What are WHO’s recommendations for employers to combat the spread of the Coronavirus?
Due to the spreading epidemic of diseases caused by the new COVID-19 coronavirus, the World Health Organization [WHO] has issued a set of recommendations for employers aimed at reducing the possibility of the virus spreading in workplaces (the document “Getting your workplace ready for COVID-19” of February 27 2020 available at https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/getting-workplace-ready-for-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=359a81e7_4).
WHO encourages compliance with basic hygiene rules. For this purpose, first of all, all surfaces should be regularly cleaned with disinfectants. This applies not only to desks or tables, but also to surfaces such as keyboards, computer mice, telephones, etc. If a company orders an external entity to clean the workplace, it is worth verifying what hygiene measures it has and whether it is properly fulfilling its obligations.
Another important aspect of hygiene is proper hand washing. To this end, WHO recommends the installation of hand sanitizer dispensers and graphic instructions showing how to properly carry out this activity. If the employer takes care of the sanitary equipment on his own, he can purchase antibacterial soap and pour it into dispensers and take care of constant refilling of this liquid. When the entity obliged to equip the toilets and bathrooms with hygiene products is an external company (cleaning service, building manager), it is worth paying attention to the need to purchase above-standard hygiene products – it depends on the provisions of the contract with this entity whether such a procedure is included in the standard remuneration for these services or our provider has the right to demand additional money.
WHO also pays attention to proper respiratory hygiene. Employers are encouraged to show employees graphics showing proper respiratory hygiene and provide tissues and masks for people who begin to show symptoms of illness in the workplace. Importantly, used protective equipment should be thrown into closed waste bins.
The WHO also recommends that workers who show even minor symptoms (fever over 37.3 degrees Celsius and mild cough) remain at home. They may be instructed to work from home if the nature of their work permits.
When deciding to send an employee on a business trip, first of all, check the current range of the new virus (e.g. on the WHO website https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019 or GIS https://gis.gov.pl/kategoria/aktualnosci/ ).
The WHO document also recommends limiting business travel as far as possible for employees who are particularly vulnerable to serious illness, such as the elderly or those suffering from chronic diseases. However, it should be borne in mind here that such precautionary measures should not lead to discrimination against these workers. Pursuant to Polish regulations, the employer also has no legal grounds to ask the employee whether he is chronically ill (if the employee has a valid medical certificate admitting him to work in a given position, it is assumed that he is fit for work). Thus, the implementation of this recommendation may be difficult in practice. However, if the employee himself informs the supervisor that, due to his age or health condition, he or she would prefer to avoid business trips to places with a new virus, the employer may take these circumstances into account and decide to cancel the trip or send another employee to it.
An employee returning from a trip to the place where the virus occurs should monitor his health for 14 days. In the event of sickness symptoms, he should stay at home and report to the appropriate health care authorities informing him about the trip and about the symptoms.