coronavirus 4914026 1920Now that the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus, otherwise known as COViD-19, in the United States are rising, employers should look for ways to protect their employees and workplace. While the coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause various illnesses, from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), COViD-19 is a new strain that had not been previously identified in humans. As a result, employers should strive to educate themselves and their employees about COViD-19 and how it affects the workplace.

However, an employer's role is complicated by various legal issues touching upon safety, employee health, job functions and business travel. An employer should consider certain measures to better prepare and protect its employees and the workplace.

At this time, there are no laws or regulations specifically addressing an employer's legal obligations relating to COViD-19. However, employers should regularly consult the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the most current information on the coronvirus, including guidance for businesses. Also, employers must always be mindful the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act. Under this clause, an employer is required to furnish each worker with "employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm." While this clause applies to a wide array of different situations, in the case of CoViD-19, it essentially requires an employer to ensure that their employees have a safe and healthy workplace.

In addition, the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standard issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that employers provide their employees with certain equipment - including gloves, eye and face protection, and respiratory devices - when particular hazards may cause injury or impairment. Also, OSHA has deemed the coronavirus a recordable illness when a worker is infected on the job and, therefore, an employer must record any such cases on the OSHA 300 log.

An employer should also consider workplace strategies relating to COViD-19, along with other infectious diseases. For example:

  • Provide a letter to employees with guidance on COVID-19;
  • Consider implementing a contagious disease policy to communicate to employees how the virus and other infectious diseases will be addressed in the workplace;
  • Review information about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to ensure policies comply with federal laws;
  • Evaluate FMLA criteria about whether an employee is eligible for leave for coronavirus-related conditions; and
  • For those covered under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), consider privacy concerns.

Employee Education

Education as to the transmission and symptoms of COViD-19 is key to allaying fears and reducing misinformation. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), COViD-19 can be transmitted person-to-person, specifically through respiratory secretions, e.g., coughing and sneezing.

It is crucial that everyone is aware of the symptoms of COViD-19. Common signs of the virus are:

  • Respiratory symptoms;
  • Fever;
  • Cough;
  • Shortness of breath; and
  • Breathing difficulties.

Severe cases may cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure or death.

Educating employees on the facts of COViD-19 will encourage communication and cooperation between employees and management on measures to ensure the health and safety of the workplace. Further, it would be prudent to:

  • Determine how to address an infectious disease in the workplace;
  • Evaluate additional workplace issues relating to infectious diseases;
  • Consider how to address an employee with an infectious disease; and
  • For employees who are currently in an affected region or have just returned, determine whether that employee may be required to undergo a medical examination.

Reducing Potential Exposure to the Coronavirus

As with most infectious diseases, there are certain precautionary measures an employer can take to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus. For example, employees should be strongly urged to:

  • Wash their hands frequently with soap and water;
    • Hand sanitizers/wipes are also a good option when soap and water are not readily available.
  • Maintain social distancing;
  • Avoid touching their face;
  • Cover their coughs or sneezes;
  • Stay home if they are sick; and
  • Self-quarantine if they have traveled to affected areas.

For those in the food services industry, special care should be taken to thoroughly cook meat and eggs. Also, those in the airline or airport industries who may interact with individuals traveling from China or another affected region may be more vulnerable to exposure and should take stricter precautions. Health care workers should especially take care as they may confront suspected cases of COViD-19 and provide treatment for those falling ill to the virus.

In order to stress the importance of these measures and demonstrate its commitment to the overall health of the workforce, consider taking additional steps such as placing tissue boxes at each workstation and hand sanitizers at several locations around the workplace, e.g., by the printer.

Addressing Concerns About Performing Job Functions

Be prepared for employees who may be nervous and concerned about contracting COViD-19. From an employee-relations perspective, an employer should be understanding of the employee's concerns and evaluate every request or issue based on the employee's particular circumstances.

If an employee refuses to come to work when a co-worker is suspected of having contracted the coronavirus or is displaying flu-like symptoms, consider alternative arrangements such as telecommuting. With the appropriate equipment, e.g., laptops and software, allowing employees to telecommute can go a long way to ease worries among the workforce and further protect the workplace from transmission. Also, have employees take their laptops home each night in case the office is closed or they cannot get to work.

If telecommuting or working at another location is not an option, clearly, but kindly, communicate:

  • Why the employee cannot be accommodated;
  • Why the risk of COViD-19 infection may be low;
  • How the employee can protect themselves from infection; and
  • What protective measures the employer will take.

