A Series on Fighting the Novel Coronavirus Epidemic - How to Resume Work During the Prevention and Control of the Epidemic?

Time:2020-02-24 Source: The Author:By Jingxia Liu , Yixuan Liu, Ting Xiao, and Ying Wang Browse: Print Font Size:T|T
    At the start of the new year, 2020, a sudden novel coronavirus pneumonia emerged in China. It spread quickly in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, and then indiscriminately spilled over all of the provinces in China. COVID-19, the name given by the World Health Organization, has so far killed more than 2,400 people and has spread faster than the SARS epidemic.

    China's government has acted quickly to control and counter COVID-19. To protect the health and safety of China's mass population, and prevent and control the novel coronavirus pneumonia from spreading, the government immediately quarantined the source of infection in the city of Wuhan and the province of Hubei.

    China's national government took immediate steps to reduce the spreading of the novel coronavirus by limiting mass gatherings.  It also extended the Lunar New Year holiday to prevent large scale flow of personnel.  The local provincial and municipal governments also followed similar measures but noticed that enterprises would return to work no earlier than 24:00 on February 9.

    (General Office of the State Council of the People's Republic of China announced with the approval of the State Council on January 26, 2020.)

    While the national government has established the date for the delayed resumption of work, most local governments have not specified when to resume work. Many enterprises still have questions about when, whether, and how to resume work. In answer to these questions that many enterprises are facing, we consulted the State Council's policy document database and examined the following various government documents. We analyzed these documents to provide you insight on when and how to resume work.

    Recently, the relevant departments of the State Council issued the following documents about enterprises resuming work and production during the epidemic period:

    1、Jan 30, 2020, "Urgent Notice of the General Office of the State Council on Organizing the Enterprises that Produce Key Materials for Epidemic Prevention and Control to Resume Production and Distribute Materials" (GOSC [2020] No. 2)

    2、February 7, 2020, "Opinions of the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, China Enterprise Confederation, China Enterprise Directors Association on Stabilizing Employment Relationship during the Period for Prevention and Control of the Novel Coronavirus-infected Pneumonia Epidemic to Support Enterprises in Resuming Work and Production" (MHRSS [2020] No. 8)

    3、February 5, 2020, "Notice of the General Office of the Ministry of Commerce on Organizing Commercial Enterprises to Resume Work and Operate"

    4、February 1, 2020, "Notice of the National Coal Mine Safety Administration on Relevant Matters Concerning Coal Mines' Resumption of Work and Production after the Spring Festival" (NCMSA [2020] No. 5)

    5、February 8, 2020, "Notice of the Ministry of Transport on Implementing the Spirit of Important Instructions of General Secretary Xi Jinping, Carrying on Preventing and Controlling the Epidemic, Accelerating the Resumption of Constructing Project of Highways and Waterways and Increasing Transport Investment" (Jiao Gong Lu Ming Dian [2020] No. 49)

    6、February 8, 2020, the Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism of the State Council Against New Coronavirus Infected Pneumonia issued "Notice of Strengthening Scientific Prevention and Control of Epidemic and Orderly Carrying on Enterprises' Resumption of Work and Production."

    These documents did not give a clear schedule of when to resume work, but provided some general framework of it:

    1、Work should resume simultaneously with conducting efforts to prevent and control the epidemic. Handling the epidemic and continuing work and production must both be carried on a timely basis. Sufficient materials, supplies, and resources are a necessity for handling the pandemic and strong support for the stability of the economy and society.

    2、The various industries shall implement policies including the following:

    (1)Manufacturing Enterprises involved in the manufacture of critical materials for epidemic prevention and control

    The local governmental units (province, autonomous regions, and municipalities under the supervision of the Central Government) must support the local enterprises in their manufacture and supply of urgently needed medical protective clothing, supplies, and equipment.  Local government units can support these enterprises with their resumption of production, expansion of production capacity, and promotion and distribution.

    (2)Commercial Enterprises

    With appropriate measures in place to prevent and control the epidemic, commercial enterprises shall resume operations as soon as possible, including wholesale markets, supermarkets, convenience stores, community grocery stores, and others.

    (3)Coal mine enterprises.

    The National Coal Mine Safety Administration issued a notice concerning when work and production on coal mines are to resume. The notification provides for the resumption of work and production after the Spring Festival but did not specify the precise date and time.

    (4)Transportation Enterprises.

    The Ministry of Transport has made arrangements to resume highway and waterways construction projects except for projects in Hubei Province and other areas subject to strictest epidemic prevention and control measures.  Preparations shall be made before February 15, 2020, to return to work provided that the climatic conditions meet the construction requirements.  Work shall resume before February 20. Bridges, tunnels, dredging, reef clearing, and other projects involving physical labor work on relatively closed sites should return as soon as possible. For projects which are subject to limitations due to the current epidemic crisis or unfavorable climate conditions, work shall resume as early as practicable. Work is to return gradually in stages at the project sites.

