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What HR Managers Should Know About COVID-19

Human resource professionals can help businesses do their part in slowing the spread of the disease.

As the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) began spreading across the continents, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, delivered a sobering assessment to a U.S. Congressional committee: “This is not business as usual.”1

Very quickly, the enormity of that statement came into focus, as the disease began affecting the lives of friends, neighbors, and family members. Schools and universities started sending students home on extended breaks, or to study from home. Broadway went dark and art museums and libraries closed. NBA, NCAA, and MLB games—canceled. While some employees began experiencing furloughs, others, like healthcare workers, started facing unprecedented demands.

What HR Managers Should Know About COVID-19

While each business has its own challenges at this unusual time, there is one common denominator: the employees who make them run. Dr. Wanda Gravett, a former executive known for her work in human resource management and other corporate divisions, says HR managers can be key to an organization’s efforts to operate responsibly through the COVID-19 crisis.

“Creative workplace scheduling of work time, work responsibilities, and how the work gets done is pivotal at this time in containing the spread of COVID-19,” Dr. Gravett says. “Employers can be key in helping to make this happen.”

Dr. Gravett has a unique perspective on HR management against the backdrop of this global pandemic. Earlier in her career, she was a CDC-trained epidemiologist working for the National Institutes of Health. After holding executive positions as a CEO, corporate planner and strategist, and HR executive, Dr. Gravett brought her talents to higher education. Today, she is the academic program coordinator for the MS in Human Resource Management degree program at Walden University, an innovative leader in distance education.

In the article excerpted below, Dr. Gravett offers her thoughts on workforce issues and what HR managers—and indeed, all of us—should know about COVID-19.


The coronavirus disease 2019, named COVID-19, is the seventh coronavirus to invade our everyday lives, and almost everything we know to date about COVID-19 is based on the behavior of earlier viruses. It’s too soon to know all that we need to know about COVID-19, but we are learning more each day thanks to the tireless efforts of scientists working across the globe and around the clock.

What we do know is that COVID-19 is spread by droplets (fomites) that spray from our mouths for as far as 6 feet and can remain on surfaces where they land anywhere from minutes to days, depending on the temperature and humidity of the surface.

Some of the latest research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tells us COVID-19 lives in the air for up to three hours, as droplets that linger as live viruses. It can live for up to 24 hours on cardboard that has been touched by someone infected with the virus, even if they are asymptomatic (e.g., packages being shipped and received as well as packages from grocery stores, drugstores, and other stores). And it lives on plastic and stainless steel for two to three days. This includes surfaces and items typically encountered in everyday life, such as store checkout counters and shopping carts, playground and fitness equipment, and sinks, toilets, faucets, and water fountains.

Knowing this, what we need to do is clear. The nationwide goal now is to contain the spread. The virus is present in almost every state and is spreading like viruses do. We must contain and slow the spread. We can do this through everyone’s collective efforts.

As individuals, and in professional roles such as HR managers, we must learn all we can to be effective on the front lines to slow and contain the spread. An important place to start is by learning to recognize the symptoms of COVID-19: a fever and dry cough, and then difficulty breathing (this is key).

Some people remain asymptomatic, but of those who exhibit symptoms, 99% do so five to six days after infection. But symptoms may appear in as few as two days or in as many as 14 days—thus the assumed incubation period of two weeks, for safety.

What You Can Do at Work

HR managers can innovate with work schedules and assignments by allowing flexible scheduling parameters and being creative in how the work gets done. Here are some ideas:

  • Spread out the density of employees throughout a workday vs. everyone working a standard eight-hour shift.
  • Have teams work via teleconferencing and/or internet meetings.
  • Avoid or postpone group face-to-face celebrations, especially ones with food being served. Consider discouraging the use of or closing community dining spaces and encourage at-desk lunch and snacking.
  • Allow or expand flex-time opportunities for the majority of positions.
  • Allow or expand eligible positions for remote working environments. 
  • Postpone all work-related travel. Reframe the “how,” e.g., would anything be lost through video/teleconferencing vs. face-to-face?
  • Tell employees to stay home/self-isolate if they are ill, coming down with something, or have had a known exposure to COVID-19. The rule of thumb is, if in doubt, don’t. The CDC suggests employers consider allowing employees to go into a “negative bank” of sick leave time available to support their staying away from the workplace when they are or might be ill.  

For employers, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, ‎A Guide to Disability Rights Laws ) and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA, Law and Regulations) provide rules and guidance for managing potentially ill employees who are at work. Employees who have little or no sick leave are now being considered for eligibility under the Family and Medical Leave Act, since the incubation period for COVID-19 is 14 days.

Best Hygiene Practices for Work and Home

Organizations rely on human resource management to disseminate accurate and up-to-date information, and their work becomes even more critical during emergency situations. You can find the latest information on COVID-19 precautions on the CDC’s website. Here are some of the agency’s recommended procedures:

  • Practice respiratory etiquette everywhere. When you cough or sneeze, cover your nose and mouth with something disposable such as a tissue, then immediately throw it away, or use the elbow or shoulder of your clothing.
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds each time, scrubbing all fingers/hand surfaces and fingertips (including under the nails) after any contact with suspect surfaces and/or people. If you don’t have soap and water, the CDC recommends using a hand sanitizer with a minimum of 60% alcohol. Additional key times to clean hands include after blowing one’s nose, coughing, or sneezing; after using the restroom; before eating or preparing food; after contact with animals or pets; and before and after providing assistance to or being in contact with another person, especially one thought to be ill.
  • Do NOT touch your face, especially your eyes, nose, and mouth, which act as portals for the virus. Avoid unnecessary person-to-person contact.
  • Disinfect surfaces with alcohol-based disinfecting/cleaning solutions, using gloves when at work. Follow these CDC guidelines in the workplace or at home:
    1. If surfaces are dirty, they should be cleaned using a detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection. Be sure to discard or wash cleaning cloths in the washing machine.
    2. For disinfection, diluted household bleach solutions, alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol, and most common EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective.
    3. Diluted household bleach solutions can be used if appropriate for the surface. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application and proper ventilation. Check to ensure the product is not past its expiration date. Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser. Unexpired household bleach will be effective against COVID-19 and other coronaviruses when properly diluted.
    4. Prepare a bleach solution by mixing 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of water or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water.


Help Lead the Way With an Online HR Degree

“Do your part,” Dr. Gravett urges. As the global community manages through the COVID-19 pandemic, there are countless ways for each of us to help. If the responsibilities and efforts of human resources professionals inspire you, you might want to consider launching—or advancing—an HR career.

With Dr. Gravett as the academic program coordinator for Walden’s online MS in Human Resource Management degree program, you will reap the benefits of her broad experience when you choose to earn a degree. In the master’s program, you’ll learn from business leaders and industry experts who have extensive professional experience. You’ll develop strategic planning skills that will allow you to address complex, real-world HR challenges. And with the knowledge, skills, and tools you’ll gain in Walden’s human resource degree program, you can forge a respected career with staying power.

Human resource professionals lead strategically. And with a master’s in human resource management, you can also lead with confidence through times of growth, times of challenge, and everything in between.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online MS in Human Resource Management degree program with two paths to completion. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, online format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,