There is still much that is unknown about the virus so listen to an employee's concerns and fears and be open to discussing alternative solutions.

In addressing or responding to a proposed alternative working solution:

  • Review the telecommuting policy;
  • Determine how to manage a telecommuter; and
  • Consider additional issues relating to flexible working arrangements.

Business Travel to a Coronavirus-Affected Region

An employer may find that an employee has reservations or simply refuses to go on a business trip to a coronavirus-affected region. In this case, an employer should consider proposing an alternative, e.g., conduct the business from the "home office' or travel to a different region to reach the same desired result.

Also, check the CDC's advisories on travel restrictions as well as whether airlines are flying in and out of the region. Regardless, an employer should consider postponing all travel in and out of affected regions, e.g., mainland China, out of an abundance of caution.

The situation remains fluid so be sure to consult the latest news and resources on the appropriate government sites.

If you’d like a customizable Coronavirus Guidance Letter to distribute to your employees, please go to www.hr-shield.com, scroll to the bottom of the page and sign up, we’ll send it! Or send me an email directly to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This week, we’re chatting with Professional Photographer Ryan Gautier of Tampa about the importance of having professional employee headshots. Whether you’re a small business of 5, or a large corporation, your individual representations can represent your overall company image – positively or negatively!

5 Reasons You and Your Employees Need Professional Headshots: 

1.  A Consistent and Professional Company Image – Your marketing demonstrates synergy across your brand, so why doesn’t your personnel? We love diversity, but unified, professional images of employees will positively boost your company’s overall image.

2.  Professionalism Demonstrated Outside of the Workplace – We can’t always control what decisions our employees make outside of the office, or what their social media posts may convey. But, what we can do is give them a professional image to be proud of. Boost your social media profile’s professionalism with great headshots for LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook, Twitter and more.

3.  First Impressions – Are you a candidate looking for a job? A professional trying to land clients on LinkedIn? An accountant, lawyer or physician running an ad in the weekly newspaper? Whatever your recent need for a headshot is, know that your picture is often your only opportunity to make a first impression. How do you wish to be portrayed?

4.  More and More “Face Time” – More businesses are beginning to work remotely via phone and internet, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll lose “face time.”From Windows Messenger and SKYPE to Go-To Meeting Products and LinkedIn, more and more companies prefer to have their customer service teams’ smiles front and center for a more personal approach in connecting with clients or prospects – What type of image do you want your customers to see?

5.  Set the Bar – Are you going to be hiring personnel soon? Consistent company images “set the bar,” letting potential employees know that you mean business and operate in a professional setting.

For best practices, business resources, HR advice and more, tune back in to HR Shield’s blog each week. For more information on professional headshots, contact Professional Photographer Ryan Gautier by visiting www.ryangphoto.com.

The mass shooting that occurred overnight at a Colorado movie theatre presents numerous questions, many of which will go unanswered until further investigation. Could this have been prevented? Were there any warning signs? Could people have exited the building more quickly, leading them to safety?

When tragedy strikes, there is little to no time to think.  This presents a challenge to both employers and employees when trying to gain control of utter chaos. Not only are you responsible for yourself, but there is an obligation to protect your employees and patrons as well.

We remind all business owners and managers that while there is truly no way to prepare for an event so devastating, being aware of your surroundings and best safety practices is crucial if an emergency should strike.

If an emergency strikes while you are at the worksite:

  • Immediately dial 911. Even if you are unsure of the extent of the emergency, call for help and let emergency responders know of the situation.  A few minutes will make a big difference in how quickly help can arrive.
  • Know ALL possible exits in the building. This should be reviewed with ALL employees and repeated each time a new person is hired. If you are a retail operation, exits should be clearly marked and illuminated for patrons.
  • Do not waste time. Do not waste time gathering your belongings or trying to determine the severity of the situation. Exit the building as quickly as possible.
  • If exits are blocked, return to your workplace. If exits are blocked, return to your workplace and hang an article of clothing or something similar out of the nearest window. If there is a fire, shut your door, and seal it off as best as possible to avoid smoke inhalation.  The article of clothing will inform emergency personnel you are inside.
  • Shelter-in-Place for Workplace Violence/Shooting.  If your place of employment is under attack and an exit is not near, HIDE in the safest area. Shelter-in-place refers to finding the smallest area and taking refuge there. If there is a window nearby, you can also hang an article of clothing out the window, to let outsiders know you are trapped inside. Avoid overcrowding by selecting numerous hiding areas for each employee/person. DO NOT confront the perpetrator.
  • Know who to report to. Once you are outside of the building, and have reached safety, check in. Let your supervisor know you are okay. Every workplace should have a “check-in” protocol with certain employees or managers designated to take headcounts. This will help emergency personnel determine if there is anyone left in the building, and who.
  • DO NOT pull fire alarm, if the threat is outside of the workplace.  If your office or place of employment receives a threat via phone, letter, or email, do not pull the fire alarm. The fire alarm will disable all elevators, which may be crucial to exiting the building more quickly. Calmly inform everyone that they need to exit the building immediately.

