Human Resources and Benefits, COVID-19

Coronaviruses and the Workplace


The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a global public health emergency. In the wake of this announcement, countries worldwide are paying attention to travel to affected areas where the outbreak is continuing to spread rapidly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that this outbreak is a rapidly evolving situation, citing that it will provide updates as they become available.

“There is new information hour by hour, day by day that we are tracking and following closely.” Nancy Messonnier, MD, CDC

What is a Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some of these viruses only affect animals, while others can also affect humans. Most people will be infected with at least one common strain of human coronavirus in their lifetime. The effects of these viruses are usually mild, as in the case of the common cold.

Deadlier variations of these coronaviruses with more severe symptoms have cropped up in recent years. Examples of these evolved strains are the SARS virus identified in 2003, MERS virus identified in 2012, and the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), which is behind the current outbreak.

Employers can help protect employees from these and other illnesses in the workplace. Taking even small precautions could save an organization countless hours of lost productivity.

Identifying Coronavirus Symptoms

Common coronaviruses typically cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, and those affected exhibit cold-like symptoms. The most common symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose

Some cases of coronavirus can be more severe, and individuals may experience more serious lower-respiratory tract illnesses like bronchitis and pneumonia. A coronavirus can be deadly for the elderly, infants, and those with weakened immune systems.

Diagnosing a Coronavirus

More dangerous coronavirus strains elicit similar symptoms to the cold or flu, so identifying the virus can be difficult. If employees are suffering from flu-like symptoms—especially if they recently traveled to a country experiencing a coronavirus outbreak—they should call their doctor immediately.

Precautions for the Workplace

Employers should protect against coronaviruses much like they protect against the flu: offer on-site flu shots, stock cleaning wipes and hand sanitizer, and educate employees on prevention methods.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, individuals should take the following precautions to avoid person-to-person spreading of a coronavirus and other illnesses, such as the flu:

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid contact with those who are sick.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water.

Employee education is one of the best lines of defense for a workplace. General preventive health practices, like washing hands, can safeguard workers even when they’re at home.

Taking even small precautions could save an organization countless hours of lost productivity.

Remind employees to keep up their hygiene and share their knowledge of coronavirus symptoms so they know what to look out for. Together, you and your employees can stay safe, healthy, and productive.

Public health officials stress that this situation is still evolving, and there’s much that is still unknown. More information will be provided by the WHO and the CDC as it becomes available.

Additional Guidance

CDC Coronavirus Overview:

OSHA COVID-19 Overview:

Additional resources for protecting workers from occupational exposure to COVID-19:

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