As of yesterday, the United States has the most number of COVID-19 cases in the world. Earlier this week, the CDC issued new guidance for the workplace on addressing COVID-19. These new guidelines provide the most specific guidance to date on maintaining a healthy workplace and social distancing. In particular, the CDC lays out a plan that includes implementing flexible worksites (e.g. telework), flexible work hours, increasing physical space, downsizing operations and delivering services remotely, to name a few.
This adds to the prior directive for a nationwide halt to gatherings of more than 50 people. We now have the strongest action plan urged by the CDC to date and this will increase what has already become a significant disruption to our businesses, schools, government and day to day public life.
On March 13th, President Trump declared a national emergency, directing all states to set up emergency operations centers. Nancy Messonier, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, recommended that businesses “replace in-person meetings with video or telephone conferences” and increase “teleworking options”. Just this past Tuesday, the Director of the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management issued guidance to agencies on how to prepare for the outbreak and reiterated the need to expand the use of telework to maintain operations. A memo also revealed the United States Congress is scrambling to purchase computers and other technology so staff can telework. The government has banned flights from Europe, U.K. and Ireland and the CDC issued guidelines for traveling within the United States. They say “[d]epending on your unique circumstances, you may choose to delay or cancel your plans.”
The CDC further cautions “[t]he potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is high, both globally and to the United States.” Indeed, most companies have never faced such a potential health crisis and as Dan Levin, the owner of a Chicago furniture and wall paneling manufacturing company, says “No one has a playbook for this.” Dan plans to let some of his employees work from home. In addition to deep cleaning offices (recommended in internal memos at HSBC and Facebook), companies are also banning in-person job interviews while they try to figure out how they are going to keep providing goods and services.
What does all this mean for your in-house legal team? Many employees are already choosing to self-isolate – especially those who have traveled internationally in the last two weeks. At Bigfork Tech, we want you and your team to stay healthy and safe. To that end, we encourage you to review the CDC’s recommendations for addressing the coronavirus in the workplace. Particularly noteworthy is the CDC’s guidance on telecommuting for sick employees. It says, “[f]or employees who are able to telework, supervisors should encourage employees to telework instead of coming into the workplace until symptoms are completely resolved.” In addition, the CDC recommends you “ensure that you have the information technology and infrastructure needed to support multiple employees who may be able to work from home.” With the new travel recommendations, telecommuting is going to be needed even more.
In addition to safeguarding your employees’ health, your challenge will be how to keep on top of the work and manage your company’s risk. After all, the coronavirus will not excuse missing a renewal date for a contract or a regulatory compliance deadline. And there is no telling how long this looming health threat will last. Yet, the work must go on! But how?
Well, for a start, be prepared. Telecommuting is likely to become part of your in-house team and overall company culture whether you are ready or not. So your job is going to be to get ready ASAP! I can tell you that here at Bigfork Tech, we are already set up for remote working. Our legal operations software allows us to collaborate on contracts, matters, and projects so that we all know exactly where things stand from intake to completion and final approval. We track every step of the process and our team is able to communicate in real-time with integrated email, DocuSign, automated alerts and templates, and much more so that business keeps moving. We even have remote approval capability on our smartphones. Our software and its remote capabilities can help keep your team healthy and your business thriving. Our Bigfork Tech legal and business experts are ready to help you during this crisis. Stay safe.