COVID-19 Vaccine Workplace Planning

Employers can play a key role in COVID-19 vaccine distribution and should prepare for when vaccine access reaches the general public. Educating employees on ways to avoid COVID-19 vaccine scams and helping to build confidence in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine are important elements to a successful plan.

While vaccination details are getting worked out, here are three ways to avoid COVID-19 vaccine scams:

1.) You can’t pay to put your name on a list to get the vaccine. That’s a scam.
2.) You can’t pay to get early access to the vaccine. That’s a scam.
3.) Nobody legit will call about the vaccine and ask for your Social Security, bank account, or credit card number. That’s a scam.

Ignore any vaccine offers that ask for personal or financial information.
Learn more at ftc.gov/coronavirus/scams consumerresources.org/beware-coronavirus-scams

Building confidence in COVID-19 vaccines is equally important to getting us back to enjoying safe and productive workplaces. Here are a few things any organization can do to help build employee confidence in the vaccine.

·      Start at the top; encourage leaders and managers within your organization to champion the vaccine.

·      Talk about it. Provide an environment where employees can ask questions and discuss concerns openly in a constructive manner.

·      Provide information about safety, side effects, benefits, development and herd immunity through multiple channels which are both trusted and familiar to employees.

·      Celebrate the act of receiving the vaccine. Make employees feel proud about getting vaccinated and doing their part.

Click below to download a thoughtful COVID-19 Vaccine Workplace Planning Checklist developed by Zywave.

Employees getting vaccinated across all sectors of industry and business can be a driving force for a safe return to work for all Americans.

Managing COVID-19 Vaccine Policies

THIS ARTICLE IS BEING REPOSTED BY LIBERTATE INSURANCES JAMES BUSCARINI. THE ORIGINAL CONTENT WAS WRITTEN IN THE FEBRUARY 2021 EDITION OF RISK MANAGEMENT MAGAZINE. ARTICLE WRITTEN BY JODY MCLEOD, ESQUIRE AND GARY PEARCE

As COVID-19 vaccines become more available and companies return to the office, employers may want to protect their workforce by mandating vaccinations. However, it is essential that they keep in mind certain risks and how to mitigate them, including the legal limits of what they can ask of employees.

When approaching mandatory vaccinations for workers, the legal rules are reasonably established. Employers can mandate vaccinations as long as they have processes to deal with exceptions. The key exceptions concern medical disabilities covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and bona fide religious objections covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Because a vaccination is not a medical examination, it does not inherently trigger certain aspects of the ADA.  But beware of violating ADA obligations in the course of asking pre-screening questions or securing proof of vaccinations. Unvaccinated employees—particularly those who refuse or are unable to take a vaccine for medical or religious reasons—may be excluded from the workplace if they pose a direct threat, subject to ADA and Title VII ­obligations to pursue a reasonable accommodation. The ADA accommodation standard is somewhat more favorable to the employee than the Title VII standard. Determining whether an unvaccinated employee poses a direct threat requires a fact-specific determination, considering the duration of risk, the nature and severity of potential harm, and the likelihood and imminence of potential harm.

Excluding an employee from a workplace because they pose a direct threat does not automatically mean termination is justified. The employer first needs to determine whether there is a feasible alternative arrangement that would not impose undue hardship, such as remote work. There remains a general duty under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) to provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards, and COVID-19 exposure will typically qualify. Of course, organizations that expose the general public to COVID-19 risk being sued.

If a company imposes a vaccination mandate, it must consistently administer exception processes regarding reasonable medical accommodations and religious objections.  It will need to understand what constitutes business necessity, and must be able to identify reasonable accommodations on a fact-specific, individualized basis. The company will need to decide whether to assume the risks and obligations arising from self-administering vaccinations, or instead depend on collecting evidence of third-party administration. Lastly, it will need to minimize the prevalence of medical inquiries—including medical details unexpectedly proffered by the employee—and preserve the confidentiality of any protected information that may thereby be received.

Other potential issues include whether there is a union contract that the company must consider, or whether any state or local laws forbid mandatory vaccination policies.  

