Coronavirus is now classified as a pandemic… So, now what?

The picture above was taken outside my office window yesterday morning around 9:30am. At one stage, we estimated there were over 200 people in the line!

Yes, they are pellets of toilet paper being unloaded… Not food or water or medical supplies, just toilet paper!

This happened in Box Hill, approx 20km out from Melbourne CBD and not in a third world country!

This has been a daily occurrence happening next door to our office for over the past 10 days. What we have witnessed during this period has been nothing short of hysteria caused by the media (both social and traditional).

However, yesterday was the worst day we have ever seen, as the Coronavirus was officially called a pandemic and the world went into meltdown. President Trump shutdown all flights from Europe to the USA and share markets tumbled.

For us locally, the police were called to attend next door in the end, as things got out of hand with customers… all over toilet paper!

The mass panic and hysteria have now spread even further, affecting almost all daily events with very little clear or rational thinking taking place. This has brought about some less desirable behaviour; not only in terms of what we witnessed out the window but also in how some businesses are handling the pressure.

Most businesses do not have a clearly defined Business Continuity Plan (which would include a Pandemic Preparedness & Response Plan).

Talking to a colleague in Hong Kong, some businesses there have been shut for 6 to 7 weeks… how would your business survive?

As a business owner and employer, I have a duty of care to my team and our clients. The purpose of this post is to calm things down and to bring some logical thinking back to this situation.

Please take the following needs into consideration (thanks to the team at Happy HR for our HR pointers below. If don’t have an HR Solution for your work place, I strongly recommend Happy HR).

  • Technology – If you have sent all your employees home to work, you have from our perspective declared a pandemic emergency. This means we cannot attend your office or your employees homes should there be any IT issues.
  • How long are you declaring a work place pandemic emergency for?
  • HR Policy – What are your obligations if employees are unable to work due to the virus?
    • If the situation worsens, employers may need to consider their obligations for each of the serious scenarios below. We recommend checking your Pandemic Policy to ensure it meets your needs.
    • The Fair Work Act 2009 provides that employers have a right to stand down employees in certain circumstances. Modern awards, enterprise agreements or employment contracts may also contain stand down provisions and generally such periods are unpaid.
  • HR Policy – What if your employee unable to return from overseas or is quarantined?
    • Employers should choose if the employee can access their paid personal/carer’s leave entitlements or annual leave. Employers may decide that employees can take other paid or unpaid leave.
  • HR Policy – What if your employee can’t attend work because they have or are suspected of having Corona Virus or they are caring for someone in this situation?
    • In the first instance, employees should use their paid personal/carer’s leave entitlements. If these are exhausted, your employees might wish to consider other alternatives, such as taking annual leave or leave without pay. I would recommend that the employee receives a medical clearance prior to them returning to work.
  • HR Policy – What if your operational needs change because of a downturn or supply-chain issues?
    • The Fair Work Act stand down provisions are likely to apply, subject to any provisions in your employment arrangements, meaning that some employees may not be paid.
    • It is vital to consider if you intend to or not pay your employees during any stand down. A plan to communicate this message to employees should be done before an event not during or post but before you do this you should obtain advice if uncertain of your obligations!
  • HR Policy – Working from home – Do you have a work from home policy in place?
    • You should check that it meets your needs if employees if they are subject to quarantine. Check your business continuity plans to ensure the business can continue to operate if your employees can work remotely.
  • Remind employees on general hygiene precautions
    • Employers should remind employees and others entering their workplaces of the importance of high personal hygiene standards which are vital to protect against the spread of infection.
    • Display signage reminding people to wash their hands regularly and thoroughly “Clean hands protect against infection”. A quick splash of water will not do the job.
    • You could consider installing hand sanitiser dispensers in bathrooms, meeting rooms and high pedestrian traffic areas such as reception areas.
    • Remind employees that they should not present at work if they are unwell, and they should sneeze or cough into their elbows and not their hands. Employees who share equipment such as phones or laptops should wipe down this equipment with a sanitising wipe after use. Remind them to clean their desk each and every day.
  • Technology – How will you conduct client and internal meetings?
    • Talk to us about implementing and training around Microsoft Teams.
  • Technology – Does your phone system allow you to work remotely or is it tied to your office?
    • Talk to us about a fully hosted VoiP phone system that allows you to work remotely.
  • Technology – Just because there is a pandemic does not mean we stop worrying about Cyber Security. We have seen an increase in Cyber Threats around the Corona Virus and this is only going to continue (and most probably get worse).
  • Technology – Working from home considerations:
    • Windows 7 is an unsupported operating system (Support ceased in 14th Jan 2020). If a team member has this do you make them buy a new computer, or do you purchase one for them one for them. However, finding a suitable machine is mission impossible at this point in time.
    • Your employees home machines must be up to date and fully patched before remote access can be configured to the corporate network.
    • If your employee does not have a suitable anti-virus/malware protection then this will need to be installed, again at who’s cost?
    • Does your employee have enough internet bandwidth at home to be able to work remotely (especially if the whole family are at home)?
    • Is the Internet connection in the office suitable to handle all staff working remotely?
    • Support for the home PCs is outside scope of most business IT support agreements. So what happens when there is an IT issue?
    • Is the PC at home shared with other family members?
    • Paper files – how do you take these home and keep them secure?
    • Printing and scanning from home – Printing clients tax returns on a home printer is a data breach (plus the costs of ink and toner)
    • You cannot just pick up your PC in the office and take it home (they need the server in the office to work).
  • Are your employees going to deliver the same level of output as when working in the office?
    • What impact will this have on you meeting deadlines?

Small Business in particular are struggling as supply chains dry up, leaving them without products or essentials materials. We are seeing this first hand with trying to source laptops and workstations for our clients.

The Economic danger of the Corona Virus I am afraid, is going to be exponentially greater than its health risks to the public.

Below I have listed some reference sites and should you wish to discuss this further, please contact us

Reference Sites and Information to help you make informed decisions.

This link currently shows the total infections world wide. Drill down into Australia and look at Melbourne – 21 Confirmed cases, 7 Recovered and 14 active cases.

From DHHS – Department of Health and Human Services here are 10 ways you can reduce your risks (as an employer you should hand this out to all staff):

  • Wash hands often with soap and running water, for at least 20 seconds. Dry with paper towel or hand dryer.
  • Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow.
  • Isolate yourself at home if you feel sick. If you take medication ensure you have adequate supplies.
  • Phone your GP first if you need medical attention. They will tell you what to do.
  • Continue healthy habits: exercise, drink water, get plenty of sleep, and now is the time to quit smoking. Call the Quitline 137 848.
  • Don’t wear a face mask if you are well.
  • Buy an alcohol-based hand sanitiser with over 60 per cent alcohol.
  • Get the flu shot (available April).

Also from DHHS – A self-assessment guide. This guide is key and I recommend that you give it to all your staff.