    (5)Ordinary Enterprises.

    Enterprises that are having difficulties with employees who are unable to return to work on time or that are unable to start production due to the epidemic crisis may, if possible, design alternative working arrangements.

    Enterprises may arrange employees to work from home through flexible working methods such as the use of telephone and Internet technologies. If conditions do not exist for an employee to work under a flexible arrangement, the enterprise and employer can negotiate priority given to the employee to use paid annual leave or other welfare leave.

    Provisions of Some Provinces and Municipalities on Resuming Work

    After inquiring with the relevant departments of various regions (Provinces and Municipalities) concerning the resumption of work within the local areas, we summarize and provide the following schedule.

    Time to Resume Working

    Provinces & Municipality directly under the Central Government

    I.  No earlier than 24:00 on February 9:

    Beijing, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Guangdong, Chongqing, Liaoning, Hebei, Henan, Jiangxi, Jilin, Guizhou, Yunnan, Fujian, Anhui, Inner Mongolia, Hunan, Heilongjiang, Shandong, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Guangxi, Ningxia

    II.  No earlier than 24:00 on February 13:

    Hubei

    III.  No earlier than 24:00 on February 2:

    Tibet, Gansu, Xinjiang, Qinghai

    IV.  Flexible arrangements by enterprises

    Sichuan

    V. No specific time yet:

    Tianjin

    Most provinces and municipalities across the country have issued notices delaying enterprises from resuming work. Various national laws provide authority to issue such directives-  "Emergency Response Law of the People's Republic of China,"  "Law of the People's Republic of China on Prevention and Treatment of Infectious Diseases, " and other relevant provisions concerning major public health emergencies. Such notices are relatively normative documents formulated and issued by the people's governments of the provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities that are directly under the Central Government. These are different from general administrative guidance, administrative suggestions, and administrative calls. The violation of such notices can lead to corresponding legal liability. Therefore, enterprises should carefully adjust their schedules to resume work where prescribed by such notices.

    How Enterprises are to Resume Work

    An enterprise can delay resuming work operations for better controlling the potential risk of exposing employees to the epidemic.  Although this is an option, the costs of delaying a return to work or production may be just as problematic. For an enterprise to bear such losses, lest, even the country, may be too much of a burden.  The solution rests with developing a plan which places the priorities on making a healthy and safe environment for returning employees, devising alternative, flexible work arrangements.  Above all, appoint a dedicated team of leaders who can implement your plans as well as troubleshoot problems that arise.   The gradual resumption of work and production across the country is an inevitable requirement for maintaining national social stability and economic development but, proper, and prior planning can lessen much of the anticipated health risks and concerns of your employees.

    Resuming work and starting up operations will likely lead to the movement and gathering of large masses. A resulting large mass will probably, increase the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus.  Even more so, the risk of exposure and contamination to the coronavirus is more probable due to current shortages of protective equipment and supplies (masks, protective glasses and clothing, and disinfectants). Overcoming these challenges - maintaining a safe and healthy work environment for employees- and at the same time maintaining economic stability by resuming work and production- require enterprises to exercise flexibility.  We recommend that enterprises develop and devise flexible working arrangements when employees return on the job, implement health and safety measures for returning employees, including devising quarantine policies and rules,  to prevent and control the risk of spreading the epidemic virus.  Based on work arrangements put forth by the central government, the provinces and municipalities, the following eight-point measures are our suggestions as reference to guide enterprises that plan to resume work.

    1. Build and Develop A Special Management Team

    Build a management team with a critical lead manager. This essential lead manager is responsible for the implementation and communications of your plans for resuming work as well as implementing measures for the prevention and control of the epidemic.  Work plans for resumption of work and production and epidemic prevention and control of the enterprise shall be formulated, including the leadership system, division of responsibilities, inspection system, daily management, logistical support, and emergency issues. The corresponding duties should be delegated to specific positions of your team and managed by the lead manager.

    2. Develop a Communications Plan to Educate, Train and Guide Your Employees

    The success of your resuming work and restarting operations depends on how well you communicate with your employees.  Develop a communications plan to bring awareness and education to guide your employees with knowledge about the virus, and train them on best health practices to prevent and control it. Banners, broadcast media, text messages, WeChat, online platforms, pre-work education programs are excellent channels for distributing your messages, education, knowledge, and training.

    3. Inspection of Employees-Wellness Checks

    Enterprises should routinely conduct wellness checks on their employees. These checks include conducting daily body temperature checks on employees at the workplace to ensure that none are infected with the virus and pose no health risks to other employees.     Here are some other practical points to consider:

    (1). investigate the recent whereabouts of each employee per regulations;

    (2). establish a watchlist for employees who are from or have been to epidemic areas and advise them to stay in the locality and not return to work or delay their return;

    (3). check the date and time of return time of employees who are from or have been to epidemic areas;

    (4). implement medical observation and quarantine measures according to the requirements of the locality of the enterprise;

    (5). document the time and place of such employees' quarantine as well as the results of your examinations and observations; and

    (6). after the employee's quarantine and his passing body temperature tests, and if such an employee does not feel sick, the employee can return to work.

