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HR & Benefits News: Coronavirus, Other Airborne Illnesses May Affect Grocers

HR & Benefits coronavirus

HR & Benefits News is a monthly column by Chris Cooley, co-founder of MyHRConcierge and SMB Benefits Advisors.

With the spread of the infamous Coronavirus, grocers should be on their HR toes in order to navigate how to handle the Coronavirus as well as other illness in the workplace. The news of the Coronavirus has employers cautious about ways to protect their workers and organizations during what many, including the World Health Organization, have declared a global emergency.

If you’re unsure how to handle the situation, working with your HR specialist within your company will be very important. All illnesses and viruses should be handled with these key things in mind:

  • Communicate the facts; and
  • Don’t discriminate.

It is important to understand that any virus should be handled with these same things in mind, whether it be a flu or the Coronavirus.

Communicate the facts moving forward.

It’s important that employers communicate quickly with employees during an epidemic. The Coronavirus is similar to the common cold in that it is spread by droplets that often are transmitted when a person coughs or sneezes. So how serious is the Coronavirus? There have been more than 82,000 confirmed cases; with the vast majority of the cases in China. There is no vaccine at this time.

The Coronavirus has an incubation period of at least two weeks, and health authorities believe infected people can spread the virus before they begin to show symptoms, increasing the likelihood that they will pass the illness to others. Washing your hands may decrease the chance that the virus will spread. This is a good practice to prevent other viruses as well.

There are many employees within a grocery store workforce at any one time, meaning the chances for sickness may be high. Arm yourself and your staff with information. ­­­

How could the Coronavirus affect the grocery workplace?

Employers worried about the virus will want to help employees stay clear of it. Sometimes sick employees think they are doing the right thing by “toughing it out” and coming into work when they feel ill, but they are only making matters worse. Whether it is motivated by job security or a desire to continue contributing in an overburdened workplace, employees coming to work when sick only spreads their illness to more workers and further damages the employer’s ability to maintain productivity.

From a management perspective, however, be aware of unintentional discrimination against people. Employers need to be careful about making presumptions, and they need to continue to treat all employees the same. In regard to the Coronavirus, for example, the virus originated from China and employers could wrongly presume that people who are Chinese have a higher risk of exposure to the virus.

Be aware, too, of not discriminating against people with any virus. Attempts to make sure employees are well-enough to return to work need to be legally compliant.

How do you handle sick leave for employees who contract a virus?

As a responsible grocer, you will likely have a sick leave policy mentioned within your handbook. While there are some states that require paid sick leave, federal law does not require employers to provide paid sick leave. For workers who fall ill or whose families depend on them to provide care in the event of an illness, this means sick days can be incredibly costly. Taking needed sick time means workers go without pay or must show up at work while sick and delay seeking treatment for themselves or their dependents. It will be up to you as an employer to ensure that the sick leave policy you keep is communicated to your employees in advance. Each case may differ. Be sure to work with your HR professional to solve unique situations as they arise.

Chris Cooley is co-founder of MyHRConcierge and SMB Benefits Advisors. MyHRConcierge specializes in helping small to mid-sized grocers throughout the U.S. Cooley can be reached at 855-538-6947, ext. 108 or at [email protected].

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