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Business and Organization Guidance

The following interim guidance may help prevent workplace exposures to acute respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, in non-health care settings. The guidance also provides planning considerations in the event of widespread, community outbreaks of COVID-19.

To prevent stigma and discrimination in the workplace, use only the guidance described below to determine risk of COVID-19. Do not make risk determinations based on race or country of origin and be sure to maintain confidentiality of people with confirmed COVID-19. There is much more to learn about the transmissibility, severity, and other features of COVID-19; investigations are ongoing.

Recommended strategies for employers to use now

Encourage and Promote Vaccination

  • Vaccines authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are highly effective at protecting vaccinated people against symptomatic and severe COVID-19 illness and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a growing body of evidence suggests that fully vaccinated people are less likely to have symptomatic infection or transmit the virus to others. See CDC's Guidance for Fully Vaccinated People and Science Brief.
  • Review your sick leave policy to ensure opportunities for paid leave, if necessary, for employees to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects.

Encourage Masking in Shared Work Spaces

  • During a period when Community Levels are medium to high, encourage employees to properly wear a face covering over their nose and mouth when they are in a shared workspace or common area with other employees, especially in spaces where social distancing is not possible. Face coverings are simple barriers worn over the face, nose, and chin. CDC provides general guidance on masks, including face coverings.
  • For employees working outdoors, you may opt not to wear face coverings in many circumstances; however, support your employees in safely continuing to wear a face covering if they choose, especially if they work closely with other people.

Actively Encourage Sick Employees to Stay Home

  • Employees who are sick and have respiratory symptoms, such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath, should remain home unless in need of medical attention.
  • Ensure your sick leave policy is flexible and consistent with public health guidance and employees are aware of the policy.
  • Talk with companies that provide your business with contract or temporary employees about the importance of sick employees staying home and encourage them to develop non-punitive leave policies.
  • Do not require a health care provider’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness or to return to work, as health care provider offices and medical facilities may be busy and not able to provide timely documentation.
  • Employers should maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member. Employers should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other sick family members than is usual.

Separate Sick Employees

  • IDPH recommends employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (i.e., cough, shortness of breath) upon arrival to work or become sick during the day should be separated from other employees and be sent home immediately. Sick employees should cover their noses and mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing (or an elbow or shoulder if no tissue is available).
  • Emphasize employees should stay home when sick, practice respiratory etiquette, and frequently wash hands.
  • Place posters that encourage staying home when sickcough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene at the entrance to the workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen.
  • Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles for employee use.
  • Instruct employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Soap and water should be used preferentially if hands are visibly dirty.
  • Provide soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace and ensure adequate supplies are maintained. Place hand rubs in multiple locations or in conference rooms to encourage hand hygiene.
  • Visit the coughing and sneezing etiquette and clean hands webpage for more information.

Perform Routine Environmental Cleaning

  • Regularly clean frequently touched surfaces, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs. Use cleaning agents typically used in these areas and follow the label directions.
  • Provide disposable wipes so commonly used surfaces (e.g., doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks) can be wiped down by employees before each use.

Additional Measures in Response to Currently Occurring Sporadic Importations of the COVID-19

  • Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
  • If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.

Planning for a Possible COVID-19 Outbreak

The severity of illness or how many people will fall ill from COVID-19 is unknown at this time. If there is evidence of a COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., employers should plan to respond in a flexible way to varying levels of severity and be prepared to refine their business response plans as needed. The CDC and its partners will monitor national and international data on the severity of illness caused by COVID-19 and make additional recommendations as needed.

Planning Considerations

Employers should consider how to decrease the spread of COVID-19 in their workplace. They should identify and communicate their objectives, which may include one or more of the following: reducing transmission among staff, protecting people who are at higher risk for adverse health complications,  maintaining business operations, and minimizing adverse effects on other entities in their supply chains. Some key considerations are:

