Ep 217 – What Employers Need to Know about the Coronavirus

COVID-19 causes a fever, a cough, and shortness of breath. More than 89,000 people have been infected worldwide and more than 3,000 have died. In the United States, more than 164 cases have been reported nationwide, including the first confirmed case in New York City. (as of Friday, March 6)  While the CDC is working with the Department of Health and Human Services and across the U.S. government in the public health response to this potential crisis, those of us in HR are looking for guidance on how to protect our workplaces and employees from the spread of the coronavirus.

Ep 217: What Employers Need to Know about the Coronavirus (@MarkSherwood4E)

Many large global companies (Amazon, Google) have begun to restrict nonessential travel and all travel to specific countries and a growing number of companies are shutting down their offices encouraging employees to work remote and from home. Should small to mid-sized companies follow suit? Today, I’m speaking with Dr. Mark from Functional Medical Institute in Tulsa, OK, on what we can do as HR leaders to support our employees. 

How to Keep Your Employees and Workplaces Healthy From Coronavirus 

There is a lot of uncertainly right now and increasingly companies are taking different steps to protect employees and customers from being exposed to COVID-19. Dr. Mark talks with us about ways to stay healthy starting with one simple tip we all know which is we need to wash our hands. Dr. Mark says we need to wash our hands regularly at least 20 seconds and keep your hands away from your face. Cough or sneeze into your arm instead of the air. COVID-19 is known to spread via bodily fluids and through touches on surfaces.

Dr. Mark suggests encouraging employees to eat healthy non-processed foods which gives their bodies a healthy immune system to fight off infections like the flu and COVID-19. Employers should also encourage employees to drink plenty of water and other fluids, get plenty of sleep, and to find ways to relieve stress. He says the fear around Coronavirus can increase stress levels making you more susceptible to illness.

Dr. Mark shares that they are two different strains of Coronavirus. One is COVID-19L which is the strain that medical experts and scientists believe is more deadly while COVID-19S is less likely to pose a medical threat. Dr. Mark says that right now the more deadly strain, COVID-19L is accounting for 70% of all cases and the less deadly strain is in 30% of those diagnosed.

Everybody has deadlines but as stated earlier if we don't give them a good sleep that will compromise our system and over time we'll have you know and just like this the the population right now in the US is we're getting more sick people than we are a… Click To Tweet

How to Handle Employee Concerns About COVID-19

Dr. Mark is also a business owner and leads a team in his practice. He suggests being upfront with employees, talking to them regularly, and addressing their concerns and questions quickly. I agree with this approach. I believe that lack of open communication is contributing to fear-mongering that is happening right now. And I recommend that HR leaders work with their leadership team to set up a frequently asked questions with approved responses that anyone in leadership is welcome to share with their teams.

Doing so allows for consistency throughout all levels of the organization. The key is to over-communicate and to speak with employees using multiple channels from webinars, emails, video, to quick huddles by front line managers. HR leaders are being overwhelmed with employee questions and I know managers are too which is why having prepared talking points that are being communicated again and again on multiple channels and ways is key.


The bottom line: We should be prepared, we should take a look at our operations and find out now what can be done remotely, we should identify key personnel on-site and ensure they are taking the proper precautions. What we don’t want to do is cause a panic, as we’ve already seen in the stock market, but also in people buying face masks (lots of pharmacies are sold out; they may not be as effective as we think) and stockpiling pantry and personal items. It is an uncertain time, but our role is to support our workforce, be reassuring, give them as much information as we can, and create an infectious disease outbreak response plan. It’s better to be prepared and plan for various scenarios that to try and figure this out as we go.

Connect with Dr. Mark Sherwoodon LinkedIn.




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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.


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