Now that the World Health Organization has declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a pandemic and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a mitigation plan for it, organizations should take precautionary compliance measures in these uneasy times. How your business prepares for COVID-19 will, of course, depend on the nature of your work, your size, locations and the characteristics of your workforces.
During this stressful period, organizations may want to think about the best ways to protect your customers, employees and businesses. People may ask to work remotely. Customers may want to know what additional protections organizations have in place. Businesses may already be experiencing a change in routine patterns — either a slowdown, challenges with disrupted supply chains or even an uptick if their mission involves healthcare, consumer goods or home entertainment.
Update Your Business Continuity Plan
Now is a critical time to dust off the business continuity plan that was probably developed before “health pandemic” was on the list of prospective threats. Bouncing back after a natural disaster, a negative cybersecurity event or a terror attack may not require the same activities and skill sets that recovering from a pandemic will. Despite the baptism-by-fire nature of the circumstances, this is an important opportunity to assess where you are and where you need to be in emergency preparedness.
As employees take sick leave to recover from illness, your organization’s workforce could be severely depleted. Businesses may need to consider altering their customer service approaches — by offering delivery or online ordering, for instance. You might rely on existing backup plans, or need to put new ones in place to hire temporary remote consultants and bolster communications, website sales and deliveries. Also, make sure that appropriate delegates are identified should the organization’s leadership become ill.
Remember Corporate Governance Concerns
Whether or not, and to what extent, a corporate board of directors should be updated and involved with the organization’s response to COVID-19 will vary on a case-by-case basis. Some actions to consider taking are:
Establishing a board committee to address COVID-19 response in addition to a management task force to deal with the day-to-day demands of this global crisis.
Updating policies and procedures to allow for longer-than-usual sick leave, to permit employees to work remotely and to verify that various support systems will still function when few, if any, people are in the office.
Conducting additional and rapid training (ideally online), so that backup personnel will be able to step in for colleagues temporarily out of commission.
Keep Compliance, Privacy and Security in Mind
Remember to devote some extra attention to updates from regulators who may be making changes that could affect your business. The legal parameters of quarantines, containment zones and closings will be new to many. Organizations may want to spend some time investigating their legal rights and obligations should there be some sort of government-mandated shutdown.
Review the fine print. Take a close look at vendor agreements and other contracts. A business preparing for COVID-19 may need to provide notice or undertake other activities to adhere to the arrangements they already have in place with third parties. Determine if you will be reimbursed if you cancel business travel, meetings or other events.
Investigate disclosure obligations. Privacy considerations, which have been getting attention lately thanks to data protection laws, will likely be a concern during a pandemic. Whether or not businesses have an obligation to disclose a worker’s illness is a matter best considered now.
Shore up security everywhere. Cybersecurity may need to be strengthened as more employees work remotely or as an organization’s delivery of products and services move largely online during this challenging time. Organizations should also have a policy in place to protect against social engineering attacks – especially if employees are able to use their personal devices for work. An organization’s physical security and data may need to be bolstered as well, if plants or storefronts are shuttered for a period of time.
With so many unknowns, and the fact that not many people have had experience with a pandemic, this is a time of stress in the workplace. It can help to have a game plan in place, even if it’s an imperfect one, to help keep everyone safe. This kind of road map can ease the transition as everyone adjusts to new, and hopefully temporary, ways of doing business.