Don’t Panic: Keeping Employees of Start-Up Companies Safe and Healthy During Pandemics and Other Occurrences


Life and business go on during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s just perhaps slowed down somewhat, or adjustments are being made to ensure safety.

Along the way, it’s become a priority for people to keep safe from exposure to the coronavirus, but it’s also become a priority for businesses to keep their employees (and customers, by extension) COVID free.

Know the Symptoms

Being able to determine if you may have COVID-19 is helpful, as is knowing what to do if you fear you may be ill. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • Cough
  • Fever or chills
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Body aches
  • Sore throat
  • Sudden loss of taste or smell
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Congestion or runny nose

If you have or think you may have COVID-19, it’s best to stay home. The majority of people with COVID experience mild symptoms and can recover at home without medical care. If a person has trouble breathing or experiences chest pain or pressure, however, it’s time to seek emergency medical help.

No matter how mild the case, it’s best to self-isolate to avoid spreading it to others.

If Someone Is Sick

If an employee contracts Covid, a quick response is key to ensure the safety of others. Isolate the person who is ill by sending them home right away. Clean surfaces in their workstation as quickly as possible. Anyone who the ill person had contact with in recent days should be notified. 

Encourage others to self-monitor. A policy in place for workers to self-report if they are ill is a good idea.

Anyone potentially infectious should be quickly isolated, to a separate room or office if they cannot immediately leave the premises.


While there’s no vaccine or quick test for Covid (yet), the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies. A few measures to improve the safety of workers is no guarantee of staying Covid-free, but it can dramatically reduce the risk. Consider the following to prevent spread:

  • Promote hygiene: Push a policy of frequent and thorough hand-washing, as well as providing means for workers to scrub up. Making hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol available is a good idea, too. Especially in high-traffic areas or areas away from easy access to sinks and soaps.
  • Provide personal protective equipment: Provide face masks, shields, or gloves, or install plastic barriers where necessary. 
  • Contain it: If an employee is ill, encourage them to stay home. Have an attendance policy in place that does not punish sick days so they’re less likely to come in while they’re contagious.
  • Courtesy: Encourage people to cover their mouths and noses when they sneeze or cough. Provide tissues and trash receptacles to quickly dispose of potentially contaminated items.
  • Flex it: Options such as telecommuting and flexible work hours can stagger the number of people in a given space at any one time, cutting the risk of exposure.
  • Discourage sharing of equipment when possible. Otherwise be sure to disinfect stations and surfaces between uses.
  • Keep house: Maintain regular cleaning of surfaces and equipment, and be sure to use Environmental Protection Agency-approved disinfectants.
  • Restrict traffic where necessary: In stores, for example, encourage one-way traffic, or limit the number of customers or clients in small spaces. Be sure to follow state or community guidelines. Offer options like drive-thru, curbside pickup, or contactless delivery. 
  • Improve ventilation and air flow, and add air filtration systems or equipment where possible.

How It Can Affect the Workplace

If Covid arrives at the workplace it can affect operations in a number of ways, including:

  • Absenteeism: Workers could be caring for themselves or for sick or at-risk loved ones, or tending to children due to daycare centers and schools being shuttered.
  • Commerce: High-demand items like hand sanitizers, masks, respirators, and cleaning supplies may cause shortages. 
  • Supply and delivery: There may be delays due to supply or staff shortages, which could disrupt normal, pre-Covid patterns.

Assess the Risks

There are no guarantees to avoiding Corona, but taking time to note potential issues is a smart start. Covid can spread from person to person, particularly between people in close contact. When people cough or sneeze, respiratory droplets from an infected person can land on a bystander. Without proper protection, distance (of at least six feet, ideally), hygiene, and other preventive measures (like not touching one’s face), it puts people at higher risk of getting the virus. People who have a fever or cough, they are more contagious as well.

Knowing the dangers makes it easier to design a plan to prevent spread.

Make a Plan

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) issued workplace advice to prepare for Covid. One suggestion was to develop a preparedness and response plan, using federal, state, local, tribal, and/or territorial regulations to shape procedures.

Risk levels and job duties should be considered, including:

  • Where and how workers may be exposed to Covid. (Do they deal with the general public? Is it coworker to coworker? Is it a healthcare setting where the infected may spread it to others at the facility?)
  • What risks exist outside the workplace? (Home, community, travel)
  • Employees themselves: Age, pre-existing conditions like diabetes or respiratory disease, or pregnancy put an individual at greater risk.

If Covid were to affect the workplace, employers should anticipate and plan for issues such as:

  • Potential absenteeism
  • The need for modifying the workplace. This could include staggering work shifts so less people are on site at the same time, downsizing operations, or creating more space between employees. Other exposure-limiting measures like curbside pickup or contactless delivery may be considered.
  • Work-from-home options
  • Delays due to supply chain disruptions, and alerting the customers (where applicable) of such issues


If you haven’t already, revamp your emergency preparedness plan. (This includes what you’re doing to avert disaster, and what you’ll do if disaster hits.)

Train managers and staff how to respond in emergency situations. Have communication plans in place, and educate on risk factors and prevention. 

If workers must use PPE, be sure they know how to properly put it on and remove it. Ensure everything is properly fitted, too. For medical equipment like respirators, proper disposal, disinfection, and maintenance are essential.

To prevent spread, encourage the sick to stay home. During the pandemic it’s best not to punish people for taking sick time, either. Because doctor’s offices, clinics, and hospitals may be overwhelmed, don’t insist workers get a signed slip when they take sick time.

Keep policies flexible for the time being, too. That allows workers to tend to sick family members or care for young children or aging parents. 

Federal Advice

Insurance companies, health agencies, and government entities can provide information on how to keep the work force safe and on the job.The Centers for Disease Control has tips for safety practices in various industries. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health also has information on workplace resources, coping with stress, crisis strategies, and more.

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