No doubt we are all sick of COVID-19 and ready to move on, but it appears COVID is not done with us. Recent reports indicate new variants are again spreading rapidly and hospitalizations are starting to rise. Over three hundred Americans are still dying every week. The new variants are more transmissible and more likely to evade immunity from vaccination and/or prior infections. Some municipalities are starting to reinstitute mask mandates due to rising hospitalizations. Experts predict we could see another spike in cases in Ohio this fall as students return to school and more large groups gather indoors.
As an employer, it’s important to continue to monitor the risks COVID presents to your business and employees. Those risks include the trust of your employees, missed work time and increased expense from medical and disability claims.
The CDC estimates 1 in 13 and as many as 13% of Americans are experiencing Long COVID. New data suggests the risk of Long COVID increases with each infection. Long COVID is defined as symptoms that last longer than four weeks and were not present prior to infection. Symptoms including pulmonary, neurological, organ, cognitive, psychiatric, and chronic fatigue are limiting employee’s ability to work at their pre-infection capacity.
If you have allowed COVID to fall down the priority list, it may be time to tune in and dust off your safety protocols. Here are a few reminders to help you prepare for the coming wave:
- Prioritize the Health and Safety of Your Employees
Under the OSH Act, employers are required to provide a safe and healthy workplace, free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious harm.
It’s impossible to mitigate all risk, but a strong COVID plan can significantly reduce risk to your staff and your liability as an employer. COVID is a highly transmissible airborne virus. Proper masking, social distancing, alternative work schedules, flexible work from home options and proper ventilation/air filtration are the best ways to reduce the risk of transmission. Set clear expectations that employees should not come into the office if they have been exposed or are experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Make sure your policies or expectations don’t encourage staff to come into the office when they are ill. For more detailed guidance from the US Department of Labor:
The ADA requires employers with 15 or more employees to follow the reasonable accommodation process. Regardless of size, employers should consider accommodations for safety, especially employees most at risk of severe illness; including older adults, immune-compromised, pregnant, or recently pregnant, and certain medical conditions. You can review guidance from the CDC here:
- Prepare for More Disruption
It is likely one or more of your employees will miss work due to COVID in the coming months. Depending on the severity they could be out for days or weeks.
You can review OIA’s Disaster Plan Template for more guidance.
- Consider Investing in Technology
If you haven’t already invested, you may want to consider upgrading technology that will enable your business to continue to thrive via remote interactions. Technology to review includes higher internet bandwidth, VPN security, video conferencing capabilities, and software to help track and monitor business productivity. Do you know if calls and emails are being answered in a timely manner? In the words of Ronald Reagan regarding a nuclear treaty, “Trust, but verify.”
- Invest in Your Remote Leadership Skills
Communicating, training, coaching, engaging, and monitoring the performance of remote staff is a new skillset all on its own. It’s more important to schedule frequent check ins, be conscious about connecting personally with your staff, and being direct about work expectations. Setting clear goals, metrics, deadlines, and frequent check-ins will help ensure your expectations are being met. Make sure your staff is connecting and building/maintaining relationships as well. Personally I recommend making sure that you and your remote staff are connecting via video as frequently as possible.
While the decision to get vaccinated is a deeply personal choice, the CDC data still supports a business case to incent employees to get vaccinated and boosted. While the vaccination does not prevent infection or transmission, the evidence still shows vaccinated people are less likely to transmit the virus and have a reduced risk of symptomatic & severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Offering some time off, a gift card, or small bonus may be more cost effective than having an employee become seriously ill with expensive medical claims and ending up on STD or LTD. Detailed guidance from the CDC can be found here:
Big I has assembled a comprehensive list of COVID-19 resources on their website. https://www.independentagent.com/nsc-resources/coronavirus
If you have questions about helping your business respond to COVID-19, feel free to contact Brian Lawrence, Director of HR Solutions at firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-552-3048.