    4. Inspect and update Facilities, and Maintain Inventory of Materials

    Enterprises must prepare their facilities to handle and accommodate testing, monitoring, and observation of their returning employees.  They also must purchase and maintain testing equipment such as infrared temperature detectors and make available disinfectants, masks, gloves, and other protective gear.

    Enterprises with employee dormitories should set up temporary quarantine places, such as single, isolation rooms, and independent rooms, for employees from epidemic areas to stay. Strengthen the protection of employees close to epidemic prevention and control. Establish distribution standards and acceptance systems of epidemic prevention materials.

    5. Monitor and Control Personnel Movement

    As the risk of passing on the virus travels with the person, enterprises should carefully devise a movement policy to monitor, conduct health examinations, and assess employees and others who enter the work premises. Enterprises should erect security checkpoint stations at entrances with security personnel operating these to screen all employees who enter and exit the work premises.  All employees entering the work premises seek must present the proper identification, tested for body temperature, wear appropriate mask protection, and respond to inquiries. Outsiders and vehicles will be subject to strict controls, and as a general rule are not allowed entry unless the enterprise approves with a pass. They also must pass medical screening, including body temperature checks.  Those who exhibit fever and cough or have abnormal body temperature are not allowed to enter the workplace.

    Enterprises must develop and implement policies governing meetings and events.  Mass gatherings and group activity, including conferences, dinners, and parties are not encouraged.

    Teleconferencing such as video conferences is encouraged.

    6. Flexible Arrangement of Working Hours

    The key to a successful resumption of your work and operation during this coronavirus epidemic is developing effective and flexible methods to manage your employees with their health and safety as a top priority.   Providing employees with alternative and flexible working arrangements also require enterprises to consider industry characteristics and regional conditions.

    Enterprises can try to use effective methods such as flexible working hours or allowing employees to work at home. By planning their work hours to start later, your employees may avoid large crowds using mass transportation. Also, by staggering the working shifts, employees can avoid working all at the same time and avoid risks of virus infection.

    With many different technologies today, many kinds of work can be done long-distance or at home. Telecommuting, conducting video conferencing, voice calls, or messaging via WeChat or different platforms are available. Employees can still achieve maximum productivity away from the office. Enterprises should consider using modern technology to provide flexible working arrangements for employees.

    7. Hygiene Management- create and Manage a Healthy, Virus-Free Environment

    Enterprises must develop and maintain proper hygiene management.  A must make priority while at the same time, a challenge for enterprises is hygiene management.  Hygiene management ensures a clean workplace, which reduces the risk of virus transmission among workers.

    Hygiene management requires sterilizing the business premises, plants, equipment, and vehicles on a routine basis. It requires paying attention to spaces often closed, such as found in offices, elevators, canteens, and conference rooms. Much care must be paid to ventilation and maintaining indoor air circulation. Many of these closed spaces circulate and regulate air through central air-conditioning. Careful attention requires routinely replacing air conditioning air filters, which trap and distribute airborne particles that could be harmful and unsafe. It may be a wise practice to suspend the use of central air conditioning entirely.

    Cultural habits and tendencies often are excuses for proper hygiene management. The present outbreak of the coronavirus requires changes to strengthen hygiene management and practices. The cultural habit of eating in a group should give way to individual and separate dining. Also, food services should promote the free delivery of take-out box meals instead of cafeteria dining.  If dining in the cafeteria is a must, this requires scheduling smaller groups sitting and eating at different time slots. Also, changes in the configuration of tables - fewer tables set, and placed apart a few meters- is most appropriate.

    Also, important, but many times neglected, is the hygiene management of the kitchen staff and canteen premises.  Proper kitchen and canteen ventilation, along with routine and preventive disinfection of the canteen premises, are essential practices of proper hygiene management.

    8. Develop and implement plans for managing and responding to emergencies

    The most severe emergency occurs when you discover and suspect your employee may have the coronavirus. Enterprises must have an emergency plan. Carefully developing a well-conceived plan in advance allows for proper and safe handling of the employee so as not to endanger other employees.  Employees observed at the workplace to have the coronavirus or exhibit symptoms require immediate transfer and isolation to a temporary quarantine room, with timely contact made of the local disease control institution for guidance and treatment.  The enterprise must assist in carrying out related investigation and handling. Close contacts of suspected or diagnosed employee of novel coronavirus-infected pneumonia must also undergo medical observation in quarantine.

    CONCLUSION

    The novel coronavirus pneumonia crisis has tremendously impacted how we conduct our business. It has raised new challenges as well as problems. We provide this article as part of a series on what laws and regulations we must be aware of and comply with here. We hope you will find this useful as a starting point in your plans to respond to the challenges ahead.

    At King & Capital, our lawyers are more than happy to assist you with any specific issues or problems you encounter.