Risks of Vaccination Mandates

If an employer requires vaccinations, it must administer the mandate consistently and consider whether the additional risk is justified. If the employer imposes the mandate for only certain categories (e.g., for customer-facing staff but not home-based workers), it will need a rational basis for its determinations. Also, a mandate could bring any adverse reactions into the realm of compensability for workers compensation, and time spent receiving a mandatory vaccine is most likely compensable for purposes of wage and hour compliance. Data privacy and retention of medical records also need to be considered in the record-keeping process as the relevant regulations and laws are quite demanding. If the company provides financial incentives to encourage compliance, income may need to be reported and taxes owed as well.

Changing and Varying Rules

It was not until December 2020 that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued substantial additional guidance regarding COVID-19 obligations under prominent employment laws. As of this writing, OSHA has yet to issue any rules specific to COVID-19, but the Biden administration is expected to issue a broad rule in the coming months. States and municipalities issue executive orders and ordinances at a pace that only specialists can keep up with. Even if all the written rules are known, there is no assurance that they will be administered in alignment with what governed parties might expect. “Guidance” may become a de-facto obligation.

For all these reasons, companies cannot base their protection and recovery program solely on compliance with current legal requirements. Nor can a static “one and done” determination be sufficient. In light of all these issues, duties and uncertainties, companies should determine whether a vaccine mandate is an effective use of their administrative resources.

Business Expectations

Requiring vaccinations does not mean employers can forego the rest of their COVID-19 management protocol. Employers need to keep in mind that there is no proof that vaccinated people cannot transmit the virus to others, the vaccination seems likely to be less than 100% effective, and some people either will be unable to get the vaccine or at least will not yet have received it. Worry about a new pandemic episode will persist for years.

Many employees likely regard safety as the highest organizational priority and will look to their employer to provide reliable information about COVID-19 risk management. Failure by the organization to respect these new expectations could trigger negative social media reactions, unwanted attention from plaintiffs’ attorneys, and difficulty attracting and retaining valuable talent. While this may be a threat to some managers, it is an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen the bond of trust between employee and employer. 

As a practical matter, legal regulations tend to react to changing circumstances.  This makes it likely that any rescinding of temporary standards will occur in a somewhat tardy fashion. To date, the volume of litigation related to COVID-19 has been less than feared. However, do not take too much comfort in this. Courts have been shut down, causal connections are likely to be better understood as experience accumulates, and plaintiffs’ attorneys may surmise that juries will be more sympathetic after the worst of the crisis has passed. 

Employees Who Refuse

Surveys show that a significant portion of the population would choose not to take a COVID-19 vaccine. Some may eventually be persuaded, while others have deeper objections. Some may be uncomfortable as long as deployment is under emergency use authorizations. This unease reinforces the need to be collaborative in pandemic management and transition planning, and to communicate the reasoning behind critical decisions or policies.

The entire workforce will never agree on how best to emerge from the pandemic. Although communication is important and stakeholder feedback is necessary, securing unanimity is unrealistic. On the other hand, if a significant number of workers refuse to accept a vaccine, even in the face of an employer mandate, is the organization prepared to redeploy or replace these workers?

There is no risk-free path to a post-COVID environment. Employers must continuously assess conditions and be prepared to act promptly despite incomplete information, changing circumstances and inherent uncertainties.

PEO Unfriendly Bill SB-820 Sponsored in Florida Senate

Senator Keith Perry of Gainesville (R) is the sponsor of Senate Bill 820, an amendment to Florida Statute 627.192; Workers’ Compensation Insurance; Employee Leasing Arrangements. It is to be effective 7/1/21.

https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2021/820/BillText/Filed/PDF

Of particular note in this statute is the relationship between the “employee leasing” (aka Professional Employer Organization/PEO) company and client company when it comes to workers’ compensation insurance. Who bears responsibility for the procurement of workers’ compensation insurance for the client company is outlined as well as who is responsible in the event that an employee is not covered.

It is assumed that the purpose of SB-820 is to close the so-called “gap in coverage” that exists when a business (“client company”) becomes coemployed with a PEO through a master policy PEO arrangement and does not report all of its employees. The ability of the PEO to aggregate non commonly-owned entities is enabled through the concept of coemployment; a legal agreement that speaks to “employee leasing” and the roles and responsibilities of each of the coemployers. This legal arrangement and all the rights that come with it are made certain when the client company reports all of the employees of the client company to the “employee leasing” company at which point they are formally “coemployees” of the employee leasing company and afforded workers’ compensation. Payrolls are also run through the PEO, further cementing the employer/employee status.

This way of procuring workers’ compensation with a PEO as part of a bundled suite of services has worked/works flawlessly for the Florida PEO, the insurance carriers that support them and the client company; until there is fraudulent reporting of employees or lack of actual insurance. Specifically, if the client company chooses to direct employment but not pay the workers’ compensation premiums associated with said employment and an occupational claim occurs, there is no coverage. The PEO or insurance carrier will not cover because there is no doctrine of “insurable interest” (combinability) if the hurt employee was not an employee. This could happen in the “pay under the table” scenarios or the improper use of a 1099 independent contractor designation. These situations also happen when it is found that there are uninsured subcontractors underneath a contractor that uses a PEO. The majority of these occurrences happen in the construction field, where sub-contracting is commonplace, rates are higher and margins tight.

The reality is non-reporting of workers’ compensation payrolls/covered employees or not purchasing workers’ compensation is fraud. Whether the client company was placed through a traditional agent or PEO, it is fraud. “Paying under the table” has been historically commonplace well before PEO was even an industry and is the root issue that needs to be addressed by all stakeholders of the workers’ compensation system.

I know that FAPEO will be reaching out very soon to its constituents to discuss in detail SB-820’s potential impact and what lies next. Making sure that every employee is properly taken care of by the workers’ compensation system as a whole and there is never an uninsured employee for any reason should be the overall goal. I know that the PEO industry will do its part to get there and then some!

January 15th: Friday Roundup

The weekend is calling as another work week concludes.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, the unemployment rate for the country held steady at 6.7% in December.  The number of unemployed persons held stead at 10.7 million.  While these figures are considerably lower than the spike we saw in April, they are still double the pre-pandemic levels we enjoyed last February.    Attached is the Bureau’s new release on The Employment Situation – December 2020, which contains detailed statistics on our current state. 

December bore witness to a continued decline in jobs in leisure, hospitality, and private education sectors.  These losses were offset by some gains in professional and business services, retail trade and construction; sectors which are attempting to rebound. 

Continued high unemployment figures will impact the unemployment tax rates.  This is something we will continue to keep an eye on.  Hopefully, you caught our post earlier this week regarding the anticipated increases in unemployment tax rates in Florida.  

Unemployment Tax Rates in Florida are Increasing

Unemployment often leads to criminal activities.  As COVID-19 diagnosis continue to climb nationwide, so do predatory scams related to the pandemic.  Spreading awareness of these scams is one of the best ways we can help to limit the number of individuals who fall victim.  We hope you saw our post earlier this week sharing recommendations from Regions Bank Treasury Management and the FBI on how to avoid falling prey to these scams.

Regions Bank Treasury Management sends out information on Emerging COVID-19 Scams

Stay safe and have a wonderful weekend everyone!

Preparing for the 2020 Flu Season – Debbie Downer Alert

Knowing the difference in symptoms. Check out this great visual from WFMTV news.
Brought to you by the insurance professionals at Libertate Insurance  

Preparing for Flu Season During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Each year, the seasonal flu has a marked impact on businesses and employers, causing increased absenteeism, decreased productivity and higher health care costs. The past few flu seasons have seen high hospitalization and mortality rates, which has public health experts fearing another deadly flu season.

Unfortunately, the 2020-21 flu season isn’t the only health crisis employers and employees have to address this year. The COVID-19 pandemic is still affecting the workforce, and the combination of another potentially bad flu season and the pandemic has public health experts worried.

As an employer, are you well-positioned to help keep your employees healthy and minimize the impact that influenza has on your business? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends strategies to help employers fight the flu and talk to employees about what a flu season during the pandemic looks like.

Educate Employees on the Flu vs. COVID-19

Unfortunately, because the flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, some of the symptoms are similar. For example, as we now know, common flu symptoms include the sudden onset of fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, congestion, cough and sore throat. All of those are currently considered symptoms of COVID-19.

One of the difficult aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic is that the symptoms are wide-ranging and vary in severity. Some with COVID-19 may experience little to no symptoms, while others may be severely ill and require hospitalization.

Due to the similarity in symptoms between COVID-19 and the flu, it may be difficult to determine whether an employee has the flu or COVID-19 without being tested. As such, it’s important to encourage employees to stay home if they are sick and suggest a COVID-19 test.

Consider allowing employees to work from home, if they’re healthy enough to complete their work or while they wait for test results, and encouraging employees to take paid time off if they need to. If an employee tests positive for COVID-19 and needs to take time off to recover, they may be eligible for leave under a multitude of federal and state laws.

Preparing Your Workplace for Flu Season During the Pandemic

There are a variety of steps employers can take to protect employees and prepare for flu season—which may include steps you’ve taken in response to COVID-19—regardless of whether employees are in the office or working remotely.

Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Host an on-site, socially distanced vaccination clinic—One of the most important steps for preventing the flu is to get an annual flu vaccination. The CDC recommends that all people over the age of 6 months get a flu vaccine each year. Hosting an on-site flu vaccination clinic can help educate employees about the importance of vaccination and make it easier for them to get vaccinated.
  • Encourage employees to get the flu vaccine—If you choose not to or are unable to provide an on-site flu vaccination clinic, you can still emphasize the importance of vaccination to your employees and educate them about local opportunities to get vaccinated.
  • Disinfect and clean the office—Because the flu virus and the virus that causes COVID-19 can remain on surfaces long after they’ve been touched, it’s important that your business frequently cleans and disinfects the facility. Some best practices include:
    • Cleaning and disinfecting all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, keyboards, telephones, handrails and doorknobs. Check with your cleaning company, they may not be performing these extra steps to ensure the viability of your employees and ultimately your company.
    • Discouraging workers from using other workers’ phones, desks, offices, or other tools and equipment, when possible. If necessary, clean and disinfect them before and after use.
    • Providing disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces can be wiped down by employees before each use.
  • Implement and enforce social distancing protocols—Social distancing is the practice of deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness. Social distancing best practices for businesses can include:
    • Avoiding gatherings of 10 or more people
    • Instructing workers to maintain at least 6 feet of distance from other people
    • Hosting meetings virtually when possible
    • Limiting the number of people on the job site to essential personnel only
    • Leveraging work-from-home arrangements and staggered shifts when possible
    • Discouraging people from shaking hands
  • Employee safety training—Ensure that all employees understand how they can prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the flu, taking into account:
    • Respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene—Businesses should encourage good hygiene to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses like the flu and COVID-19. This can involve:
      • Providing tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles
      • Providing soap and water in the workplace
      • Placing hand sanitizers in multiple locations to encourage hand hygiene
      • Reminding employees to not touch their eyes, nose or mouth
      • Asking employees to wear a mask or face covering when social distancing is not possible
    • Staying home when sick—Encourage employees to err on the side of caution if they’re not feeling well, and stay home when they’re sick or are exhibiting common symptoms of COVID-19 or the flu.

These strategies may not be right for every organization. Depending on the nature of your business, you may need to implement additional prevention strategies.

The key is having a strategy and making sure everyone is informed and on board. Reach out to Libertate Insurance for additional resources on preparing your workplace for flu season.

Where Does My PPP Funding Leave Me?

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has useful guidance in regard to the Paycheck Protection Loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).  Weighing on most of us is how these loans are going to impact our businesses long term, as the guidance from the Small Business Administration (SBA) keeps changing.

The SBA was very quick in issuing the note agreements, payment terms and interest rates on the Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), also noting that if an advance was given under these loans the advance amount would be deducted from the potential forgiveness of the PPP loan. Yes, an advance under one loan would be an offset to the portion of allowable forgiveness under another!  The EIDLs are not forgivable but they have been set up on 30 year terms; seemingly manageable.

One important thing I’ve taken away from this experience is that the PPP loans were issued and managed through the SBA approved private lenders and then backed by the SBA. This meant, after digging around on the internet, calls to our lender and calls to the SBA that the forgiveness application would be handled by the lender.  Oddly enough, it didn’t seem like our lender knew that.  After much persistence, I found that forgiveness applications were being accepted and processed for those applicants that received funding in excess of $2M.  That meant the “small-business” funding recipients, the originally intended recipients of the CARES Act would have to wait for any clarity or solace on how these funds would ultimately be of impact.

