What Utah Employers Should Be Doing Amid Coronavirus Worries

Mar 10, 2020, 10:47 PM | Updated: 11:14 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – State leaders are calling on businesses to join them in the fight against the novel coronavirus, hours after announcing the state’s second case of COVID-19.

“Virus or no virus, Utah remains open for business,” said a member of the Salt Lake Chamber during a livestream event with employers across the state and some of Utah’s leaders on the frontlines of the state’s response to the virus.

“We don’t need to panic, we just need to be prepared,” said Val Hale, executive director at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

“You guys are part of the solution,” Utah state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn told the group of hundreds streaming the message from their workplaces. “This is really going to take a community to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Some businesses like Onset Financial got started weeks ago when they sent their employees home early with cash to buy items they might need for a two-week quarantine.

“The last thing we want is for the panic to hit and while our employees are helping us grow our business, the shelves at the grocery stores are empty,” said Debbie Worthen, who leads the marketing team at Onset Financial in Draper.

Dunn said the first thing businesses should do is focus on prevention by cleaning high touch surfaces twice a day and encouraging employees to wash their hands.

“That’s what we’re trying to prevent is people who are sick spreading their spit to other people,” Dunn said.

She knows employees don’t like to use sick time and will often go to the office with “a slight fever or a slight cough,” but emphasized, “We do not want them to do that right now. They need to stay at home. Make sure our leave policies are not a barrier to keeping them home.”

The struggle is employers can keep sick workers home but there is no state or federal law that says they must pay employees for missed work.

“If you just decided, ‘I’m self-quarantining. I’m not coming in,’ they could fire you if they don’t like that answer,” said Eric Olsen, public information officer for the Utah Labor Commission.

He strongly recommended Utahns learn what their employer’s leave policy is.

“You don’t want to have things progress into a state where now we have to stay home or I have to do this or that or self-quarantine and then find out later, wait what? I’m not going to be able to get paid for this?” he said.

Onset Financial made a change there too, telling employees they won’t have to use sick leave to stay at home.

Dunn is asking all employers to be flexible.

“If you’re requiring them to have a doctor’s note, you’re actually contributing to the problem of potentially overwhelming our healthcare systems,” she said.

Another thing Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox asked businesses to do was to look at technology solutions where possible, then ask the question, “do you have the ability to do what you’re doing now remotely?”

If that’s not an option, they recommend staggering shifts so there are fewer employees at the office at once. They also urged employers to cancel all “nonessential work-related travel to affected areas” like China, Korea, Iran, Italy and Japan.

“We’re not at the peak of the outbreak right now,” Dunn warned. “We’re still going up.”

RELATED: Your Coronavirus Workplace Questions Answered

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How Do I Prevent It?

The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:

  • Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

The CDC does not recommend wearing a facemask respirator to protect yourself from coronavirus unless a healthcare professional recommends it.

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What Utah Employers Should Be Doing Amid Coronavirus Worries