COVID-19 Lockdown in India: Best Practices for Essential Services Workers
- Workplaces that have been identified as essential services by the Indian government must ensure the well-being of their employees.
- This includes implementing best practices like flexible work hours, providing health insurance to employees, and discontinuing biometric attendance.
- According to some media reports, the government may consider extending the lockdown after April 14, 2020. This is yet to be confirmed.
India imposed a 21-day nationwide lockdown starting March 25, 2020 until April 14, 2020 – to prevent the spread of COVID-19 across the country. However, the number of reported cases continues to increase daily, leaving many to speculate that the lockdown could be extended beyond April 14. For instance, the state of Odisha has already extended its own state lockdown until April 30. However, it must be noted that the federal government has not yet announced any such national extension of the lockdown.
While most organizations have remained operational as employees work from home, this hasn’t been the case for those classified as essential services by the government. Some of the essential services are hospitals and all related medical establishments including their manufacturing and distribution units, grocery shops, print and electronic media, grocery shops, banks, delivery of essential products through e-commerce, manufacturing units of all essential commodities, and internet and broadcasting services to name a few.
As a result, several employees have had to travel to work even during the shutdown. These workplaces have thus been required to implement certain best practices to ensure the well-being of all its employees, and to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Businesses in India should comply with all the directions and advisories issued by the public health ministry and the state and national government.
Here are some measures organizations engaged in essential services can take to protect their staff during the lockdown.
Commuting to the workplace
With movement restricted during the lockdown across India, companies may issue letters to employees stating that they are considered essential personnel and should be allowed to commute to their workplace. This letter may help employees avoid unnecessary issues with the police during their office commute. Companies should work with their legal department to ensure that employees have all the necessary documentation with them so their commute to the office can be smooth.
Prioritizing employees’ health
Employees engaged in essential services are risking their safety to be at work, therefore, it is the responsibility of the organization to implement health and safety measures for all their staff members. This includes providing masks and sanitizer to each employee and informing them about ways to prevent COVID-19. This includes encouraging hand washing and practicing social distancing at the workplace.
Even for daily or weekly meetings, the organization should avoid in-person meetings and use technology such as video conferencing and instant messaging platform instead.
While providing information and resources are necessary, it is even more important that employers invest in a good insurance plan for their employees.
Companies must also discontinue the use of biometric attendance to avoid the spread of COVID-19 due to contact. If possible, companies should regularly screen their employees by using infrared thermometers.
Keep the employees updated
The organization should ensure that HR continues to keep staff members updated with the latest news, from sources such as the World Health Organization (WHO) or the health ministry.
Further, HR should also inform employees immediately if someone in the office or in the office building has tested positive for COVID-19. Also, if an employee’s relative or family member has tested positive, the rest of the employees should be informed as soon as possible.
If someone in the office is found to be infected, then the state or district administration should be informed at the earliest so that the office can be disinfected. Quarantine procedures must also then be implemented as advised by health authorities.
While it may be important for employees to report at their workplace, the organization should also provide flexibility to its employees in terms of work-from-home and remote operations.
The organization should not fire any employee who has tested positive for COVID-19. Further, they should be provided with any number of leaves they might need to recover if sick and should be entitled to a full pay without any deductions.
While the company may be classified as an essential service, it is likely that not all the employees are essential. For instance, in a hospital, medical professionals are essential while accountants may not be at this time – and can work from home. Therefore, companies should only ask essential employees to report to work in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Non-essential employees can continue to operate remotely and may be called on-site only in case of an emergency.