Coronavirus and the Workplace

The coronavirus outbreak continues to make headlines and the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the situation a global emergency last week. At this point, employers would be wise to consider how the virus—or indeed any type of flu virus—could affect their organization and determine whether they have appropriate plans and policies in place to deal with it. Read on to learn about coronavirus and the workplace including how employers can address employee safety and disease prevention.

Coronavirus and the Workplace

How Do Organizations Prepare for Infectious Disease Outbreaks?

According to an upcoming survey report, Workplace Emergency Preparedness, conducted by the International Foundation between December 2019 and early January 2020, most organizations have precautions in place to prevent and mitigate the effects of illness on day-to-day business operations.

The most common precaution is providing flu shots at low or no cost, offered by 74% of responding organizations. Nearly half of organizations (49%) have specific return-to-work policies for workers, and 45% have policies that allow workers to work remotely when caring for a sick family member. Less common, 13% of organizations have formal procedures for handling a disease epidemic such as Ebola, Zika, etc.


Workplace Emergency Preparedness found that the flu and common cold have caused interruptions in day-to-day business operations for one in five organizations over the past five years. Comparatively, just 1% of organizations reported a disruption in day-to-day business due to an infectious disease outbreak or pandemic. Looking to the next five years, 23% of organizations anticipate that the seasonal colds/flu will negatively impact businesses, and 4% anticipate a negative impact due to an infectious disease outbreak or pandemic. At the time of the survey, slightly more organizations anticipate that illness will negatively impact their business within the next five years.

How Should Employers Prepare for a Possible Coronavirus Outbreak?

As reported by The National Law Review, “Providing education and information on the virus itself should be brief, and reiterate only what official sources have issued. In educating employees on this topic, “less is more” in many ways. Employers are generally not experts on the Coronavirus or other viruses, and will want to avoid opining on the effects or contraction of a disease.” They added that an employer’s goal “is to instill confidence in employees that it is continuing to monitor a virus outbreak, and will proceed with the employees’ best interests in mind, including taking proactive steps as necessary.”

In many ways, employers can communicate prevention information as they would with the flu. See Top 7 Questions Employers Are Asking About the Flu at Work for tips on how to handle employees who show illness symptoms and for advice on preventing the spread of illness in your workplace.

Learn More About Coronavirus and the Workplace

International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plan and ISCEBS members can view the full webcast on-demand for free: Coronavirus in the Workplace: U.S. Regulatory Considerations.

For additional information on coronavirus and the workplace, visit these resources:

Coronavirus Resources

Rebecca Estrada
Research Analyst

The latest from Word on Benefits:


Research Analyst at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans Favorite Foundation Product: I am biased, but I think all of the primary research that the Foundation does here is fantastic. We cover a large breadth of topics in great depth – I think it may be one of our most underused tools. Favorite Foundation Conference Moment: My first week on the job, I attended the “Essentials of Multiemployer Trust Fund Administration” class. I loved to see how much passion the attendees had for their job. They really want to help their participants. Benefits Related Topics That Interest Her Most: Mental health, health insurance, and benefits! (Who doesn’t love great benefits!) Personal Insight: Rebecca’s enthusiasm for data is contagious. Most days you’ll find her crunching numbers from the Foundation’s survey reports to shed light on the latest employee benefits trends. Rebecca applies her same enthusiastic approach to exploring her new state—Wisconsin. She’s a recent transplant from Washington D.C.

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