Reviewing staff and administrative policies


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These unprecedented times require close and careful review of existing staff and administrative policies. In this section, find strategies for employers, including human resources-related considerations, as well as information designed to help support the mental health of staff during closures and when returning to work. Additional information related to administrative policies can also be found on the Alliance’s preparing to reopen page.

Administrative Policies

Museums should take steps now to revisit and update administrative policies and engage in clear and regular communication with staff in the process. Specific recommendations include:

  • Review emergency disaster and succession plans, making changes as needed. You can find information about emergency preparedness and planning as well as sample documents (available to Tier 3 museum members) in AAM’s Resource Library. For example, see this COVID-19 Action Plan from the American Civil War Museum.
  • Review insurance policies with an eye toward how a potential outbreak might impact business interruption insurance or general liability policy. For example, under the existing policy is it possible to obtain a COVID-19 endorsement or rider on the institution’s general liability policy? The National Underwriter Resource Center (NURC) may be a resource for exploring this option for US-based museums.
  • Keep these human resources policies in mind, courtesy of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM):
    • Employee health information continues to be confidential even during this crisis.  Employers may communicate confirmed cases of the virus, but may not reveal identities of employees infected.
    • Employers may not ask an employee if they have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.  It is ok to ask if the employee may have been exposed to the virus.  (Note EEOC may allow employers to ask more direct questions [through voluntary disclosure] in the future as this situation evolves.)
    • Employers/supervisors can encourage an employee exhibiting symptoms (coughing, sneezing, appearing ill, etc.) to see a doctor, but cannot require it.  Employers can require the employee to provide medical documentation stating they are not infectious before returning to work.
  • Engage your staff in scenario planning. In the event of an outbreak in your community, schools may close, or local government may even choose to temporarily close cultural institutions. While we cannot predict what will happen, putting plans in place for different scenarios will help facilitate your museum’s responses no matter the situation. Consider:
    • What is your museum’s plan if other systems—such as schools—are closed, but the museum is able to stay open?
    • How will your museum prepare for a mandatory shutdown, especially in terms of staff compensation?
    • Are there creative ways for your museum to continue operations in case of a shutdown, for example, on-line programming and promoting access to the museum’s digital resources?
    • Consider stocking up on essential supplies. Given the global nature of COVID-19, there is a possibility that supply chains for consumables, office supplies, and cleaning supplies may be affected. It may be prudent to expand, for example, your museum’s typical one-month supply of toilet paper to a three-month supply.

This information was adapted with permission from the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) from “ACM Resources to Help Guide Your Museum’s Response to Coronavirus.”

Staff Travel

Museums should track the CDC Travel Health Notices and the State Department Travel Advisories to determine what business travel should be canceled or postponed. The CDC currently recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to China, South Korea, Italy, and Iran.

Employees should be especially careful not to travel if they feel unwell, as they might face quarantine on return if they have a fever, even without significant risk of coronavirus infection.

For employees who have traveled to affected areas, consider implementing self-quarantine requirements. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), there are no laws that prohibit employers from requiring employees to work remotely from their worksite as a precaution. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) general duty clause, employers are obligated to protect employees from known hazards, which could include taking precautions to stop the spread of the virus.

Guidance for Employers

(The following is adapted from the Centers for Disease Control Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), May 2020.)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide extensive guidance for employers, including information relevant for museums as they develop strategies to keep staff safe. This information may help prevent workplace exposure to acute respiratory illnesses and provides planning considerations.

Recommended strategies for employers:

  • Encourage good hygiene
    • Place posters that encourage staying home when sickcough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene at the entrance to your workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen.
    • Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles for use by employees.
    • Instruct employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol, or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Soap and water should be used preferentially if hands are visibly dirty.
    • Provide soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace. Ensure that adequate supplies are maintained. Place hand rubs in multiple locations or in conference rooms to encourage hand hygiene.
  • Perform routine environmental cleaning:
    • Follow the Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting to develop, implement, and maintain a plan to perform regular cleanings to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
    • Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, keyboards, telephones, handrails, and doorknobs.
      • If surfaces are dirty, clean them using a detergent or soap and water before you disinfect them.
      • For disinfection, most common, EPA-registered, household disinfectants should be effective. A list of products that are EPA-approved for use against the virus that causes COVID-19external icon is available on the EPA website. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products (e.g., concentration, application method, and contact time).
    • Discourage workers from using each other’s phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment, when possible.
    • Provide disposable disinfecting wipes so that employees can wipe down commonly used surfaces (e.g., doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks, other work tools and equipment) before each use.
    • Store and use disinfectants in a responsible and appropriate manner according to the label.
    • Do not mix bleach or other cleaning and disinfection products together. This can cause fumes that could be very dangerous to breathe in.
    • Advise employees to always wear gloves appropriate for the chemicals being used when they are cleaning and disinfecting and that they may need additional PPE based on the setting and product.
  • Actively encourage sick employees to stay home:
    • Ensure that your sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies.
    • Talk with companies that provide your business with contract or temporary employees about the importance of sick employees staying home and encourage them to develop non-punitive leave policies.
    • Employers should maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member. Employers should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other sick family members than is usual.
    • Employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (i.e. cough, shortness of breath) upon arrival to work or who become sick during the day should be sent home immediately. Sick employees should cover their noses and mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing (or an elbow or shoulder if no tissue is available).
    • Employees who have symptoms should stay home until they are free of fever (100.4° F [37.8° C] or greater using an oral thermometer), signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines (e.g. cough suppressants). Employees should notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.
    • Do not require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness or to return to work.
    • If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
    • Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.

Planning Considerations

Museums should consider how best to decrease the spread and lower the impact of COVID-19 in their workplace in the event of an outbreak in their geographic area. They should identify and communicate their objectives, which may include one or more of the following: (a) reducing transmission among staff, (b) protecting people who are at higher risk for adverse health complications, (c) maintaining business operations, and (d) minimizing adverse effects on visitors and other entities in their supply chains. Some of the key considerations when making decisions on appropriate responses are:

  • Prepare for possible increased numbers of employee absences due to illness in employees and their family members, dismissals of early childhood programs and K-12 schools due to high levels of absenteeism or illness.
  • Employers should plan to monitor and respond to absenteeism at the workplace. Implement plans to continue your essential business functions in case you experience higher than usual absenteeism.
    • Cross-train personnel to perform essential functions so that the workplace is able to operate even if key staff members are absent.
    • Assess your essential functions and the reliance that others and the community have on your services or products. Be prepared to change your business practices if needed to maintain critical operations (e.g., identify alternative suppliers, prioritize customers, or temporarily suspend some of your operations if needed).
  • Plan to minimize exposure between employees and also between employees and the public, if public health officials call for social distancing.
  • Museums with more than one business location are encouraged to provide local directors or managers with the authority to take appropriate actions outlined in their business infectious disease outbreak response plan based on the condition in each locality.
  • Review human resources policies to make sure that policies and practices are consistent with public health recommendations and are consistent with existing state and federal workplace laws (for more information on employer responsibilities, visit the Department of Labor’s and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s websites).
  • Identify possible work-related exposure and health risks to your employees. OSHA has more information on how to protect workers from potential exposures to COVID-19.
  • In some communities, early childhood programs and K-12 schools may be dismissed, particularly if COVID-19 worsens. Determine how you will operate if absenteeism spikes from increases in sick employees, those who stay home to care for sick family members, and those who must stay home to watch their children if dismissed from school. Businesses and other employers should prepare to institute flexible work and leave policies for these employees.
  • Explore whether you can establish or revise flexible work policies and practices, such as telecommuting and flexible work hours (e.g., staggered shifts), to increase the physical distance among employees and between employees and the public. For employees who are able to telework, supervisors should encourage employees to telework instead of coming into the workplace. Ensure that you have the information technology and infrastructure needed to support multiple employees who may be able to work from home. Keep in mind the sensitivity needed to handle employees that may not be able to work from home if the museum remains open (e.g., front of house staff).
  • Consider canceling non-essential business travel to additional countries per travel guidance on the CDC website.
  • Consider canceling large work-related meetings or events.
  • Engage state and local health departments to confirm channels of communication and methods for dissemination of local outbreak information.

Recommendations for an Infectious Disease Outbreak Response Plan:

Museums leadership should:

  • Ensure the plan is flexible and involve your employees in developing and reviewing your plan.
  • Conduct a focused discussion or exercise using your plan, to find out ahead of time whether the plan has gaps or problems that need to be corrected.
  • Share your plan with employees and explain what human resources policies, workplace and leave flexibilities, and pay and benefits will be available to them.
  • Share best practices with other museums and businesses in your communities (especially those in your supply chain), chambers of commerce, and associations to improve community response efforts.
  • Set up authorities, triggers, and procedures for activating and terminating the company’s infectious disease outbreak response plan, altering business operations (e.g., possibly changing or closing operations in affected areas), and transferring business knowledge to key employees. Work closely with your local health officials to identify these triggers.
  • Establish a process to communicate information to employees and business partners on your infectious disease outbreak response plans and latest COVID-19 information. Anticipate employee fear, anxiety, rumors, and misinformation, and plan communications accordingly.

Considerations for individual mental health:

During times of crisis it is important to consider how events are affecting the mental health of patrons and staff alike. Here are some resources to help.

Additional Resources (compiled by the Alliance):

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