Business Continuity / Emergency Response Plans for Coronavirus, Flu and Other Pandemics

Empty Office Cubicles

As the Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, continues to spread across the globe and now within the United States, many business owners are worried about the impacts it could have on their workforce and overall operations. If you are scrambling to put a Business Continuity / Contingency Plan in place outlining the necessary steps for an emergency response in the event of further outbreaks, possible school / government closures and other rippling effects, you are not alone.

Here are some initial steps you can take in creating a plan for your business:

Create a Response Team

The best way to ensure a smooth response in the event of any emergency is to establish who is in charge of what prior to having an actual emergency. As with most business functions, it is best to breakup tasks into logical groups and assign responsibilities as equally as possibly so that one person is not tasked with the entire response effort. This is critical so that that individual does not become overwhelmed, but also in case that person is not available or becomes infected there is a team in place that can help shoulder the added responsibilities. Individuals that you appoint to your team should be well-respected and trusted by your workforce and also proven to be steady and level-headed.

We have compiled a resources section at the end of this blog that includes several templates from other organizations to help you setup your teams, divide assignments and walk through establishing your own Business Continuity Plan.

Identify Critical Business Functions / Personnel

Part of the exercise in reviewing your business will include what is absolutely necessary to carry on operations vs. what is non-essential or, at the very least, can be temporarily paused. Since there may be business income losses due to closures, slowdowns in productivity and/or availability of needed staff and supplies, you will want to assess where monetary and personnel resources are most needed and profitable.

Establish Communication Channels

Open communications are the best way to keep everyone in the loop and to maintain orderly operations in the event of an emergency. It is best to try to have all communications channeled through one or two people to keep a consistent and controlled message and prevent any kind of confusion. It is also good to let people know how they will be alerted regarding any required closures or changes in operations (e.g. provide a call in number with a recorded message; use a service to send out mass email, text or voicemails or have a company calling tree; communicate closures through local news stations).

Educate Staff and Establish Workplace Protocols

Keep your employees up to date on policies for staying home sick, proper hand washing and sneezing/coughing etiquette. Make sure to clean frequently-touched/used surfaces and items on an established schedule (if you already have one in place, you may want to increase the frequency).

Hang posters around your office and share them via email to remind employees of the ways in which they can help reduce the spread of germs in the workplace. The CDC has some great ones you can print here:

Review Necessity for Travel and Meetings

As you may have seen in the news a number of larger firms are cancelling planned conferences, training and other large gatherings in order to protect employees against potential exposures and further spread of the virus. Instead of having face-to-face meetings, people are opting for online meetings and/or phone conferences. By limiting person-to-person interactions and travel to only what is truly necessary, you may help keep your workforce healthy and also have “more hands on deck” if there are other employees out of the office due to their own illness or a member of their family.

Consider Telecommute Options & Other Work Arrangements

If you do not already offer telecommuting (working from home) as an option for your employees, it may be something you want to establish. If some of your employees perform some work that can be done from home, establish ways for them to track hours and when they are permitted to work from home (e.g. if they or someone in their household are sick themselves or you could even encourage them to work from home a certain number of days during the week to prevent possibly contracting the virus at work if others are sick, etc.).

Your company may also relax rules on workers bringing their children to work in the event of any school or daycare closures in your area if your work environment is safe to do so and/or shorten hours or provide more flexible work schedules to accommodate families sharing childcare responsibilities.

This is also a good time to consider having employees complete training. If there are online courses that employees can take to help in their development, it may be a viable option should there be a slowdown of other work.

Plan for Increased Absenteeism

If you have not already had your staff taking part in cross-training, now is a good time to start. It can not only help you in continuing operations in the short term, but also is good for your long-term succession planning and employee development programs. If you already have cross-trained staff, this is also a great time for them to review those skills to make sure they have not “gotten rusty” and to review or write out any instructions for carrying out critical business functions.

Review PTO and/or Sick Policies

As part of planning for increased absenteeism, you should take a look at your own PTO and sick policies. If employees or their family and/or individuals with whom they reside become sick, obviously you want to encourage them to stay home in order to prevent the spread of illness to other members of your workforce. You also want to be cognizant of school and daycare closures, which will affect the ability of some workers to come to work.

Many workers live paycheck-to-paycheck and worry about whether or not they can afford to miss work in addition to any excess medical bills they might receive should they need to visit the doctor for themselves or loved ones. Some businesses are offering additional pay to assist their employees and/or paid time off for any employee who is sick in order to address this problem. If this is not something that your company is in a position to do, then you may have to set policies for sending home sick employees who still report to work.

If you do not already have a system in place for accurately tracking PTO accruals and/or time-off requests like the one offered by CheckmateHCM Solutions, you may need to rely on the honor system with employees or offer more of an unlimited/open PTO policy temporarily during any pandemic/mass outbreak period to encourage sick employees to stay home and to not overtask your HR/Payroll representatives. Our solution also provides an accessible calendar that permits necessary staff and managers to view which employees are in the office and who is absent, which can also help with overall operations.

Contact Your Insurance Providers

If your insurance providers are not already reaching out to you, it is a good idea to contact them directly. You will want to check with your Health Insurance Provider to review with you (and possibly with your employees) network providers should they get sick, deductibles, etc. They may also have documents and advisories that you care share with your employees. It is also recommended to review any short-term disability policies with your providers and your employees.

Next, you should also consider contacting your Property / Casualty Insurance Provider to check on any Business Income / Interruption insurance that you might have in place. Verify what is covered and what documentation you should maintain should you need to make a claim.

Helpful Resources


CDC Checklist:

Business Continuity Plan Templates/Samples


McHenry County Illinois:


Other Resources


NH Department of Health & Human Resources COVID 19:

EEOC FAQs Pandemic Flu:

Centers for Disease Control COVID 19: