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COVID-19: Protecting Your Business & People

Business Insurance

By Samantha Lemna | March 20, 2020

According to the Harvard Business Review, an increasing number of employees continue to work when they are sick. This situation ends up costing employers about $150 billion to $250 billion or 60 percent of the total cost of worker illness. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen many restrictions on movement and business operations in order to slow the spread of the disease. While these steps are necessary to keep people safe, businesses are experiencing unprecedented interruptions. This article can help you determine the impact to your business and begin navigating through this difficult time.


COVID-19 Business Disruption

With social distancing and quarantine measures in effect across Canada, it is essential that every business plan for disruption due to COVID-19.


The tolerance for employee absence is unique to each organization but it is important that an organization identify what percentage of absent employees would create a significant disruption to business operations and plan accordingly.


Questions executives should ask include:

  • Would the business function with a loss of 30% or greater of their employees?
  • If the entire business operates out of one location, how will a regional, national or global health crisis disrupt operations?


Find the solutions to these questions to minimize business disruption.


An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

Coronavirus, influenza, and other illnesses spread through close contact with an infected person (standing within six feet) or through contact with contaminated surfaces. While it may be difficult to control the transmission of the virus, there are steps an employer can take to maintain a healthy environment:


  • Encourage employees to stay home if they are sick
    • Ask them to return to the office only after they are free from symptoms for at least 48 hours
    • For diagnosed COVID-19, this includes two negative tests after the illness
  • As much as possible, have employees work from home
  • Keep surfaces clean
  • Minimize group meetings to reduce the potential for transmission. Use video calls instead. If in-person meetings are necessary, ensure that a distance of 6 feet is maintained and that there is appropriate air circulation.
  • Encourage good hygiene. Post signs in bathrooms to remind employees and others to wash their hands with soap and water. Include a sign of the World Health Organization’s hand-washing best practices.
  • Place additional tissue boxes and garbage cans where employees congregate, such as break rooms, lunch areas, or collaboration spaces.
  • Provide hand sanitiser and wipes for employees, particularly near doors, printers, and other points of high touch contact.
  • Encourage employees to get a flu shot. While there is no vaccine for COVID-19, you can still help prevent other illnesses. Offer the shot for free at the office or allow time for employees to get one at a pharmacy or doctor’s office.
  • For more info on managing flu outbreaks, please visit the Government of Canada’s Public Health page. For more information on managing the COVID-19 outbreak in your workplace, visit the Government of Canada’s Coronavirus page.

Follow recommendations from local public health officials always – this saves lives.

Create a Plan to Ensure Business Continuity

While the best time to create a business continuity plan is well in advance of a crisis, there are steps that you can take now to prepare for the worst.


Start by identifying which organizational processes will be most affected by a disruptive event. Anticipate the types of disruption that pose the greatest risk, and proactively implement policies and procedures to mitigate their effects. Follow these essential steps to create the foundation for a Business Continuity Plan:

  • Conduct a thorough risk assessment to identify critical processes and function that would be impacted during a business disruption.
  • Identify compliance requirements.
  • Identify essential employees to deliver critical processes and functions.
  • Determine the agility of the workforce and what resources may be needed during a disruption.
  • Review policy to encourage sick or unwell employees to work remotely or isolated from other employees.
  • Review policy to encourage sick or unwell employees to work remotely or isolated from other employees.
  • Review work from home policy for as many employees as possible.
  • Align business travel with government mandated travel restrictions.
  • Discuss protocol for safe evacuation or quarantine of employees who are travelling or recently returned from travelling.
  • Define internal and external stakeholders for conveying communication
  • Develop strategies and vetted holding statements to communicate with employees, customers, consumers and the media.
  • Review supplier service level agreements to consequences for not abiding by contracts.
  • Review supplier business continuity plans to determine whether they align with your business expectations.
  • Define the capabilities of the upstream supply chain to determine their capability to provide your business with what it needs during a disruption.
  • Consider increasing inventory to extend operations if the upstream supplier is not capable of delivering needed goods.
  • Define the capabilities of the downstream supply chain to assess the impact to your customers if operations are no longer feasible at a normal capacity.
  • Communicate business decisions to appropriate audiences.
  • Train response team members on responsibilities during a disruption.
  • Test the Business Continuity Plan by conducting tabletop exercises.


Maintain Employee Safety

Every organization has a duty to protect the health and safety of its employees. That duty is even greater during a critical event involving infectious disease. OSHA recommends taking a systematic approach to planning for employee safety during a disruptive event.


Issues to consider and plan for:

  • Be aware of and review federal, provincial, and municipal health department recommendations, and integrate into your plan.
  • Prepare and plan for operations with a reduced workforce.
  • Identify possible exposures and health risks to your employees.
  • Plan for downsizing services but also anticipate any scenario which may require a surge in services.
  • Recognize that in the course of normal daily life, all employees will have non-occupational risk factors at home and in community settings.
  • Stockpile items such as soap, tissue, hand sanitiser, cleaning supplies, & recommended PPE.
  • Provide employees and customers with easy access to infection control supplies.
  • Develop policies and practices that, if necessary, can be introduced to separate employees from each other, customers, and the general public.
  • Identify a team to serve as a communication resource so that employees and customers have access to accurate information throughout the crisis.
  • Work with employees and their union(s) to address leave, pay, transportation, childcare, absence, and other human resource issues.
  • Provide training, education, and informational material about business-essential job functions and employee health and safety.
  • Work with your insurance company, and provincial and municipal health agencies to provide accurate information to employees and customers regarding medical information specific to the event.
  • Assist employees in managing additional stressors (i.e. Employee Assistance Program – EAP).

Again, make sure you follow any recommendations from your local public health officials.

Coronavirus Precaution and Workers’ Compensation Claims

Whether an employee contracted the coronavirus while working abroad, or in the office from another employee, workers’ compensation claims could possibly be filed.

The question remains: Can a business be liable if an employee tests positive for coronavirus, or causes it to spread? The answer is likely yes. Consider the following scenarios in which an employer could file a worker’s compensation (WC) claim due to coronavirus:

  • An employee is working overseas and contracts the coronavirus.
  • An employee contracts the coronavirus and infects others at the office.
  • What if an employee unknowingly infects their spouse and children?

WC policies typically cover lost time, permanent disability, medical expenses and a death benefit in these scenarios.

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