Businesses not planning for coronavirus contingencies are already behind: HR expert

Companies could have to lay off workers to offset the virus, he says

Businesses that aren't planning for coronavirus contingencies are already behind the curve, David Lewis, CEO of human resources consulting firm OperationsINC, told FOX Business.

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"You're going to make worse decisions if you have to do so on the fly," Lewis said.

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Lewis advised business owners to begin planning and testing remote work options for employees, and he also said managers should think about what to do if they lose a significant chunk of business — companies could have to lay off workers to offset the virus.

There are more than 400 cases of coronavirus in at least 27 states, and 19 Americans have died.

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The World Health Organization also recommends businesses develop contingency plans and released guidelines for keeping employees virus-free at work.

Lewis compared the possibility of the virus putting Americans on lockdown to a recession.

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"When you go into a recession, a typical recession has an extremely long runway of 100 days to 500 days," Lewis said. "It gives you all this opportunity to be able to effectively plan ... The playbook everybody has [is] thrown out the window here because of how quick this is going to happen."

Many big companies have been public with their reactions to the spread of coronavirus. Starbucks has restricted business-related air travel through March 31 and modified or postponed plans for large meetings across U.S. and Canadian offices.

A sign posted at a Starbucks store in Tacoma, Wash., Thursday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

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Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and Square, said that both companies have strongly urged all employees worldwide to work from home. For staff members in Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea, Twitter said the work-from-home guidance is mandatory in part because of government restrictions in those areas.

When it comes to work-from-home, businesses may not be prepared, Lewis said. Managers will need to "establish realistic expectations" because employees at home may also be caring for kids. Tech could be an issue too — a company's servers may be ready for a few remote workers but not an entire workforce going remote, Lewis said.

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"You need to start thinking, as a business owner, about the difference between a job that can be performed on a remote level and ones that are clearly not," Lewis said. "Businesses need to keep in mind that their employees are concerned bordering on panicked, and they want to ensure people they are demonstrating a high level of care and concern for their well-being."

FOX Business' DeArbea Walker and James Leggate contributed to this report.