You don't work in China. Your customers aren't in China. So, the Coronavirus isn't affecting your business. Or, so we'd like to think. But, Coronavirus seems to be making everything it touches sick--including small businesses.
As of this morning, Coronavirus has killed 362 people, including one in the Philippines, and sickened 17,000. It sounds terrifying, which it is. But, nothing in comparison to the regular flu, which killed (according to the CDC) over 62,000 people in the 2018-2019 flu season. Coronavirus is an unknown instead of a cyclical disease, and for those it infects, it has a higher mortality rate. It's no laughing matter.
But, it's also not something that affects only Chinese people, which some places are not figuring out.
Others have reported rudeness towards Chinese looking people, which hopefully won't grow into violence. There's nothing about your race or ethnicity that makes you susceptible to the virus. What makes you susceptible is being around someone else who has had it.
The US is now preventing foreign nationals from entering the country if they've been to China in the past 14 days, and citizens who visited Hubei province must be quarantined. Other countries are imposing their restrictions. Airlines are cutting flights. Embassies are bringing their people home.
All of these restrictions trickle down and can affect your business. Have you had employees on vacation or traveling for business? Even if they weren't headed to Hubei province, airplanes and airports are filled with people going and coming from all four quarters of the earth--especially if you fly through a major hub.
Do use product from China? Do you manufacture a product there? Do you use remote workers there? If you look at your supply chains, you may find you have far more contact with affected areas than you thought you did. And even if you don't have contact, the global reaction, designed to contain the virus, may trickle down to your business in ways you haven't thought about.
What if an employee could have been exposed?
A recent 11th circuit court ruling held that possible exposure to Ebola didn't merit protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Employment attorney Jon Hyman explains that the court found no protection for someone who was healthy and voluntarily traveled to an affected area.
Presumably, the same would apply to someone who was traveling in China. They aren't protected under ADA, but, Hyman also points out, you're ridiculous if you react that way. "Just because this Court says that you can fire an employee in these circumstances doesn't mean that you should."
Can an employee refuse to travel to an affected area?
At the moment, it's hard to get to Wuhan, with commercial airplanes not traveling there like they used to, but if you had business reasons to go, can you force an employee to go and fire them if they refuse?
Employment Attorney Dan Schwartz looked into court cases to see what courts did in the past. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that you are required to provide a "safe workplace." It doesn't matter if that's the cubicle where your employee usually sits or a site for which he travels for business.
This, of course, is based on state law and your state may vary, but it's an ethical principle. If the CDC and the US Government says you shouldn't go, you shouldn't force an employee to go. Unless your mission is to cure disease or something similar, wait until the experts have the situation under control.
Don't discriminate against anyone
You can't tell if someone has been exposed by looking at them. Skin color, language spoken, or food choice doesn't determine someone's exposure risk. Trust that people don't want to get sick, and they don't want to spread the virus either. Take precautions and wash your hands frequently, but don't make extreme decisions out of fear.