I think it’s safe to assume that we all understand the rules as they currently stand and we are admittedly thankful for the CARES Act.  The end game goal with the PPP loan is that you needed to keep staff on payroll, if you laid anyone off you needed to rehire them and overall you needed 60% of the funding to go towards payroll with the remaining funding allowed towards mortgage interest, rent and utilities.

Again, that leaves me with the question of what the overall impact to the business will be. This is where it counts!  Let’s for a moment consider that we have utilized the funding properly and within the terms of forgiveness at 100% with the EIDL advance that was received also having an impact.  We essentially received a pass for a period of time related to our payroll costs, rent, and utilities.  The expenses are still sitting on our P&L,  we have a note that will be forgiven which will ultimately end up as income, but the IRS will be limiting the deduction of these expenses from our business’ taxable income.

What does this mean?  Now is the time to pull your General Ledger and scour through your P&L line items.  Understand your normal deductible business expenses and make sure that you have items classified properly for your tax reporting.  Don’t leave this for your tax preparer to question; nobody knows your business like you do. Who in your company is responsible for credit card allocations? How many times do you use your corporate credit card and the accounting team inadvertently books those charges to meals & entertainment or distributions, when in actuality it was a corporate team building lunch related to a client account or a client meeting, i.e. business meal, marketing or travel related expenses.? Meals & entertainment are limited at 50%, be cautious as to what is classified here.  Marketing, travel and mileage are 100% deductible.

In summation, if the PPP funding was utilized within the forgivable guidelines you should be able to apply for forgiveness at 100% less the EIDL advance you’ve received. These forgiven expenditures will be unallowed deductions on your tax filing for the year so make sure your other business related expenses are classified properly to capture as many deductible expenses as possible to reduce your tax liability. Connect with your lender and identify their protocol for the forgiveness application. A Professional Employer Organization (PEO) can be immensely helpful in providing canned reporting for both the PPP application process and the allowable payroll costs under the 8 week or 24 week option under the PPP loan needed for the forgiveness application.  

If you are unsure as to whether or not a PEO makes sense for your small business, we can help you decide! Libertate Insurance Services has a client first motto and works hard to help transfer risk in your business. So whether you’re looking for a PEO or you are a PEO seeking hard-to-place markets, connect with us today. Visit our website here for more info or check out the rest of the PEO Compass blogs here.

We would love to connect with you!

Was our article on Paycheck Protection Program forgiveness useful to you?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Insurance and Data Risk Management with Technology Resources to protect your most important assets

Research credits: IRS.gov, uschamber.com, sba.gov

Hurricane Laura: Tips for our Friends and Clients

Hurricane Season is always a time of anxiety and concern.  Now that the impacts of the season are being felt we have compiled a summary of useful contacts/information to help our friends.  Be Safe and let us know if we can help!

National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) – for those with an NFIP policy, here is a direct link to their site fema.gov/flood-insurance. Here you can find Claim Forms, Disaster Relief Fund: Monthly Reports, by State, for the progress of Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance being offered. You can also apply for Emergency Assistance.

Tips from Ready.gov.  Ready.gov is a great place to go in preparing for hurricanes but also has tips to support the aftermath.

Returning Home After a Hurricane

  • Listen to local officials for information and special instructions.
  • Be careful during clean-up. Wear protective clothing and work with someone else.
  • Do not touch electrical equipment if it is wet or if you are standing in water. If it is safe to do so, turn off electricity at the main breaker or fuse box to prevent electric shock.
  • Avoid wading in flood water, which can contain dangerous debris. Underground or downed power lines can also electrically charge the water.
  • Save phone calls for emergencies. Phone systems are often down or busy after a disaster. Use text messages or social media to communicate with family and friends.
  • Document any property damage with photographs. Contact your insurance company for assistance.

Tips for filing an insurance claim after the storm

  1. Contact your insurer as soon as possible, have a copy of your insurance policy handy and in a safe place.
  2. Start documenting loss (property and contents), as soon as it is safe to.  Pictures are a great way to document damage, hopefully you already have pictures of your property from before the storm.
  3. Locate information of emergency services and where they are available in your immediate area. Houston Emergency Operations Center , Louisiana Office of the Governor 
  4. Begin mitigating the damage to your property (temporary repairs), safely, to prevent further damage.  Maintain all receipts related to temporary repairs. Using reputable and licensed/insured contractors for temporary repairs is a good choice for those larger issues that you are unable to address yourself.
  5. Confirm with your insurer before you start discarding of damaged items
  6. Start a claim file, to keep track of calls, damage, and overall progress.  Log contractors that you have spoken with.  You will likely start getting visits from a lot of different service providers; take notes!

Hopefully you have prepared your businesses with a Hurricane Preparedness Plan and are rolling out the phases of such, but if not here is a link for some additional pointers OSHA.gov.

Ready.gov has also prepared an Emergency Financial First Aid kit.

If you have successfully come through this unscathed and want to help here are a few links:

American Red Cross you can make financial donations or sign up to volunteer

Global Giving has set up a Hurricane Laura Relief Fund and also offers a Corporate Giving platform

Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center It’s easy to forget during times of Hurricanes that the simple task of donating blood also helps restock the shelves, so to speak. Those injured from the storm may need blood and this a great way to prevent shortages.  Gulf Coast Regional Blood Centers have information on mobile sites, by day. Locations are already available today.

** As always, with donations, a little due diligence goes a long way.  Make sure you understand the organization that you are contributing to and where your contribution goes.

Be Well, Stay Safe

8 Questions Employers Should Ask About Reopening

Article was originally posted on HBR. To get all of HBR’s content delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Daily Alert newsletter.

In early March, when we published our HBR article “8 Questions Employers Should Ask About Coronavirus,” there were fewer than 100,000 cases and 4,000 deaths globally. Now, not quite three months later, infections exceed 5.5 million and employers face a whole new set of questions as they consider how to reopen the workplace after weeks or months of restrictions. As always, employers must remain nimble, and play close attention to local conditions and changing guidelines and practices. Here are eight questions they must now address.

  1. When is the right time for employees to return?

According to a survey of 854 U.S. employers we completed in early April, 42% reported that the majority of their workforce could work remotely — compared to just 14% before the pandemic. Employers now want to know when and how to bring many of their remote employees back.

The World Health Organization recommends that nonessential workers return when there is a sustained decrease in community transmission, a decreased rate of positive tests, sufficient testing available to detect new outbreaks, and adequate local hospital capacity to accommodate a surge of new cases should that occur.

Companies should be prepared to adopt different timetables for different geographies depending on local circumstances. They will do well to prioritize opening workplaces where work cannot be sustainably performed remotely, where there is high demand for the workplaces’ output, and where redesigning the space to allow for physical (social) distancing requires few changes.

  1. Who should return to the workplace?

Not everyone, and not all at once.

It’s best to have workers return gradually, which allows for lower density, making physical distancing less of a challenge. Maintaining a partially remote workforce also facilitates stress-testing physical or workflow changes to minimize disruption as more employees return to the workplace over subsequent weeks and months.

We suggest that workers at highest risk for complications of Covid-19 — those over 60 and those who are obese, have chronic lung or heart disease, diabetes or kidney disease — remain remote where possible until the amount of community transmission is very low. We also suggest that employees with children at home and who lack alternative child care, and employees for whom transport could pose a significant risk of exposure, should be encouraged to continue to work remotely if possible.

One option which can help avoid discrimination is for employers to simply allow employees to state they are uncomfortable returning to the workplace, without asking whether this is due to age, chronic disease, transportation concerns or child care.

  1. How can we protect employees who come to work?

The most important protection in the workplace is to effectively exclude those at highest risk of transmitting the disease. Forty-five percent of employers in our survey reported using thermal scanning to identify employees with fevers and exclude them. In the U.S., the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) has determined that during the pandemic employers may require employee temperature checks or testing without violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Since most people do not have a fever when they first get sick with Covid-19, it is essential to couple scanning with questioning of returning employees, e.g., asking them whether they have a known exposure, a sick family member at home, or other symptoms including cough, shortness of breath, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, or new loss of taste and smell. Many companies will restrict visitor access to the workplace to reduce the potential for exposure.

