In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses are facing a new challenge: demands from employees for a safer work environment. Not only must you meet the appropriate standards in order to ensure employee safety and satisfaction, but you also need to maintain business operations and continue to serve your customers to the best of your ability. Managing these competing challenges may make the difference in your company's economic and operational fate.
As you consider how your business will respond to these challenges, make sure you incorporate regulations prescribed by both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Creating a Safe Workplace
As an employer, you must provide a safe and healthy workplace for your employees as well as protecting their privacy. Consider how you can adapt your business to reflect those needs in the wake of the pandemic, especially as many businesses are starting to reopen for normal functions.
Consider who really needs to be on site. Only essential personnel should come in to the physical workplace when possible. Allow employees to continue working remotely whenever possible, and limit outside visitors. You should also cancel any non-essential employee travel and support social distancing in the workplace through staggered work times and breaks or maintaining safe social distancing guidelines while at work.
Keep the workplace clean and safe. Promote frequent and thorough hand washing as per the CDC guidelines. Post CDC signs in restrooms and common areas to remind employees of disease prevention guidelines. You should also deep clean office spaces frequently and provide antibacterial wipes, hand sanitizer, and tissues to make it easier for employees to keep their areas clean and avoid the spread of germs.
Provide training and instruction for decreasing potential contamination. If needed, require the use of masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment as needed. Discourage employees from using other employees' phones and personal equipment. Offer training on how to use protective gear and other supplies properly.
Temperature Monitoring in the Workplace: Is It Effective?
Due to the pandemic, employers have the right to ask employees how they're feeling, take their temperatures, and monitor their overall health--and to request that sick employees refrain from coming to work. That does not necessarily mean, however, that simple temperature monitoring will prove effective in monitoring employee wellness. Consider these factors before deciding whether you will implement this method in your workplace.
Understand the guidelines. The temperature test is used solely to determine if employees have potential symptoms of COVID-19. Make sure the person taking temperatures is properly trained and knows the temperature threshold (100 degrees Fahrenheit) that could indicate a symptomatic individual. Keep in mind, however, that not all people with COVID-19 have a fever, so temperature taking alone might not be the best way to gauge the health of your employees. Questions about employee health must be limited to COVID-19-related symptoms as defined by the CDC: fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, and sore throat.
Use this testing properly. Use an infrared thermometer and sanitize it properly between employees. Do the testing in a private location. You can keep a log of this information, but it should remain confidential. You must also ensure that you exercise consistency in testing: either everyone should be tested, or no one should be.
Consult your Questco Human Resources Consultant before implementing this type of program. You do not want to infringe on employee rights while implementing this program. Working with your HR Consultant will ensure that you protect employee rights and confidentiality while protecting the health of all your employees.
As your company continues to implement changes related to COVID-19, make sure that you communicate all those changes to your employees--and continue to communicate with them throughout the changing situation. Make sure everyone knows what the company is doing to ensure employee safety. If you have a multi-lingual workforce, you may need to provide all of that information in more than one language to help protect your employees.
Clearly communicate the need for all employees to stay home if ill. Let employees know how to notify their manager if they need to remain home due to potential symptoms, especially flu-like or respiratory symptoms.
Require employees who become ill at work to notify their supervisors immediately. Employees should self-monitor for potential symptoms of COVID-19 and report them immediately--and leave work to decrease the risk of contaminating others.
Address individual concerns with your employees. Some employees are higher risk than others--and that's something that your management team needs to know about. Make sure to address individual risk factors and increased problems with your employees directly. If an employee who, due to a preexisting condition or disability, is at higher risk for COVID-19, requires reasonable accommodations, including increased safety precautions or the ability to work from home, work to accommodate those requests as much as possible. Contact your HR Personnel if needed to discuss those requests and requirements.
Ask employees to self-report contact with individuals diagnosed with COVID-19. Let employees know how important it is to disclose exposure and symptoms. Promise employees that they will not face discrimination or retaliation due to potential illness or diagnosis, and ensure employees that their privacy will be protected.
What Happens if You Have a Sick Employee?
When an employee suspects that they have the virus or exhibit symptoms related to the virus, your company needs to take immediate action. You need a consistent response to all potential COVID-19 cases, regardless of whether the concerns are self-reported or based on symptoms witnessed by a manager.
Send suspected cases home immediately. For the safety of other employees and your customers, do not keep potentially infected employees in the workplace. Keep calm and discrete, avoiding employee interaction with others. Recommend that the employee seek appropriate medical care and plan to stay home for at least 14 days or the length of time recommended by a healthcare provider or health department.
Keep information about the infection or suspected infection confidential. Share it with as few people as possible. The employee's direct manager, senior leadership, and HR may need to be informed, but other employees do not need to know the identity of a potentially infected coworker.
Close off areas used by the infected person. Clean the work area extensively.
Ask employees who they've been in contact with. You may need to know about work activities within the last 14 days, or a minimum of two days before symptoms appeared.
If COVID-19 Diagnosis is Confirmed
Once you have a confirmed diagnosis, you need to act quickly. Identify all employees who may have come into contact with a diagnosed employee while at work over the past fourteen days as well as contractors, customers, and vendors who may have been exposed. Consider consulting legal counsel and notifying these individuals of potential exposure. Then:
Assess whether the case was "work-related" under the OSHA recording rule. Did the employee contract the virus while on the job? Handle this accordingly.
Deep clean infected areas. Require the use of masks and gloves while cleaning. You should clean all work areas used by the infected person as well as rest areas, bathrooms, doorknobs, handrails, and buttons.
Revisit your plan for compensation of impacted employees. Take government mandates as well as your company's individual plan for compensation into consideration.
Handle internal communications with care and concern. Do not share specific employee names with employees outside of the management team that may need to know direct information. Contact your Questo Human Resources Consultant for support and to ensure that you keep employee rights in mind as you handle this issue. Impacted employees should be contacted promptly about potential exposure. They should then contact their healthcare providers and carefully monitor for symptoms. You can also require non-essential employees to quarantine for 14 days to help keep them and others safe. You may also want to:
- Notify impacted employees of benefits they can receive under these regulations.
- Provide information to building management if you share an office space.
- Notify state and local health officials.
On the Road to Recovery
When you have a diagnosed or impacted employee, you need to keep in touch. Ask for regular updates: weekly updates can keep you informed of employees' symptom progressions. Once employees are symptom-free for at least 72 hours without medication, and it has been at least seven days since symptoms first appeared, employees can usually be cleared to return to work. If the employee tested positive, the CDC might also require two consecutive negative tests before employees can return to work. You can require a written doctor's note confirming clearance to return to work, but the CDC recommends relaxed requirements during this time.
Information about COVID-19 transmission and risk is evolving. Pay attention to the latest recommendations from state, federal, and local agencies, including CDC recommendations and OSHA regulations as you continue to adapt your business's requirements to handle this difficult time.