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Coronavirus (COVID-19): employer’s duty and obligation to protect their employees

During this pandemic, protecting the health of employees is an employer’s sole responsibility. Employees that are still working and fulfilling their responsibilities, from key workers like frontline healthcare professionals and emergency responders, to those working in supermarkets, grocers, pharmacies, factories, transportation, construction, sanitation, and other essential workplaces, must be protected from contracting the virus.

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In this article by Pacific Prime, we look at the actions employers can take to protect their employees and discuss the advantages of utilizing employee benefits for employees during this difficult time.

Health and safety policies at work

Employers are encouraged to review their health and safety policies in the workplace, and thus refine their business response plans as needed, to prevent the spread of infection in the workforce.

Businesses can do a number of things to decrease the spread of COVID-19 within the workplace. Here are some actions that employers can take:

  1. Encourage sick employees to stay at home
  2. Protect those that have pre-existing chronic conditions
  3. Educate employees on hygiene to reduce the spread of infection

Encourage sick employees to stay at home

If managers or team leaders find that employees are exhibiting symptoms (e.g., fever, cough, or shortness of breath), then they should actively inform sick employees to stay at home and recover. Employees that are ill for whatever reason should follow CDC-recommended steps and national health guidelines from their public healthcare authority. Employers should also make it clear to employees to inform them if they have sick family members at home with COVID-19 and to follow CDC-recommended precautions.

Aside from physical health, their mental health can be just as important. Safeguard your employees’ psychological health with the following tips.

Protect those that have pre-existing chronic conditions

Employers may have employees that may be at higher risk for serious chronic illness, such as heart disease or diabetes. If so, employers should consider minimizing face-to-face contact between these employees, assigning tasks that allow them to maintain a distance of six feet from other employees, customers, and visitors, or allowing telework from home if possible.

Educate employees on hygiene to reduce the spread of COVID-19

Employers should educate their employees in the workplace to:

  • Wash hands with soap and lukewarm water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content if soap and water are not available. Hand sanitizer should be readily available at entrances, workspaces, restrooms, pantry, dining area, and other areas that are frequented by employees.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Wear a facemask when moving between places especially when traveling from home into work.
  • Practice respiratory hygiene or cough etiquette by covering their mouth and nose with a tissue or using the inside of the elbow. Used tissues should be thrown away in the trash responsibly and hands washed immediately with soap and water or hand sanitizer. Learn more about coughing and sneezing etiquette on the CDC website.
  • Clean and disinfect work areas such as workstations, keyboards, screens, and telephones. Avoid sharing stationery like pens and staplers. Dirty surfaces should be wiped down with soap and water prior to disinfection.
  • Practice social distancing by avoiding large gatherings and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible. This should be applied in the workplace as well.

Maintain the employment rights of employees

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means businesses are having to adapt accordingly and this may mean temporary changes or arrangements in relation to employment rights. Employers should make it their priority to clarify certain employment rights and what employees will expect. These include sick leave, annual leave, and protective leave.

Sick leave and other supportive policies and practices for employees

Employers should ensure that sick leave policies are flexible and in line with government public health guidance and that all employees are aware of and understand clearly what these policies are. The word ‘flexible’ is important here as the COVID-19 situation brings about many uncertainties.

Employers are encouraged to maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for sick family members or take care of their children, due to the closure of schools and care centers. It is vital to discuss openly with employees to discover the best possible options that will allow employees to remain well and safe, whilst fulfilling their work duties and taking care of their families. It is a fine balancing act in which both employees and employers must collaborate together.

Annual and protective leave must be upheld

Employees who are entitled to their annual leave should be able to request them as normal. For employees on protective leave such as maternity leave, paternity leave, parental leave, parents leave, adoptive leave, and carer’s leave, the onus of the employer remains the same. However, during these tough times, employers may have no choice but to amend or implement changes. If this is the case, employers should address them fully with employees, seek their agreement, and issue appropriate solutions.

Encourage employees to take advantage of their employee benefits

Employers that have a wellness program built into their employee benefits plan will find that now is the best time to let employees utilize the tools and support available. A wellness program is one that’s intended to promote or improve the health or fitness of an employee.

A wellness program may include flexible work options that allow employees to fulfill their duties as best as possible. It could be working from home or the benefit of starting work later or finishing earlier to avoid crowds of people traveling at the same time. Healthy eating programs are also popular to help employees stay healthy. On-site health services can help those seeking medical advice and help.

Another type of benefit is free employee financial or legal support to help those struggling with their finances. Additionally, a wellness program may include mental health and emotional wellness support in the form of an employee assistance program (EAP). EAPs are beneficial in that they can provide referrals to mental health professionals while maintaining strict standards of confidentiality.

With all that’s going on, employees may be affected by the constant barrage of COVID-19 both at work and at home, thus making them more susceptible to developing a mental health problem. EAPs are essential for businesses to ensure their employees remain mentally fit and healthy.

Employers with mental health benefits as part of their overall employee benefits plan are at a significant advantage over those who do not offer such benefits in that they are likely to have lower incidents of work burnout, onsite and offsite violence, and work-related injury.

Find out more about wellness programs and insurance solution

During this COVID-19 pandemic, Pacific Prime is playing an important role in supporting individuals, families, and businesses to acquire the right health insurance solutions for their needs and budget.

We are also actively reaching out to all our clients to ensure that information is communicated clearly and that they are kept up to date with the latest trends, guidelines, and changes to their insurance policies.

With over 20 years supporting individuals and families, our team of experts can help provide impartial advice across a range of health plans including:

For businesses that require more information on employee benefits plans and wellness options, head to our corporate page.

Content Creator at Pacific Prime
Jimmy is a content writer who helps simplify insurance for readers interested in international private medical insurance. He is on a mission in Thailand to support locals, expatriates, and businesses by bring the latest news and updates to his Pacific Prime blog articles.

His expert view and wealth of knowledge on insurance can also be found in his blogs for China, Dubai, Hong Kong, and Singapore.