. You are not to disclose the identity of the positive employee or the other close contacts.
Any areas visited by the positive employee should be disinfected. If it is possible to block off the area and wait 24 hours to clean, that is preferable. If this is not possible, immediate disinfection is preferred to minimize potential spread. Optimizing air circulation can also help reduce infection.
There are many reasons why an employee could have contracted the virus, and many of them are out of your control. However, it is prudent to re-evaluate your policies and procedures to ensure there are no unaddressed issues that could lead to further illness. Just as preventative measures are important before the crisis, continued action after can be beneficial not only for resolving the present issue but for reducing future risks as well.
Re-evaluate the sufficiency of your procedures and policies with more scrutiny, perhaps with the insight of a professional who could identify places of risk missed initially. Review the government guidelines to see if new requirements have been made, or the data has revealed any new insights. Consider increasing your cleaning and targeting high-traffic or recently used spaces to ensure optimal disinfection.
Now that the immediate crisis has been dealt with to the extent it can be, the less-urgent communication can now be carried out to both the rest of your employees and to those impacted to discuss less immediate matters.
Rest of the Company
For transparency as well as safety, all employees should be informed of the situation. In the cases of large companies, informing the department or the campus impacted may be sufficient. Ask that employees’ self-monitoring be extra rigorous for the next two weeks and that anyone report symptoms right away.
Regular check-ins from a leadership member with those isolated can make a big difference in the employees’ experience. Consistency in who communicates with the organization on these developments is useful as it provides a point of contact for the employee with whom to express concerns or developments.
Return to Work
Depending on your circumstances, an illness at work may be cause to reconsider the return to work for your office. Remote work could be instilled again on a short-term basis while you rework your practices, wait for negative results, or make other changes to the office space. This will depend largely on the experience and overall impact, as well as whether the illness can be traced to the office directly.
While crisis management is never as straightforward as it is laid out on paper, this article has provided a guide to navigating the scenario of a positive employee in the workplace. One positive test result does not necessarily entail an office outbreak if it is managed efficiently and rigorously. With these tools under your belt, you are better equipped to face whatever may come, before, during and after.