As states begin to re-open in the wake of COVID-19, businesses are facing daunting questions around employee safety, privacy, and what returning to ‘business as usual’ means.
However, some employers – with essential personnel in retail operations, healthcare, delivery, manufacturing, and more – have needed to maintain operations during the peak of COVID-19.
Taking lessons learned and best practices from these businesses and highlighting key ADA and EEOC guidelines, WELCOA COO Sara Martin and Validic SVP of Product Brian Carter came together during a webinar to discuss how companies can continue to keep employees safe and healthy as they attempt to return to in-person operations.
Preparing For Re-Opening
Employers can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the workplace. As businesses begin to re-open, employers must monitor their employees for COVID-19 symptoms and provide education that reinforces healthy behaviors in the workplace.
Before re-opening, employers should rely on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and state and local recommendations.
“Our role as employers is also to serve as another source of education for the people we work with,” said Carter.
Businesses should consider creating a COVID-19 task force to prepare and monitor the re-opening of their physical workspace. These task forces should consist of human resources, legal teams, persons responsible for facilities, selected managers, and non-supervisory employees to capture different employee population segments. These teams should consider the level of disease transmission in their communities and revise their plans as needed. These plans should be specific to their workplace, identifies all areas and job tasks, and includes control and safety measures. Additionally, these teams should provide resources that outline new procedures and policies, faqs, and any other relevant information.
To gauge our employees’ overall attitude towards returning to work, Validic sent out a survey. The responses from this survey are helping our emergency response team better understand how important it is to get back to the office if we have aggressive mitigation strategies or if our employees feel more comfortable continuing to work remotely. Additionally, this survey provides important information about how our employees would respond and if they would be able to do the mitigation measures we might implement if we returned to the office.
“I think so much of this is about not just transparent communication from the top down and making sure that employees feel heard and feel that their opinions are considered. Do your employees feel cared for? Are the steps you are taking to meet their needs are pro-employee, or are they pro-employer?” said Martin.
Continued Monitoring as Businesses Re-Open
Continuing to monitor for COVID-19 is crucial in slowing the spread of the disease and keeping your employees safe as they return to work. Many employers are considering options for testing and monitoring employees for the presence of COVID-19 symptoms.
The CDC recommends that employers consider daily in-person or virtual health checks of employees before entering the facility. Employers should only be gathering relevant information from employees like temperature, oxygen saturation, cough severity, and breathing difficulty.
If implementing in-person checks, employers should use social distancing or personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect the screener. Employers may also provide multiple screening entries into the building to help maintain social distancing guidelines.
“As people start to re-enter the workplace, a lot of these habits (wearing a face mask, social distancing, not touching items you don’t need, etc.) have not been developed by those folks yet – these are behaviors they are not used to doing. Continuing to monitor symptoms but reinforcing these behaviors is going to be really important,” said Carter.
Methods and Tools for Identifying Employees Who May Have COVID-19
As part of Validic’s efforts to address the global COVID-19 outbreak, we launched a real-time monitoring solution designed to observe, analyze, and triage individuals remotely for the emergence of COVID-19 symptoms.
Our solution provides insight for human resource teams and managers on which employees demonstrate symptoms and information around when quarantine has ended with no symptoms.
Each day, members enrolled in the solution get a text or an email twice a day to record their symptoms with a link specific to them. That data is then floated up to a dashboard that an HR manager or nurse can view and intervene when necessary.
Case Study: Weaver Street Market
During COVID-19, grocery stores have remained critical, and grocery store employees have been on the frontlines while many Americans were sheltering in place. Weaver Street Market is a community-owned natural food grocery store with 300 employees and 4 stores throughout the triangle in North Carolina. To help keep it’s employees safe, Weaver Street Market began monitoring its employees through Validic’s COVID-19 Home Monitoring Solution.
First, they used Microsoft teams and the different channels they have for different locations to communicate with store managers and let them know that the team was going to implement a remote symptom monitoring solution. Second, they needed to make sure they had accurate contact information for all employees (emails and phone numbers); contacted each employee individually to confirm their contact info and uploaded verified data into their HR system. Third, they had a good percentage of non-English speaking employees – so translated all of the fields (of the solution) and had the instructions available in all languages.
Their HR team handled the administration of the rollout and manages adoption, enrollment, reviewing and triaging recordings, supporting the team, and their questions. Further, the HR team is prepared to walk an employee through how their benefits work, where to get tested, and help them with their next steps for seeking treatment and/or resources should they become ill.
Managers in each of the stores are coached on how to provide encouragement and make sure their teammates understand that they are all in this together and responsible for each other.
“I don’t want to look back and think we didn’t do everything we could,” said their general manager.
To manage COVID-19 beyond the remote monitoring program, Weaver Street Market provided masks for employees, relaxed PTO policies and schedule changes, and are trying to be more accommodating in general with shifts. So far, Weaver Street Market has no COVID-19 cases.
Following ADA and EEOC Guidelines When Collecting Employees Personal Health Data
No matter the format, employee health information should be treated as confidential. Employers should take reasonable steps and put strict controls in place to protect employees’ rights and privacy, especially as it relates to protecting sensitive personal information, like health data. Our blog, What to Know About the ADA and EEOC Guidelines When Monitoring Employees for COVID-19, outlines these organization’s rules relating to your employee’s rights during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the ADA, any employment-related documentation containing medical information must be maintained in confidential files completely separate from the general personnel file. That way, medical information won’t be inadvertently shared with individuals who don’t have a legitimate business need to see it.
The EEOC has directly stated that: “During a pandemic, ADA-covered employers may ask such employees if they are experiencing symptoms of the pandemic virus. For COVID-19, these include symptoms such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat. Employers must maintain all information about employee illness as a confidential medical record in compliance with the ADA.”
“Any data that you are collecting from people – especially health data – employers need to be very transparent with their employees about what information they are collecting, why they need it, and what they are going to do with it,” said Carter. “That goes a very long way in both building trust as well as getting adherence.”
Validic recommends tracking temperature remotely, if possible, allowing people to use their home thermometer to capture their reading. This reduces the contact between one device and multiple people. Additionally, within Validic’s COVID-19 solution, an employee must consent to participate in the program; they can do so via text and/or email. An employee may also remove themselves from the program at any time. This adds an additional authorization level to the process and control for keeping data digitally secure.
The CDC director warns a second wave of COVID-19 that without more aggressive mitigation strategies now, could be even more devastating than what we are seeing now. Even as states move ahead with their plans to re-open their businesses, the second wave of COVID-19 is likely to coincide with the start of flu season. Having two simultaneous respiratory outbreaks could put an unimaginable strain on our already overwhelmed healthcare system. As mentioned above, businesses and employers can prevent the spread of COVID-19. Continued monitoring is crucial to protecting employees as they return to work.
To learn more, watch the video-on-demand here.
For information on responding to the coronavirus in the workplace go to: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/guidance-business-response.html
For more information on Validic’s COVID-19 Home Monitoring Solution, please visit: www.covidmonitoring.com.
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