As businesses are re-opening and life is cranking back up to 1/4 pace, employers are increasingly facing the challenges of ensuring the safety of employees. Some employees aren’t concerned, others are very scared, and some may be vulnerable or live with vulnerable people in their household. In some cases the company is already open as an essential business and has been hopefully adjusting over time to this new normal, but newly re-opening businesses may not be prepared, or may even be imagining that re-opening has put the issues behind us.
One scared employee from a retail company contacted me recently and asked me if they were required to go back to work when they reopen. I advised them honestly – NO, you do not have to go back….but you may also be terminated for failing to do so. Another asked me if their disability allowed them to continue to stay home under protection of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The answer is, be careful what you ask for – if you get a doctors note saying you are unable to work in an environment that might create risk of exposure and due to your disability that risk is too great, and that creates an undue hardship for the company to provide accommodations for you, they can terminate you. The best any employer can offer is what they should be offering anyways in the form of safety and sanitation products, if not for humane reasons, for self-preservation – Liability.
The question of liability should always be on the mind of the employer. While it may be hard to prove where contact with the Coronavirus took place, it may not be hard to prove negligence on the part of an employer IF there aren’t safety protocols in place. This may include protective wear, safety shields, distancing employees, and providing sanitization products as tangible items that act to prevent exposure to infectious disease. But if you’re ahead of the game, you will also provide training, instructions, and/or policies that are communicated to employees. Every employee should be shown where to access any available supplies, they should be trained, and again, if you’re AHEAD of the game – they should sign an acknowledgement form that states that they have been trained.
Does this sound extreme? Then you haven’t seen it all yet.
The awful thing about lawsuits is that anyone can file for any reason at any time, regardless of whether it would hold weight in court. It can still cost you just to defend it and be found not liable. This is why we saw congress toy with protections for liability in their Coronavirus legislation. So far that hasn’t seen the light of day, it’s unlikely to protect against negligence, and it’s not a new concept that companies should be held to standards of health and safety in the workplace – infectious disease included.
So let’s go back to the employees who are scared and/or disabled. How should the employer handle these issues? My suggestion is always to consider all viable options available first. Can they work effectively from home in their current role? Or could you transition them into a role that allows them to work remotely that is still supportive of company initiatives? Is the only true way to successfully perform their job mean they have to be on premises with the risk of exposure?
If they CAN work from home remotely, I recommend making the best of that option and develop good communication and management of tasks. If the only choice is to bring the employee back into the office/store, etc you can try to instill confidence in the measures you will take simply by following the checklist I will provide below and it may help them feel confident they are being protected to the best of your ability. If that doesn’t convince them, and they are dead set about staying home, you ultimately have a business to run and ultimately that IS the bottom line. I recommend showing compassion (not shaming) and put them on a layoff status (if they weren’t already), and focus on filling the position with someone who is willing to fulfill the requirements of the job . And no, disability in this instance won’t require you to keep them employed in a position that they can’t fulfill without being onsite, but make sure they absolutely could not do the job remotely before you terminate employment in a case of request for accommodations.
So here are my very high level recommendations for how to manage in the age of Coronavirus
- Communicate, communicate, communicate – Ensure that employees feel that you are aware of the issues and are paying attention to their needs by directly addressing needs and changes as they arise.
- Policy – I highly recommend developing some written policies around infectious disease containment, which would include expectations for office cleanliness, hand-washing, mask-wearing, and when to stay home from work; the policy should stress the importance of not showing up to work with symptoms and provide useful guidelines for symptoms as provided by the CDC
- Products – Provide sanitation products including wipes or cleaning supplies for devices and phones, soap in bathrooms, hand sanitizer stations, masks, etc
- Training – Spend time demonstrating how to properly wear a mask, when to remove it, how to remove it, when to sanitize devices/registers, etc, how to handle patrons or visitors who aren’t wearing masks, etc. Make sure they know where supplies are kept or distribute individual supplies.
- Agreement – Have employees review and sign an agreement acknowledging that they received the training, agree to standards and protocols for safety/health measures, and understand the signs and symptoms of Coronavirus and are aware that they are not to report to work if they are experiencing symptoms.
- Compassion – this isn’t really a step, but I truly believe that companies that show compassion and respect for each others needs during this time will prove to be successful and win over their employees. There’s nothing like being in this together that solidifies bonds of loyalty for employees to their employer. And again, if not for the sake of good, do these steps for the sake of self-preservation….no one will know the difference.
And most importantly, if you could use support, contact Power3 and we’ll get you set up! Business@power3.com.