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A 10-Step Approach for Organizations Responding to Coronavirus

To learn more about managing the human and business risks of coronavirus, listen to this webcast discussion with WorldatWork content director, regulatory, Deirdre Macbeth

The coronavirus has grown from an outbreak, which has since been fairly well contained in China, to a pandemic that is affecting the United States and 70-plus nations.


As of Wednesday, there have been more than 91,000 confirmed cases worldwide and the death toll has surpassed 3,000. In the U.S., there’s been at least nine deaths and more than 100 confirmed cases.

Some large companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Salesforce have instituted travel restrictions and other companies, like Facebook, have cancelled events out of precaution. While it’s best to remain calm in health situations such as these, it’s also important for employers and total rewards professionals to respond promptly and authoritatively so as to limit the spread of the disease while also maximizing work output. 

“We all need to focus our efforts on stopping the spread of the coronavirus while also finding ways to generate work,” said Scott Cawood, president and CEO of WorldatWork. “Employers must do everything possible to keep their workplaces, workers, and customers safe while we navigate the next few weeks.”

10 Action Steps for Employers to Take Today

WorldatWork provided a roadmap for multinational employers in early February at the beginning stages of the coronavirus outbreak. WorldatWork’s white paper, “Business Continuity Planning for Illness Outbreak or Epidemic,” emphasizes that employers should identify the key positions and functions essential to sustain business  continuity and develop plans to enable these functions and personnel to continue working, possibly through remote operations.

In addition to these resources, WorldatWork has developed a list of 10 priorities total rewards professionals should have during this time to best situate their organization during this time:

  1. Implement disease prevention measures in the workplace as recommended by public health authorities such as refraining from standard touch greetings (i.e., handshakes), providing ready access to soap/water and alcohol-based rubs, supplying anti-bacterial wipes to clean workplace surfaces and using touch-free disposable receptacles if feasible. 
  2. Provide proactive and regular communications to the workforce regarding proper hygiene, disease prevention measures and pandemic preparedness practices as recommended by public health authorities.
  3. Advise employees on how they can leverage the benefits of their health plan including virtual health-care visit options; determine the need to communicate any information on long-term strategy of retirement benefit plans considering potential short-term market volatility.
  4. Provide guidance to employees about work-at-home expectations when well and expectations for the use of paid leave when not able to work; determine how pay will be handled for absences of non-exempt personnel who are not able to perform work from home. 
  5. Review variable incentive plans that are impacted by the inability to conduct business in affected regions and communicate to employees how this will be managed.
  6. Evaluate any potential impact to short-term incentive plans if there is a business disruption and determine strategy for managing any adjustments. 
  7. Modify or provide flexibility with paid leave policies consistent with public health guidance and determine how to handle any waivers to the policies if needed (i.e., if your organization has a waiting period to use paid leave benefits or does not permit a negative paid leave balance).
  8. Review short-term and long-term staffing capabilities and determine “essential services” for the workforce in the event of higher workplace absences.
  9. Partner with HR to develop or review organizational contingency/business continuity plans and emergency management policy and ensure managers have proper training on these plans.
  10. Partner with HR to determine whether any international travel plans should be modified and confirm benefits available to those who are abroad.

“It’s important for total rewards professionals to provide practical and rational guidance to make a positive impact when preparing for contingency events,” said Alicia Scott-Wears, content director at WorldatWork. “These tips provide a broad view and are a good place for them to start.”

A Situation that Demands Flexibility

The U.S. is the only industrialized nation that does not require employers to provide any kind of paid sick leave. Although some states and municipalities require certain levels of paid sick leave, most U.S. employees have no access to the benefit. According to a 2012 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, a lack of workplace paid sick days contributed to an additional five million cases of influenza-like illness during the H1N1 pandemic of 2009.

Thus, it’s incumbent upon employers to find ways to be especially flexible and agile in these circumstances.

“Organizations should consider unique or new working options so employees can continue to work when possible. This can be from home or from a different location which still enables them to contribute,” Cawood said. “Workers who are exposed to the public or have no options for remote work should be afforded as much flexibility as possible while also taking all precautions necessary to reduce risk.”

About the Author

Brett Christie Bio Image

Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.

About WorldatWork

WorldatWork is a professional nonprofit association that sets the agenda and standard of excellence in the field of Total Rewards. Our membership, signature certifications, data, content, and conferences are designed to advance our members’ leadership, and to help them influence great outcomes for their own organizations.

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