Proactively creating an emergency plan specific to your place of employment will let all employees know of the aforementioned best safety practices. More importantly, delegating responsibilities amongst employees, outlining the chain of command, and determining the safety check-in points outside of your building (all found within a company's emergency plan) will prove itself valuable in the event of an emergency.

The responsibility of creating a formal emergency plan often falls within the HR department. For companies without HR staff, it is the business owner’s responsibility. For additional questions or concerns surrounding workplace safety and your company's emergency plan, please contact us.  HR Shield is skilled at aiding companies in creating custom emergency plans and can help promote overall workplace safety within your organization.

HR Shield sends its greatest condolences to victims and their families affected by last night’s Colorado shooting, and we are hoping for the quick recovery of all those injured.

Are you looking for Human Resources Administration support in the St. Petersburg, Clearwater or Tampa Bay area? Well, why look any further --HR Shield is right here in Tampa Bay.

As a Tampa Bay area business owner, you need to invest every ounce of physical, mental and emotional energy you have into staying ahead of the competition and growing your bottom line. Even with an HR Manager on staff, human resources administration is a big responsibility for any one person. The expert team at Tampa’s HR Shield provides the perfect alternative to outsourced HR services.

Whether you’re focused on reducing employee turnover, need assistance with background checks, completing 1099s, or even in need of a few job interview tips to make sure you’re hiring top Tampa talent, we have an HR Shield membership plan that’s the perfect fit for you.

Top 10 Reasons to Keep Your HR Support Nearby, with HR Shield:

  1. Immediate access to a licensed HR Professional – One you can meet, and rely on!
  2. Plenty of referrals in the Tampa Bay community—just ask!
  3. Current HR forms and templates to maintain a compliant HR department
  4. Member discounts on Tampa Bay labor attorney services.
  5. Employee benefits plan support.
  6. Updated information on Florida and Tampa Bay labor market conditions and issues.
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Streamline your human resources administration with HR management best practices from HR Shield. Call (877) 636-9525 to meet your HR Advisor, or contact us for more information.

In many organizations, human resources professionals are known for processing information, whether that be handling an organizations’ job applications, interview forms, benefits enrollment packages, new hire data,  company policies, or even social calendars and event administration.

But, great human resources professionals within an organization add tremendous value to the organization and its employees. They are capable of transforming organizations for the better when they are able to focus on outcomes and results that champion organization competitiveness.

Outsourcing human resources services can be expensive, and sometimes with a skilled staff on hand, it’s not necessary. But regardless of company size, responsibilities, and years of experience, every HR professional will need support at some point in time. The value of a simple support system, or even just a second opinion from a valued HR partner, can ensure that HR administration remains streamlined.

The value of human resources support includes, but is not limited to:

  • Email & phone support from HR professionals
  • 24/7 access to forms you may not have on hand at the office
  • Handbook reviews
  • Support with new employee interviews, performance reviews and exit interviews
  • Unemployment Claims support
  • Video seminars
  • Onsite seminars
  • Background checks
  • Drug Testing
  • Training tools

While outsourcing specialized HR services may be expensive, utilizing HR support is not, and can be as low as $0.14 per employee per day. The goal is to compliment the talent you currently have on hand, and gain access to HR management best practices. Expert HR advice can quickly prove itself necessary if your organization is ever faced with a costly lawsuit. Even quick and simple reassurances while selecting the best hiring option or contract for a new employee can save you money in the long run.

With a valued team of HR support on board, there’s no guessing and there’s no time wasted trying to navigate through the increasingly complex landscape of HR administration. Help is just a phone call away.