  • Disease severity (i.e., number of people who are sick, hospitalization and death rates) in the community where the business is located.
  • Impact of disease on employees who are vulnerable and may be at higher risk for adverse COVID-19 complications. Inform employees some people may be at higher risk for serious illness, such as older adults and people of any age who have underlying medical conditions.
  • Prepare for increased numbers of employee absences due to illness, family members with the disease, and closures of early childhood programs and K-12 schools due to high levels of absenteeism or illness.
  • Employers should plan to monitor and respond to absenteeism at the workplace. Implement plans to continue essential business functions in case of higher than usual absenteeism.
  • Cross-train personnel to perform essential functions so the workplace can operate even if key staff members are absent.
  • Assess essential functions and the reliance others and the community have on your services or products. If needed, be prepared to change your business practices to maintain critical operations (e.g., identify alternative suppliers, prioritize customers, or temporarily suspend some of your operations).
  • Employers with more than one business location should provide local managers with the authority to take appropriate actions outlined in their business infectious disease outbreak response plan based on the condition in each locality.
  • Coordination with state and local public health officials is encouraged so timely and accurate information can guide appropriate responses in each location where operations exist. Since the intensity of an outbreak may differ according to geographic location, local public health officials will issue guidance specific to their communities.

Important Considerations for Creating an Infectious Disease Outbreak Response Plan

Employers should be ready to implement strategies to protect their workforce from COVID-19 while ensuring continuity of operations. During a COVID-19 outbreak, sick employees should stay home and away from the workplace, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene should be encouraged, and cleaning of commonly touched surfaces should be performed regularly.

Employers should:

  • Ensure the plan is flexible and involve employees in developing and reviewing the plan.
  • Conduct a focused discussion or exercise using the plan to learn ahead of time whether the plan has gaps or problems to be corrected.
  • Share the plan with employees and explain what human resources policies, workplace and leave flexibilities, and pay and benefits will be available to them.
  • Share best practices with other businesses in the community (especially those in your supply chain), chambers of commerce, and associations to improve community response efforts.

Recommendations for an Infectious Disease Outbreak Response Plan

  • Identify possible work-related exposure and health risks to your employees. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has additional information on protecting workers from potential exposures to COVID-19.
  • Review human resources policies to ensure policies and practices are consistent with public health recommendations and existing state and federal workplace laws (for more information on employer responsibilities, visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s websites).
  • Explore whether you can establish policies and practices, such as flexible worksites (e.g., telecommuting) and flexible work hours (e.g., staggered shifts) to increase the physical distance among employees and between employees and others if state and local public health authorities recommend the use of social distancing strategies. For employees who are ill and can telework, supervisors should encourage them to stay home until symptoms are completely resolved. Ensure the availability of information technology and infrastructure necessary to support multiple employees who may be able to work from home.
  • Identify essential business functions, essential jobs or roles, and critical elements within your supply chains (e.g., raw materials, suppliers, subcontractor services/products, and logistics) required to maintain business operations. Plan for how your business will operate if there is increasing absenteeism or these supply chains are interrupted.
  • Set up authorities, triggers, and procedures for activating and terminating the company’s infectious disease outbreak response plan, altering business operations (e.g., changing or closing operations), and transferring business knowledge to key employees. Work closely with your local public health officials to identify these triggers.
  • If public health officials call for social distancing, plan to minimize exposure between employees and between employees and the public.
  • Establish a process to communicate information to employees and to business partners on your infectious disease outbreak response plans and latest COVID-19 information. Anticipate employee fear, anxiety, rumors, and misinformation, and plan communications accordingly.
  • In some communities, early childhood programs and K-12 schools may be dismissed, particularly if COVID-19 worsens. Determine how you will operate if absenteeism spikes from increases in sick employees, those who stay home to care for sick family members, and those who must stay home to watch their children if schools are closed. Businesses and other employers should prepare to institute flexible workplace and leave policies for these employees.
  • Local conditions will influence decisions public health officials make regarding community-level strategies; employers should take the time now to learn about plans in place in each community where they have a business.
  • If there is evidence of a U.S. COVID-19 outbreak, consider canceling non-essential business travel per CDC travel guidance.
  • Travel restrictions may be enacted by other countries that may limit the ability of employees to return home if they become sick while on travel status.
  • Consider canceling large work-related meetings or events.
  • Engage state and local public health departments to confirm channels of communication and methods for dissemination of local outbreak information. When working with your local public health department, check their available hours.

Last Updated: 5/3/2022