Some employers are using a mobile app or web form to ask these questions; others use signage in the workplace. Employers can exclude employees who answer affirmatively at their discretion, and we recommend opting for more rather than less exclusion in the early days of reopening. Bear in mind that that employees with paid sick leave are less likely than those without it to come to work when they are ill. While sick-leave policies may be expensive, the cost of inadvertently allowing infected employees into the workplace may well be higher.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends cloth masks for those who will come within six feet of others, and we recommend that employers require and provide masks for returning workers. Masks can be uncomfortable and must be removed for eating or drinking, but they provide some protection against spread of respiratory disease. Employers should explain that the mask is not to protect the wearer, but rather to protect co-workers. Handshakes are not coming back any time soon, and even elbow bumps don’t allow for the recommended physical distancing.

The workplace — whether it’s cubicles, an open workspace or an assembly line — should be arranged so that employees can remain at least six feet apart. Standing in lines should be abolished where possible; if a line is required such as at a cafeteria cash register, mark out 6-foot intervals to avoid crowding. (In the cafeteria, salad bars and finger food could promote spread of the virus; individually wrapped foods are safer.) More employees will eat at their desks, and companies can use sign-up sheets to decrease congestion in shared kitchens. Companies should continue to encourage hand-washing.

Companies should set capacity limits on conference rooms to allow six-foot spacing; if a meeting is too large for the available room, some participants should call in even if they are in the building. Plexiglass dividers can help prevent coronavirus spread in manufacturing, lobby, and retail settings.

Ninety-seven percent of companies in our survey reported enhancing their cleaning and disinfection, as well as increasing access to hand and surface sanitizers. While there is new evidence that the risk of virus transmission from surfaces is low, employees or cleaning staff should use disinfectant wipes regularly on shared surfaces such as vending machines or drink dispensers or shared printers, and employees should not share office equipment such as keyboards or phone headsets. Water fountains and ice machines can spread virus and should be turned off. Companies should also disable jet driers in bathrooms, which may disperse virus particles, and supply paper towels instead.

Finally, if an employee in the workplace is found to have Covid-19, companies must inform those who might have been exposed to him or her at work during the two days prior to symptoms. Those coworkers will need to be excluded from the workplace and self-quarantine. Employers must also maintain the infected employee’s confidentiality by not sharing their name.

  1. What role can testing play in making workplaces safer?

Testing can currently play only a small role in ensuring a safe return to the workplace. Right now, tests are expensive, in short supply and not accurate enough. Tests for current infection have low sensitivity rates (that is, they yield false negatives), so a negative test alone isn’t adequate to ensure that a worker is not contagious. However, testing can be useful in helping to identify asymptomatic coworkers at workplaces where there has been a known exposure. Point of care machines that yield “rapid” results can only process a handful of tests an hour, and nasal swabbing in the workplace could itself cause disease spread. Antibody tests, which require a blood sample, have a high rate of false negatives for current infection, and false positives for past infection. Further, after a person recovers from infection, it’s not clear that a positive antibody test indicates that they will be immune from future infection.

  1. What should we do if we discover an infected employee in the workplace?

Many have few or no symptoms early in a Covid-19 infection, and it’s likely that many workplaces will have an exposure despite the employer’s best efforts. As discussed, an employee or visitor with suspected Covid-19 should immediately leave the workplace and be advised to seek testing or medical attention. Areas used by the ill person for prolonged periods in the last week should be cordoned off and disinfected after allowing 24 hours for respiratory droplets to settle. Increasing air exchanges or opening windows can also reduce risk.

Employers should identify any employee who spent more than 10 minutes within six feet of the infected person during the two days before symptoms began, and those employees should also leave the workplace, self-quarantine, and monitor for symptoms until 14 days after their last exposure. Employees who have had passing contact, such as in a hall or an elevator, need not self-quarantine. Some exposed critical infrastructure workers such as transportation and health workers can return to work after exposure using masks and physical distancing along with heightened disinfection of their workspaces.

