• Victor Crouser – Head of Alexander Forbes Health

Coronavirus - Are employers ready?

The recent outbreak of the latest Coronavirus has people talking. With over 80 000 diagnosed cases worldwide and more than 2 700 deaths reported, it has raised concern on many fronts. Closer to home, but with far less coverage, has been the recent outbreak of the Ebola virus on the African continent which has also claimed many lives.

These outbreaks, and others, will continue to occur and require responsible action by individuals, employers and governments alike.

Individuals need to be well informed about symptoms

They should take precautions to protect themselves and their families – a great deal of information is available from various sources on how to do this.

Employers should protect their employees and mitigate against possible outbreaks

Many employers require employees to travel to other countries. In addition, many employees may travel to other countries on holiday or be exposed through friends and families to viruses.

So what should employers be doing? Employers should be asking themselves two questions:

  1. Are they prepared for a possible outbreak within their organisation?

  2. Do they have a plan to deal with any outbreak?

By acting responsibly they might mitigate against the risk associated with possible outbreaks and ensure the safety and well-being of their employees.

Consider the following in your contingency plan:

1. Set up a task team within the organisation

Consider possible actions and include various departments such as human resources, legal, facilities, occupational health practitioners, finance and so on. Even though smaller employers may not have all these departments, they would do well to consider these aspects in any event.

2. Educate employees, visitors and customers about taking preventative measures

  • Inform them of the warning signs of these topical infections and other contagious diseases that might affect us in South Africa, such as tuberculosis.

  • Disinfect work areas and provide effective handwashing materials to each employee for use at their desks or other areas.

  • Consider making masks, gloves and thermometers available.

3. Limit work-related travel wherever possible

  • Suspend work related to travel if possible.

  • Ask employees who are returning from high infection areas or holiday travel trips to work from home for two weeks (if the policy allows for this).

4. Consider contingency measures if an outbreak occurs at work

  • Weigh up the financial implications of taking precautionary measures against the potential, far more dire, consequences of an outbreak among employees.

  • Check that current health cover is in place such as medical schemes, health insurance and onsite clinics that can provide sufficient cover.

  • Shut down the organisation or work from home.

  • Ask employees who become affected to remain off site. Offer them full pay and work from home wherever possible – again in line with employment contracts and practices.

  • Consider actions that could be taken should an employee refuse to work from home, be tested, or be reckless in their actions.

Government should ensure that local treatment facilities are adequate

Public and private hospitals need to be sufficiently knowledgeable and well prepared to deal with any possible outbreak in their area. They should align with the guidelines set out by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and Department of Health Guidelines.

All of the above should form part of a long-term governance and contingency plan, which seeks to protect employees and help the business be sustainable in the longer term.


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