The threat of a global pandemic of the scale posed by the novel COVID-19 coronavirus is unprecedented in living memory. Now is the time to take steps to protect your business to attempt to mitigate and minimise the impact on your business and employees over the coming months.

Employer obligations

As an employer, you have an obligation to ensure the health and safety of your workers. With this in mind, in the context of your business and industry, consider:

  • Restricting non-essential work related domestic and international air travel;
  • Restricting events which require attendance by large groups of people, such as conferences;
  • Implementing policies to require employees who have recently travelled or had close contact with an infected person to self-quarantine;
  • Requiring medical clearance before someone who has been infected, had close contact with an infected person or has travelled to a high risk area returns to work;
  • Continued monitoring of government health warnings to ensure your employees are appropriately protected.

You should be aware of your obligations regarding continuation of pay where an employee has been directed to not attend work. Employees have a right to request altered arrangements to limit their risk of exposure. In some industries, allowing employees to work from home may be feasible.

As always, communication with employees is paramount.

For businesses generally

  • It is important for businesses to consider early the possibility of interruption to supply from high risk countries and how to mitigate this risk (see earlier post).
  • From an operational and revenue perspective, identify the potential impacts from disruptions to key suppliers and customers and forecast how this may affect your business over the coming months. This may allow you to consider any significant changes to staffing requirements.
  • Consider also the feasibility of alternative suppliers and the need for early notification to customers of any anticipated disruption in supply.
  • Check your insurance policies. What do they cover? What do they exclude?
  • Implement a business continuity plan. Many large companies, particularly those with an international presence, have implemented a business continuity plan. Such a step is important, regardless of the size of your business. A business continuity plan will look different for different industries but should consider how your business may continue to operate in the event of mass absenteeism.