  1. When can employees return to business travel?

International business travel is unlikely to rebound until after this pandemic has receded. Many countries, if they allow international arrivals, require 14 days of quarantine, and business travelers might be quarantined again on return home. International business will continue to use teleconferences and videoconferences for many months to come, and travel will only resume substantially when there is a vaccine, effective treatment, or herd immunity.

Domestic travel will also remain limited in the coming months. Local areas that have new outbreaks will likely restrict movement, and a business traveler to such a region could be stranded there for weeks or months. Travel by personal car will come back first as this does not involve risk of exposure to others. Travel by train, bus, and airplane will take longer to return, and when it does business travelers are likely to encounter limited schedules that could increase travel time. When necessary, travelers can stay in hotels as most have ramped up their cleaning and disinfection; however, it’s still wise to use disinfectants on surfaces. Business leaders must clearly communicate and enforce company travel guidelines as they evolve.

  1. How can we meet employees’ growing mental and emotional health needs?

Many have suffered profound losses during the pandemic and have not had sufficient opportunity to grieve. Almost all of us have experienced loneliness. There will be more cases of anxiety and depression, and some survivors and their families will have post-traumatic stress syndrome. Access to mental health services was often poor before the pandemic, and needs will be greater now. Employers must step up to this challenge.

Most employers in our survey (58%) report increasing access to tele-behavioral health such as audio or video therapy sessions, while 83% report increasing communication about Employee Assistance Programs. Some types of cognitive behavioral therapy can be effectively delivered via mobile app, and we anticipate increased used of digital solutions to address some mental health needs. Some employees benefit from mindfulness and mediation programs, and the value of online programs has increased.

Employers can also establish virtual social networks to address isolation, and train supervisors to identify employee mental health needs in the remote workforce and make appropriate referrals. Consideration of family and child care responsibilities and encouraging exercise and time away from work also helps support employees’ emotional health.

  1. How should we communicate around return to the workplace?

False and unfounded rumors can spread as fast as a virus, and companies need to earn the trust of their employees through frequent and accurate communications. Companies should address employee concerns about the safety of returning by focusing communications on the actions being taken to protect them, including workplace cleaning, screening policies, and changes being made to allow social distancing. This information should be shared in regular pushed communications such as email, as well as through the company intranet and human resources sites.

Visual communication about appropriate behavior is also important. Companies should retire stock photos of employees who are clustered tightly together. They should also avoid images of people wearing medical-grade protective gear such as face-shields or N95 masks in non-clinical workplace surroundings as these remain in short supply and are not recommended.

Finally, because pandemics can incite xenophobia, bias and stigma, leaders should be alert to the potential for some groups or individuals to be stigmatized, and speak out against it. Hate crimes against Asians, for example, have increased with the current pandemic, much as African Americans were wrongly blamed for spread of the 1918 influenza pandemic. Our survey showed that 47% of companies are currently taking actions to reduce stigma during this pandemic, and 21% are planning to take such actions; still, almost a third of respondents have no such plans. Unconscious bias and anti-discrimination communication and training are key elements of diversity and inclusion strategies, and their importance is even greater now.

Covid-19 is a fast-moving virus and its impact on organizations and the world has been strong and swift. The practices outlined above will not only help protect employees, the community and company reputation, but also position companies for a smoother transition as they arrange return to the workplace.

If our free content helps you to contend with these challenges, please consider subscribing to HBR. A subscription purchase is the best way to support the creation of these resources.

Jeff Levin-Scherz, MD, MBA, is a managing director and co-leader of the North American Health Management practice at Willis Towers Watson. Jeff trained as primary care physician, and has played leadership roles in provider organizations and a health plan. He is an Assistant Professor at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

Deana Allen RN, MBA, is a senior vice president of the North America Healthcare Industry practice and serves as the Intellectual Capital and Operations Excellence leader at Willis Towers Watson. In addition to work as a clinician she has served as a health system corporate director of risk and insurance and healthcare consultant.

Functioning in the capacity of an employer of others has always held its challenges.  Excelling in this roll during a global pandemic brings a whole new layer of complexity.  During this time, your Employment Practices can define you.

To hear more about the impact on Employment Practices Liability due to COVID-19, please join NAPEO’s EPLI Webinar, this Thursday July 16th, 12pm ET. Libertate’s own President, Paul Hughes, will be moderating. To register, click here.