The COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak continues to dominate the news cycle in the United States. Fear of a widespread outbreak has many people – including small business owners and employers – wondering how to best protect themselves and others.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued guidance for employers and businesses to prevent workplace exposure to COVID-19. This guidance can also help prevent the spread of other respiratory illnesses like the seasonal flu, which kills 12,000 to 61,000 people in the U.S. every year. Read on for six important takeaways that can help you safeguard your business.

  1. Have sick employees stay home. Sick employees should stay home until they are free of any symptoms for 24 hours. Symptoms to watch for include a fever above 100.4° F (37.8° C) signs of a fever, or respiratory symptoms like a cough or shortness of breath. If employees can work remotely, it may be wise to encourage them to do so.
  2. Separate sick employees. The CDC recommends keeping employees with respiratory symptoms (like a cough or trouble breathing) separate from other workers and sending them home as soon as possible. According to an article from Corporate Counsel, employers can generally require sick employees to stay home even if they have no sick time.
  3. Provide a refresher on safe habits. Talk to your employees about the importance of staying home when they feel sick, washing their hands frequently (scrubbing with soap for at least 20 seconds), and safe cough and sneeze etiquette.
  4. Be mindful of traveling employees. Many employers have chosen to suspend all non-essential travel during this time. If employees must travel, see the CDC’s website for information about specific destinations. Employees should notify a supervisor, seek medical attention and potentially stay home if they have symptoms of acute respiratory illness before, during or after travel.
  5. Keep the working environment clean. While the CDC doesn’t recommend extensive disinfection measures, all surfaces that are regularly touched in the workplace – such as doorknobs, desks and workstations – should be cleaned regularly using the directions on their regular cleaning agents.
  6. Create a plan. Employers should create a plan in the event of a more widespread outbreak of COVID-19. Consider what job functions are essential and how to minimize disruption to those functions while minimizing transmission among employees.

Ensuring the safety of a staff is a big responsibility. Employers who need guidance to develop an appropriate plan, or who have questions about the implications of employment laws governing leave policies and sick time, should consult with experienced business counsel.