The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

What Should HR Professionals Know About the Novel Coronavirus Outbreak?

Institutions across the country are continuing to monitor the recent outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and communicating updates with campus stakeholders on a regular basis. They are also reviewing the need to follow up with those who have traveled to China recently and to postpone study abroad programs.

HR pros can provide additional support to institutions by:

  • being well-versed in policies related to telecommuting, leave and confidentiality;
  • making sure accurate information is being shared along with new developments; and
  • eradicating discrimination toward those who hail from countries where the outbreak is occurring.

Resources and Next Steps
Here are some ways HR pros can stay up to date and provide support until the virus is contained:

  • Visit the CDC’s website often for a comprehensive overview of the novel coronavirus. Arming yourself with accurate information from a reliable source will help lessen the spread of false or exaggerated information and assuage fears among the campus community.
  • Read new guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services about how patient information can and cannot be shared under the HIPAA Privacy Rule during an infectious disease outbreak. Remember that HIPAA protections are not set aside during an emergency.
  • Review your institution’s telecommuting, leave and confidentiality policies. Employee requests to telecommute may increase in response to the novel coronavirus and the institution’s proximity to recent outbreaks, and FMLA and HIPAA may come into play if an employee becomes ill. Need help with updates? CUPA-HR’s Telecommuting toolkit includes many sample forms, templates and policies.
  • Be aware that students or faculty who hail from countries where the outbreak is occurring could experience discrimination as a result of virus-related fear on campus. While safety precautions must be taken during a widespread public health concern, HR should recognize when students or employees are being treated unfairly and respond accordingly.
  • Educate yourself on potential business impacts of the disease by reading American College Health Association’s brief and other resources and visiting Aon’s Infectious Disease Response Site.
  • Review employer obligations under various federal and state labor laws to ensure a safe working environment that mitigates any effects the virus could have in the workplace and is in compliance with the law.

Putting Safety First
The safety of students and employees is your institution’s top priority, and how your institution responds to health and safety concerns has a direct impact on employee confidence and morale. Take steps now to educate yourself and your campus leaders.

Related resources:

Coronavirus COVID-19 Resources

Crisis Management Toolkit (2019 Novel Coronavirus)

CUPA-HR’s Statement on the Coronavirus COVID-19 (CUPA-HR Conferences)