Coronaviruses are not new. Scientists have never before looked for a cure or vaccine because coronaviruses are rare. The idea that they might search for — and find one — now is wishful thinking at best. Remember the Ebola outbreak in 2014? All we heard was “vaccine, vaccine, vaccine” for months. You probably haven’t even heard, but there’s been another Ebola outbreak ongoing in West Africa for the last two years, and we’re no closer to a vaccine — if we’re even still looking.
That means we need to prepare for the worst even as we hope for the best.
What can businesses do to make the best of a bad situation? First, “non-essential” businesses should consider shuttering their doors even when not asked. Employees can and will hold business owners responsible for the spread of the virus once things have calmed down. The ocean of litigation is about to swallow many of these businesses whole.
Those essential businesses that do keep their doors open should take extreme efforts to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. That means asking employees to avoid any type of physical contact and stand at least six feet away from one another as per CDC requests. It might feel silly, but it’s the right thing to do.
Not taking those requests seriously? Then you should know that this coronavirus is one of the most infectious illnesses in modern history, dwarfing even the Spanish flu that took up to 100 million lives in 1918. Even if the fatality rate were the same as seasonal flu, it would still take more lives simply for the fact that it’s more contagious. And, unfortunately, COVID-19 is far deadlier than the seasonal flu.
This might not be obvious right now, but by mid-April it will be more than transparent. Thousands are expected to die each day. It won’t take long to eclipse the annual fatalities sustained from seasonal flu.
In addition to taking these basic precautions, now might be the right time to give employees an inch or two of financial breathing space. That means allowing paid time off and paid sick leave. Your policy should clearly state that employees should not come into work when they feel sick or even uncomfortable. Businesses who fail to make these policies clear will be retaining our services very soon.
Employees are most likely to build litigation around wrongful termination in spite of the outbreak, being forced to work, or not being provided safe working conditions or PPE during the height of the outbreak. Now is the time to take these preventative measures.