May 2020

Keep Your Business Safe During COVID-19

By Andrew Rawson

The COVID-19 crisis is creating unprecedented challenges for practitioners and business owners. Organizations are facing new challenges and need to help employees transition back to the physical workplace. A few thoughts on keeping your business safe.

Remote-work Policies

Telecommuting or remote-work policies are nothing new; however, the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the need to develop a written policy that is accessible online 24/7 and can be updated in real-time as circumstances and guidelines evolve. Areas to cover include tracking working hours, using approved video conferencing and other tools to communicate with team members and patients, accessing IT support, and contact information for questions and concerns.

Employers will want to share pandemic-related resources, including those from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC),1 appropriate professional associations, and keep staff up to date on federal, state and local orders/guidance.

Organizations should also create a return-to-work (RTW) plan that explains new protocols, policies, and other changes. Sharing the RTW plan with employees before they return to the workplace can help them prepare physically and psychologically.

Awareness of Sexual Harassment and Discrimination

The workplace is not confined to a building, and sexual harassment is not limited to face-to-face interaction. Making lewd comments during a video conference, sharing offensive images in emails/texts, or threatening a co-worker on social media are a few examples of cyber harassment. Now’s a good time to train employees on how to recognize, report, and prevent all forms of harassment, bullying, discrimination, and other misconduct.

Too many incidents of harassment go unreported, in part because individuals fear retaliation or don’t know how to report misconduct. Establishing a formal complaint process that may include a hotline, a dedicated email address, or a designated contact can help address and prevent incidents.

COVID-19-related Discrimination

Unfortunately, fears about the coronavirus have led to reports of discrimination and social stigma against Asians, as well as healthcare workers and others on the frontlines. Be sure to update policies, procedures, and trainings to include COVID-19 discrimination and bias.

The American Physical Therapy Association2 sponsored a Facebook Live event to address health disparities and implicit bias brought out by COVID-19, and how the physical therapy community can help mitigate these disparities. In March, Janet Dhillon, Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, posted a message3 about COVID-19 discrimination based on national origin and race, urging employers and employees to “be mindful of instances of harassment, intimidation, or discrimination in the workplace and to take action to prevent or correct this behavior.”

Data Privacy and Security, Beyond HIPAA

As part of an organization’s cyber security strategy, employers should provide regular training and reminders on new cyber risks and threats. Cyber criminals are taking advantage of more employees working remotely. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Boston office issued a warning about hackers hijacking teleconferences and online classrooms with pornographic images, hate speech, and threatening language.

Both the FBI4,5 and the CDC6 are warning of coronavirus-themed phishing emails targeting US-based medical providers. The emails contain COVID-19 subject lines with links and downloads for malware that can allow criminals to take over healthcare IT systems and steal information. Information-security training raises awareness of the different types of phishing, malware, and ransom attacks; the risks of using public networks; and best practices for protecting digital and physical assets.

The pandemic has upended old routines, and employees are dealing with evolving changes in all aspects of their lives. Providing relevant training and timely communication on compliance and conduct topics can help maintain a strong culture and enable a successful transition as staff return to the workplace. Given the rapidity of changes, communicating clearly and frequently is key.

Andrew Rawson is the Chief Learning Officer and Co-Founder of Traliant, an award-winning provider of online sexual harassment training and other essential workplace compliance, conduct, and culture topics.

REFERENCES
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus (COVID-19). Available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html  Accessed May 20, 2020.
  2. American Physical Therapy Association. Health Disparities Brought to the Forefront as COVID-19 Spreads: What the Physical Therapy Profession Can Do (Recorded Event). Available at http://www.apta.org/Courses/20/4/23/COVID-19/. Accessed May 20, 2020.
  3. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. What You Should Know About the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act and the Coronavirus. Available at  https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/wysk/wysk_ada_rehabilitaion_act_coronavirus.cfm. Accessed May 20, 2020.
  4. FBI Boston Office. Newsroom. March 30, 2020. FBI Warns of Teleconferencing and Online Classroom Hijacking. Available at 
    https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices/boston/news/press-releases/fbi-warns-of-teleconferencing-and-online-classroom-hijacking-during-covid-19-pandemic. Accessed May 20, 2020.
  5. HIPAA Journal. April 22, 2020. FBI Issues Flash Alert About Covid-19 Phishing Scams Targeting Healthcare Providers. Available at https://www.hipaajournal.com/fbi-issues-flash-alert-about-covid-19-phishing-scams-targeting-healthcare-providers/. Accessed May 20, 2020.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Newsroom. April 3, 2020. COVID-19-Related Phone Scams and Phishing Attacks. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/media/phishing.html. Accessed May 20, 2020.

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