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How are Colorado employers preparing for a potential outbreak of COVID-19 in the state?

Employers Council in Denver answers questions as firms prepare for Colorado's first possible outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus known as COVID-19.

DENVER, Colorado — In recent weeks, Colorado's school districts and local governments have addressed plans for the spread of the new strain of coronavirus known as COVID-19. 

Employers are also considering how to prepare.

In an employer survey, the Harvard Business Review found nearly 40% of employers have or plan to clarify their pay policy if worksites are closed or employees are furloughed. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends anyone feeling ill stay home and says the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus.

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Tammeron Trujillo, the director of human resources for Employers Council, answered questions Wednesday about how Denver employers are preparing for a potential outbreak of the virus. 

(Editor's note: Responses have been edited for context and clarity.) 

9NEWS: How often are employers contacting you to ask about COVID-19?

Trujillo: We’re getting maybe two or three a day which in the scope of the calls that we get isn’t a great number yet. Employers tend to react to what’s in front of them and it hasn’t shown up in front of them just yet. I imagine when that first case shows up in Colorado, employers will start becoming more alarmed and more proactive in looking at their policies and their practices.

What are the employers contacting you now concerned about?

Trujillo: They’re concerned about their communication with their employees. What are they going to tell their employees to do? How are they going to react if a number of employees are unable to come to work either because they actually have symptoms of the coronavirus or they have been in some way impacted by the coronavirus?

What happens if a number of employees don’t come to work or aren’t able to come to work? What’s going to be their stance as they talk to employees? Are they going to tell people to stay home and access their paid time off or any sick/vacation leave that they might have? Employers are starting to think about, ‘okay, what are we going to tell employees when we do see that show up in our workplace?’

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How concerned are employers over these questions?

Trujillo: They’re alarmed but nobody’s freaking out. They’re aware and alarmed that this is coming and they’re concerned about whether or not they can be prepared. They're also thinking about how they’re going to prepare.

How would you advise an employer to prepare for an outbreak?

Trujillo: The news indicates that while infected, somebody may still feel fine. If that were to be the case, how could an employer facilitate employees’ abilities to work from home assuming they have jobs that accommodate that?

What do you recommend employers like restaurants and others in the service industry do to prepare their workforce?

Trujillo: Restaurants really need to think about cross-training to make sure they can continue to operate. The idea is to make sure that if an employee were to be impacted by the coronavirus, they have enough staff.

The other thing that small businesses need to consider is how they could flex employees' time to make it possible for those who aren’t impacted to work. For those that are, employers really need to consider the value of helping their employees to weather a period of time when they can’t come to work. 

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Are you at all concerned that workers impacted by the virus would continue working to avoid financial hardship?

Trujillo: I think that’s absolutely possible. That's another reason why employers should really think about, even just temporarily, increasing their PTO policies to the extent that it would keep people who might be infected but feel well enough to work at home. 

From a business standpoint, it might be a smart idea for the business to say, ‘well, we’ll pay the employees not to work as long as they have some kind of doctor’s note or medical verification that he or she has been infected by the coronavirus.'

How do you think an outbreak of COVID-19 could impact Colorado's economy?

Trujillo: I’m not an economist but I would think that we’re such a strong tourist destination and have such a strong social culture in Colorado that if we were to see a strong outbreak, it could impact hotels, restaurants, and other gathering places. Right now, I think employers need to be thinking about what their options are and how they might handle a situation where half of their employees weren’t able to come to work. 

I don’t think anybody should panic. We have not seen a case yet in Colorado. While it’s certainly coming, I think it's something that we should be aware of but not panic about at this point. 

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