In Sedgwick’s recent blog, we discussed return to work strategies during the pandemic. Let’s keep the momentum going.
Business owners are asking many questions about how to bring employees back to the workplace in a way that is safe and protective of their health in the weeks and months ahead – but they may not yet have all the right tools in place as they seek to reopen and increase operating capacity. Here are some of the reopening questions we’re hearing – and strategies to consider as part of your back to business toolkit.
When is the right time for an employee to return to work?
In looking at how to best bring employees back into the workplace, it is important to first look at the local COVID-19 dynamics. Every city and local community has undergone a different COVID-19 experience in terms of the number of cases reported, upward and downward trends, testing and treatment options, and patient recoveries. The guidance from these local jurisdictions should be considered when determining how quickly a business should reopen and how it should start bringing employees back.
One of the challenges of COVID-19 is that some people can be asymptomatic and may still spread the virus to others. While it is impossible to achieve zero risk in the workplace, it is important to develop a COVID-19 return to work strategy that is tilted in favor of workplace safety.
Some of the issues to consider are how to structure the work environment, what individual safety protocols to implement, and how to integrate testing so as to minimize the risk. It is also important to have a contingency plan in response to the residual risk that remains. This can include a plan for claims notification and tracking the source of infection through exposure investigations should COVID-19 cases begin to resurface. Once these plans are in place and risks considered, an employer can feel more confident in setting a plan for bringing employees back into the workplace.
How should employees be phased back into business operations? Which employees should continue to work remotely to protect their health and the health of others?
Bringing employees back in cohort groups is one option for consideration. By organizing and phasing in population subsets and limiting the interaction between cohorts, the risk of possible infection is isolated within a smaller group rather than shared with the entire workforce. Increasing flexibility in hours and/or establishing alternating days or extra shifts can help reduce the number of employees in the workplace at any given time. A cohort approach could also include reconfiguring the floor plan and shared common spaces to enforce social distancing or staggering break times to limit the amount of people in one spot, even if staggered shifts aren’t feasible.
When possible, consider allowing more vulnerable groups to work from home longer while returning those in lower-risk categories – or even instituting a volunteer program for early phases. People at highest risk for contracting COVID-19 should be the last to return to the workplace. This includes: workers over the age of 65; those with compromised immune systems; those undergoing medical treatment that would weaken their immune systems; and those with serious illnesses or chronic conditions. These workers should not return until the community can demonstrate they can reopen without an increase in COVID-19 cases.
Which tests should be used to screen employees and why?
For those looking to create a comprehensive return to work plan, employers should screen employees and monitor symptoms daily. Many employers are incorporating on-site temperature checks and health questionnaires, but another option is connecting with your team each day through an app before they head to the workplace. Digital tools are now available to virtually connect employees with clinicians who can assess symptoms and risk factors each day before a shift so individuals know whether to come in or stay home. Clinicians can also offer guidance in the moment for anyone who is identified with risk factors or a need for testing or treatment.
If symptoms occur, individuals can be directed down a path for additional clinical support and COVID-19 testing services. Of course, not all fevers and coughs are related to COVID-19, and integrated clinical support allows for review of the latest evidence compared to individual symptoms to diagnose conditions that may mimic COVID-19 or direct for further tests. With testing options still inconsistent depending on region and availability, it’s important to know your options and secure dependable testing resources.
As always, it is important for employers to remain current on local government guidance and healthcare department developments regarding testing. More is learned each day about the virus, and guidelines and recommendations are continually changing. Employers must learn to cut through the noise within the environment to ensure they are guided by the most current and accurate information available.
How can businesses support employee mental health and well-being during the return phase?
Employees concerned with returning to the workplace may need help to manage the associated stress increases that come with the uncertainty of these times. Talking with someone, especially in these times of increased isolation and disconnection from typical work environments, can be powerful. Supporting your teams with trained professionals who can offer guidance and proven strategies for mental health and wellness can make an even bigger impact. Providing a mental health and wellness hotline staffed by clinicians and behavioral health specialists can help address the psychological well-being of the employee and provide tips to help manage stress as well as describe the employer’s safety protocols.
It’s also important in general for employers to communicate regularly with their employees about the steps they are taking to ensure workplace safety and health. Sharing updates, explaining the measures being implemented in the work environment and educating workers on procedures and expectations well before they are asked to return to work is ideal. Quick check-ins by managers before and during a back to business transition can ease fears and give an opportunity to answer questions as their employees adjust to new protocols.
At Sedgwick, we are partnering with our clients each and every day in developing their back to business plans and strategies. We will continue to share guidance and resources to help you develop formal plans of your own.
For a free consultation, contact us today.