It's finally the new year, and the COVID-19 vaccine brings hope for the pandemic's end. But protecting at-risk and on-site workers must still be a focal point for employers because the vaccine doesn't provide perfect protection, positive cases in many states continue to rise, and the mass vaccination campaign is only just beginning.
In this article, we'll reiterate the protocols from the experts at the CDC, World Health Organization and the Cleveland Clinic to help you protect your workforce from COVID-19 and ensure every individual has the tools they need to stay productive and engaged.
Protecting workers during a pandemic starts with communication and a safe, healthy workplace.
The fact is, employees who trust that their employers are doing everything within their power to ensure the on-site work environment is safe and clean are more likely to feel as comfortable as possible in their workspace - even during a pandemic.
By clearly communicating with your employees, they’ll understand the steps you're taking to ensure their safety and reduce pandemic-related stress and anxiety.
What makes someone higher risk for severe illness during the coronavirus pandemic?
According to the CDC, the broad definition of “at-risk” individuals during the current pandemic include older adults (70+) and those dealing with preexisting medical conditions.
These conditions include people who are immunocompromised and those who have been diagnosed with the following:
- Severe obesity
- Liver Disease
- Chronic lung disease
- Chronic kidney disease
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defined specific guidelines to ensure at-risk employees receive proper protection during the pandemic.
They require the following:
- An individualized assessment based on reasonable medical judgment about the employee's disability — not the disability in general — using the most current medical knowledge and the best available objective evidence.
- Application of the "direct-threat standard." Under this standard, an employee must pose a direct threat to themselves or others to be excluded from the worksite. The Americans with Disabilities Act defines this as "a significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual (or others) that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation."
How to Support Employees with High-Risk Concerns During a Pandemic
As an employer, it is crucial to work with your at-risk employees to create reasonable accommodations within the workplace.
Suppose that is not possible due to extenuating circumstances. In that case, other accommodations - such as working remotely, taking a medical leave, or even a possible reassignment to a smaller, less frequented site - may be an option.
Even if your employee does not request any special accommodation, it is still your responsibility to offer the option.
What should I do to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at work?
Implementing and following specific protocols related to workplace health and safety can significantly decrease the dangers associated with the pandemic.
Cleveland Clinic created several industry-specific guides to help employers reopen safely. Here are the general guidelines for all industries:
- Reinforce the importance of wearing a face mask in public and the workplace, particularly in communal spaces, in meetings or at workstations that are less than a 6-foot distance from others.
- Follow social distancing and physical distancing guidelines, letting employees know the danger of large gatherings (social distancing), and increasing physical space between employees at work (physical distancing).
- Screen employees for symptoms before they come to work or when they arrive.
- Ensure your workplace and frequently touched surfaces within it are cleaned regularly using a virus-killing disinfectant.
- Promote consistent and thorough hand-washing and respiratory hygiene by employees, contractors and customers by displaying posters throughout the office, in the restrooms, cafeterias, breakrooms, and also reminding employees during meetings and on the company intranet.
- Put touchless hand sanitizer dispensers in prominent places around the workplace and make sure they are regularly refilled.
- Promote good respiratory hygiene in the workplace, like covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
- Brief your employees, contractors and customers that anyone with even a mild cough or low-grade fever needs to stay home. They should also stay home (or work from home) if they have had to take over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or aspirin, which may mask infection symptoms.
- Create a communications plan that addresses how to handle an employee who becomes ill at work or has been exposed to someone who has COVID-19.
In addition to preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, it's also essential to make sure employees understand their risk and take care of their physical and mental health.
This can be achieved by:
- Ensuring that employees see a primary care doctor to receive preventive care services and identify any health issues early on.
- Providing a health risk assessment to employees to help them understand their current health and the inherent risks associated with their lifestyle choices.
- Ensuring that your employees know their health numbers and are communicating with their doctor to identify and manage risk.
- Providing coaching and other resources to help employees create healthy habits and stay on track, even when faced with uncertainty and disrupted routines.
Employee Wellness and the COVID-19 Pandemic
While leading a workforce through a pandemic is unchartered territory for everyone, encouraging employees to manage their health should be routine.
An effective employee wellness program can help your workforce manage the dangers of COVID-19 and other potential health risks associated with unhealthy life choices.
While the world is working toward effective treatments and vaccines to help ease the burden of the pandemic, making healthy lifestyle choices are proven ways to proactively decrease physical and mental health issues in your employees’ everyday lives and may provide immune-boosting benefits.
Continue Driving Everyone & Everything Forward, Even During a Pandemic.
Employee wellness programs are an essential tool for sustaining a positive and thriving culture and creating a more resilient, productive workforce.
Now, more than ever, your organization can make a significant impact on your employees’ quality of life.
Our comprehensive, personalized, and configurable wellness programs go far beyond initiatives to identify health risks. Our programs help employees set goals and improving multiple areas within a person’s life - like nutrition and diet, disease management, improved mental health and much more.
With expert wellness guidance, we’re here to help you succeed. Find open access to our clinical resources aimed at helping your workforce stay healthy during the COVID-19 outbreak: