How Should You Update Your Illness Policy for the Coronavirus?

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Worried about having sick employees? An appropriate employee illness policy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic is especially critical. Restaurants and other food-service establishments are particularly susceptible for being places where the 2019-novel coronavirus can be transmitted. An establishment’s employee illness policy is just one of the ways restaurants can help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

PROBE IT’s food handler course covers the importance of having and following a proper employee illness policy. Standard illness policies should cover illnesses, their symptoms and the actions to be taken for the various illnesses an employee may have. Standard clauses to include is that employees should report to their manager (or person-in-charge) when they have the symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, nausea, stomach cramps, or fever. They should also inform their manager if they have been diagnosed with any specific foodborne illnesses, such as norovirus, Hepatitis A, or salmonella. In both cases, employees should be excluded from working, typically up until they no longer experience symptoms for at least 24 hours. Additionally, if any employees have a cut or other lesion on their hands, they must properly wash their hands and wear gloves in the workplace. You can learn about the specific foodborne illnesses and procedures to keep in mind in our course.

The virus responsible for COVID-19, however, has different transmission methods than foodborne illnesses and, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), has a high infection rate. The proximity between food handlers and customers in usual settings is within the 2-metre (6 feet) distance where droplets from coughing or sneezing can get in contact with other’s faces. Contact with shared surfaces, from placing the order to receiving the prepared food, may also transfer the virus if the droplets fall there. Your regular illness policy may need to be updated to keep the transmission of this virus to a minimum.

First, encourage your staff to stay home if they experience any of the symptoms of the novel coronavirus. This includes the symptoms of other respiratory illness like coughing, sneezing, fever, and difficulty breathing. If your employees experience the more severe respiratory symptoms, which are more likely to occur for those with weaker immune systems, then they should call ahead to healthcare centres to get medical care.

According to recommendations by the BC Centre for Disease Control, those with the symptoms of the coronavirus should self-isolate for a minimum of 10 days. In light of this, as an employer it is in your best interest to support your workers in this difficult time by allowing a larger amount of sick days. Without this leniency in this unprecedented time we find ourselves in, then employees may come into work even if they experience symptoms or came into close contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19. Even if the employees are working the cash register alone, it is still possible that they may transmit the virus to other workers or customers through the aforementioned methods.

It is important that every institution does their best to help reduce the spread of this pandemic. Along with enhancing your location’s sanitation plan for cleaning and sanitizing, and practicing food safety practices, updating your employee illness plan to appropriately respond to the COVID-19 pandemic is a large step in reducing the risk of employees or customers from being infected. Learn about the responsibilities of employers and different employees in our food handler course so you are best prepared.