On Monday Brad Blumenfeld, an owner and vice president of Blumenfeld Development Group, discussed allowing his staff to work from home to protect employees from the coronavirus. Credit: Johnny Milano

From allowing staff to work from home and forbidding unnecessary travel to distributing tissue boxes and bottles of hand sanitizer, Long Island businesses are taking myriad steps to protect employees from the coronavirus.

Blumenfeld Development Group in Syosset is training employees on the software needed to work remotely and has put tissues and hand sanitizer on every desk.

Henry Schein Inc., Long Island’s largest public company by annual revenue, has banned business trips outside the United States through April 17. The Melville-based company, which provides products to dentists and physicians worldwide, is also emphasizing small meetings of short duration over large meetings.

The accounting firm Grassi, which has offices in Jericho and Ronkonkoma, is requiring employees to work from home if they show any symptoms of coronavirus.

"We’re going broad and wide with our response,” said Brad Blumenfeld, an owner and vice president of Blumenfeld Development, his family’s commercial real estate business. The company manages 5 million square feet of office, retail and industrial space on Long Island and in New York City and the South.

“Between 30% and 40% of our people are on the road and work remotely,” he said. “We’re now training the other 60% to work remotely. That includes setting up manuals and training sessions ASAP.”

The company has between 75 and 80 employees on the Island and in the city. “For the most part, people are calm about the coronavirus,” Blumenfeld said, adding there was an office pizza party on Friday “so employees could chill out a bit.”

Henry Schein has told workers who recently traveled to heavily...

Henry Schein has told workers who recently traveled to heavily affected countries to self-quarantine for 14 days, a spokeswoman said. Credit: Barry Sloan

Henry Schein is telling employees who recently traveled to countries hit hard by the coronavirus — China, Korea, Iran, Italy and Japan — to self-quarantine for 14 days, according to employee instructions provided to Newsday by a company spokeswoman.

Henry Schein, which has a local workforce of about 1,400 people, is encouraging the use of videoconferencing and teleconferencing as a substitute for attending meetings in-person within the United States.

Ditto for The Nature’s Bounty Co., a manufacturer of vitamins and nutritional supplements with 11 facilities and 2,000 employees in Sufoflk County.

“We have suspended all nonessential business travel and are leveraging our digital meeting technology so that colleagues can connect virtually,” said spokeswoman Nicole Hayes.

At Grassi accountants, “We will be requiring individuals to work from home if they show possible symptoms of the virus, have been in contact with someone showing symptoms or have recently traveled to high-risk areas,” said CEO Louis C. Grassi.

These and other steps taken by employers in Nassau and Suffolk counties mirror what’s happening in workplaces across the globe, according to a survey by human resources consulting firm Mercer.

The Manhattan company polled more than 300 companies in 37 countries Feb. 6-18 about their response to the coronavirus. Forty-two percent encouraged employees to work from home, 68% handed out hand sanitizer and 48% gave out facemasks.

On Sunday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called on businesses in the state to embrace telecommuting. He said he’s been lobbying executives and will meet with a group of CEOs this week.

“More and more this is a digital economy. To the extent workers can work at home, let them work at home,” Cuomo said during a visit to a Northwell Health laboratory in Lake Success. He suggested private-sector companies stagger their workers: “One shift comes in early, one shift comes in late” to reduce the number of people in workplaces at any given time.

Separately, the advocacy group Long Island Advancement of Small Business will hold a brainstorming session on ways to respond to the virus at its Wednesday meeting in Hauppauge.

Other groups are substituting webinars for in-person events or postponing them to later dates.

 The local chapter of Financial Executives International canceled a Tuesday event because the employer of the three speakers is restricting travel. 

Experts in human resource management advised business executives to be flexible in their coronavirus response.

Ravi Anupindi, a business professor at the University of Michigan, said employers should “take a risk-based approach to allow employees to come to work when necessary and permitted, and facilitate telecommuting where possible.” He said employers need to communicate frequently with employees as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus climbs.

At Zebra Technologies Corp., offices are being cleaned more often and hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes are readily available, according to spokeswoman Therese Van Ryne. The company, which makes bar code scanners and mobile computers, employs about 950 people at the former Symbol Technologies headquarters in Holtsville.

"We have advised employees to postpone meetings and conferences or manage them through alternative, digital and remote means, like videoconferencing," she said. 

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