Workplace Emergency Preparedness Weeks Before COVID-19

Three months ago, the thought of a global pandemic was unimaginable. Today, we find ourselves faced with a situation unlike any we have faced before.

Over the past weeks, we have seen organizations of all sizes make big decisions to protect both their customers and their workers from the coronavirus outbreak. But some organizations are more prepared than others. From December 2019 through early January 2020, the International Foundation surveyed organizations about workplace emergency preparedness. The results showed that nearly all organizations take measures to prevent and/or mitigate the risk of an emergency—but only 13% of the organizations surveyed have specific procedures for handling a disease epidemic such as Ebola, Zika (or COVID-19).

Workplace Emergency Preparedness Weeks Before COVID-19

As companies scramble to react to the coronavirus (COVID-19), it’s likely that many of the policies they have in place apply to our current situation.

Here are the top emergency preparedness policies workplaces report, and the percentage of organizations that currently have them in place:


Keeping your workforce apprised of your organization’s current policies and plans is essential. Nearly all (92%) of organizations have some sort of formal method to communicate with workers during an emergency already in place:

  • Email alerts (69%)
  • Text message system (56%)
  • A phone tree (workers call co-workers) (42%)
  • Automated phone calls (37%)
  • Hotline for workers to call to receive updates (29%)
  • Organization’s website updated with essential information (19%)
  • Communication app system, such as Zello or GroupMe (15%)

Continuation of Employee Benefits

Making sure that your workers can get paid as well as have access to medical care is extremely important. In the event of a disaster, just over half of organizations have specific contingency plans to make sure that they can run and deliver payroll.

  • Maintain health insurance benefits (57%)
  • Run and deliver payroll (52%)
  • Maintain prescription drug benefits (47%)
  • Maintain delivery of pension benefits (24%)

[Related Reading: Coronavirus in the Workplace: Regulatory Considerations for U.S. Employers]

Disease Prevention

Nearly three in four (74%) organizations provide flu shots for employees at low or no cost. Here are other procedures or policies in place:

  • Specific return-to-work policies (49%)
  • Policies allowing workers to work remotely when caring for a sick family member (45%)
  • Procedures for handling a disease epidemic (i.e., Ebola, Zika) (13%)

Natural Disasters

Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and forest fires can upend life for everyone affected—including your workers. Nine out of ten organizations have formal policies or preventive measures in place regarding natural disasters. While the coronavirus is not a hurricane or an earthquake, many of the procedures already in place for these types of threats may be applicable to your organization today:

  • Disaster recovery plan (53%)
  • Alternate worksite established in advance (38%)
  • Additional insurance policies to protect against disasters (31%)
  • Relationships with local emergency management agencies (29%)
  • Program to promote preparedness among workers (20%)
  • Employer-sponsored charitable organizations (funds to assist employees impacted by a natural disaster) (17%)
  • Coordination with suppliers/shippers and others you regularly do business with (16%)
  • Financial assistance (grants, loans) to impacted workers (13%)
Coronavirus Resources

More Information on Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the Workplace

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

Rebecca Estrada
Research Analyst

International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans


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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