As the United States begins to report lower numbers of deaths and transmissions of COVID-19, many employers who had been suspended begin to bring workers back to the office – a move that has implications for safety and regulations.
With the coming flu season, COVID-19 tests, various state and local rules for symptom testing and the challenges of contact tracing, employers who are anxious to get some of their workers back to work are facing a large number of uncertainties and need well well-thought-out plans to deal with symptomatic or COVID-19 positive workers, experts say.
"You need to provide clear messages and let (workers) know that policies and procedures are being developed to address the risks we understand them today and preventative measures," said Tim Davidson, Franklin, Tennessee-based senior consultant and health and thought leader. healthcare at Aon Risk Solutions.
This should also include the employer's rules for symptom screening, testing, co ntact tracking, quarantine or self-isolation, said Dr. David Zieg, Denver-based partner and clinical services leader at Mercer Inc.
Although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance Aug. 5 to help companies develop contact tracing programs to identify potential workplace exposures, he said. Concerned about delayed diagnostic tests ̵
"Employers do not have medical expertise or epidemiology experts" and must ask employees who have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 or show symptoms to simply ask the question, "Were you around someone for 15 minutes or more?" he said. Then let them insulate. Just stick to the guide and keep it simple. "
Employers who have the capacity to take a more conservative approach and quarantine all workers who had contact with a symptomatic or positive employee may want to do so to mitigate the spread, Dr. Zieg sa.
To identify these potential cases, it is important for employers to create a specific method for screening coronavirus symptoms on the spot, said Mr. Davidson. This screening should include a battery of questions – preferably yes / no questions that will take you down a decision tree to determine if the employee needs quarantine at home, he said.
"Have defined, closed questions that do not leave a lot of wiggle room and gray area for a person to give you a bubbling answer," he said. "When you are tracking the contacts, drive your yes / no answers "
" Employers really need to get good information at the time of the reported incident and potential exposure, "said Christina Bergman, Minneapolis-based management consultant at Aon Global Risk Consulting." It is really important that employers does not have a bunch of forms with a lot of white space story. Have specific questions to guide it. "
How these questions are formulated is also important, says Christian Schiavone, Chicago-based head of professional risk solutions services at Origami Risk LLC.
If the message is "framed around the concept that we are in this together, it is really the mentality that gets the honest and sincere response" from workers, he said. "I think a safety culture has been extremely important."
Dr. Zieg agrees that employers should "first and foremost" support a safety culture to ensure that safety measures are followed and rapid evaluations of honest symptoms.
"If an employee has an exposure outside and they reveal that in their questionnaire …" he said.
First, employers must have a plan for how to get the employee who was exposed or symptomatic to be tested, said Dr. Ziegler.
"If you leave it to the employee to go and find their own test through either public health services or local emergency care, what you are leading to are potential delays and time is of the essence," he said. "You want to identify people so quickly. Have a plan for testing. ”
Such plans include reaching out to their local emergency room for test availability and examining how to put employees on a list when a suspected case arises, or for larger employees, contracts with test vendors or a pharmacy to provide tests.While symptomatic staff tests would be covered by group health plans, broad screening to identify risks would not, according to Dr. Zieg.
“Employers should not take risks and errors on the side of caution, even if it means require more testing, "said Arlene Switzer Steinfeld, senior advisor at the Dallas office at Dykema Gossett PLLC. She noted that the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commi ssion has said that it is allowed to require employees to take a COVID-19 test, antibody test can not be required. However, some city and state laws may differ from EEOC guidance.
After a worker has been identified as symptomatic or potentially exposed, Dr. recommends Zieg that the employer interviews the employee to determine anyone who may have had close contact with that worker. recently. These workers should be contacted and notified that they may have been exposed to a person with coronavirus – without identifying the worker – and advised to quarantine and test, he said.
However, employers must be sure when they interview workers that they respect their personal activities, Steinfeld said.
For example, if an employee was out at a bar with a friend who then tested positive, the employer may ask the employee to self-quarantine and be tested, but should "be very careful about keeping issues that reveal personal activity out of staff decision-making. ", she said.
"When you start contacting tracking, keep all information about this separate personnel documents," Steinfeld said. "Do not use that information in any way to affect terms of employment."
Even with all precautions and effective contact tracing, COVID-19 exposures will occur, and employers must balance their need to reopen with potential negative reputational risk if something goes wrong, said Schiavone.
"There really is an awareness of that you want the people you use to be as safe as possible, "he said." But you also want to make sure that your reputation, which is so difficult to build, is not jeopardized by making a short-term decision. " More insurance and labor news about the coronavirus crisis  here .