Retailers must guard employees’ health

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Photo shows an image of a magnified virus

The best way for a business to keep its workforce healthy is simple: “Actively encourage sick employees to stay home.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Friday published interim guidance for businesses to plan and respond to the 2019 novel coronavirus.

The virus, which has spread rapidly through parts of China, where it originated, has only infected 12 people in six U.S. states as of Friday. The CDC guidance isn’t specific to the previously unknown virus but “may help prevent workplace exposures to acute respiratory illnesses, including nCoV, in non-healthcare settings. The guidance also provides planning considerations if there are more widespread, community outbreaks of 2019-nCoV.”

The name “coronavirus” refers to a large family of viruses. This new virus, thought to have spread from an animal to a human, is designated 2019-nCoV.

Furniture industry disruptions are expected

Travel restrictions to and from China are expected to cause severe disruptions in global supply chains, including for the home furnishings industry. The virus has not directly affected retail businesses in the United States. A CDC physician, Dr. Anita Patel, said earlier this week that there is no evidence the virus can be transmitted from an object to a person. But, because their businesses put people in close contact with each other, retailers should consider the CDC guidance.

After encouraging sick employees to stay home, the main actions are:

  • Separate sick employees.
  • Emphasize staying home when sick, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees.
  • Perform routine environmental cleaning.
  • Advise employees who are traveling to take certain steps.

See the full advisory for details.

Don’t expose your employees to health risks

These steps not only work to protect employees but reduce the risk that employees who are ill might an illness to customers.

It’s more difficult for retailers to address concerns about customers who appear to be ill, either in the store or in their homes if they’re receiving a delivery. But employees should not be expected to expose themselves to possible infection.

There is no outbreak in the United States at this time. If there is, CDC says, “employers should plan to be able to respond in a flexible way to varying levels of severity and be prepared to refine their business response plans as needed.”

Retailers should contact their local public health department for information or if they have questions.

The Home Furnishings Association will continue to monitor developments.

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