Rex and Cheri have the answers. Listen here.
Insurance Talk — COVID-19 and Offices Reopening
Cheri Martinen – Welcome to Insurance Talk with Cheri Martinen, Rex Lesueur, and our special guest Ed Martinen, who is a professional in human resources, or PHR. Today we are talking about that fun subject again, COVID-19.
Rex Lesueur – Everybody’s so excited to hear about it, but we do have some great information today that I think you’re going to want to listen to. It might help you form some policies within your business that could make it easier to transition back into the workplace and maybe prevent somebody from suing you.
CM – We’re really lucky. We’ve been able to work from home pretty seamlessly. We have a few tasks that need to be completed every single day in person at our office, but besides that, most of our staff has been home. So we’ve been nice and safe, but there’s a lot of staff who are not in that type of working dynamic or who work in close quarters. So I think we probably split it up and talk about more office-style work and then more in-person. I know you guys had a good discussion with one of our clients about their fire camp.
RL – Yes, it was exciting, it was scary. What to do? What can you do? What shouldn’t you do? And so Ed has been working in human resources for the last nine years. And by the way, Ed has joined our staff. We’re very thrilled to have him on the staff here at Bancorp Insurance. He’s a great addition, he’s energetic, he’s smart, and he’s going to bring a different perspective to the business. I’m an old insurance dog, and somebody that’s new with a little bit of a different outlook on the world, looking at it from the point of view of business, from a human resources point of view, is going to be good.
CM – I would say he’s worth the risk for a long time, just risk on the human resources side, trying to keep everyone safe and keep everyone under control. And we wanted to touch on that because it’s something we’re getting a lot of questions about. People don’t know what to do. So Ed I’ll let you go.
Rapidly Changing Laws for Employers
Ed Martinen – The first thing I want to caveat on this is the laws and regulations in regards to what an employer can’t do and what they can do is changing very rapidly. It seems like every single week, there are some new guidelines and new regulations about what employers should be doing or what they can’t do. I just want to highlight some of the bigger topics in regards to the questions that I’m seeing being discussed around employers and bringing employees back to the worksite.
The first thing is temperature checks. Everybody’s saying, “Can I check people’s temperatures?” or, “Do I need to have them check their own temperature?” One of the things we found out in March was that the EEOC actually said that employers can check temperatures of employees. That’s a significant change.
As employers, you can check temperatures but how do you do that and how do you stay safe so you don’t get a lawsuit against you from an employee who’s saying I’m being discriminated against, or you didn’t keep my medical information private because you were checking my temperature in front of a line of fifty other employees. So there are a lot of things you need to think about in regards to taking temperature.
There are a lot of companies deciding that they’re going to have employees take their temperature when they’re at home and self-report. If they have a fever, they’re going to self-report and say, “Hey, I’m not going to come into work today because I have a fever.” Other employers are deciding that they’re going to have designated individual stations somewhere before they get into the facility where they’re going to take the temperature.
There are risks both ways when you do that, one being if you have employees self-report, how do you know they’re taking their temperature? There’s that risk. Secondly, the risk of you actually taking their temperature. Well now you are potentially exposing an employee to sick employees, and you’re also now in charge of keeping that medical information private.
One thing I would stress is — don’t have your employees in a line in front of the door, like in the old days when everybody would be in front of the punch clock. They’d come up and everybody would just punch one after another. Don’t have your employees in a line and be taking their temperature and saying things like, “You should go home.”
CM – If you’ve got everybody going to the right and then one person shoots off to the left, yeah everyone in that department is going to be freaking out.
EM – Exactly, that’s just some guidance I would give on that, don’t do that. But weigh the pros and cons of having people take their temperature at home, or having a designated person take temperatures.
CM – They even have machines to do it now. We’ve had advertisements in our inbox describing this device, it either stands on its own or sits on a table and it can scan temperatures as employees walk by. So there’s technology out there.
Sick Leave for Exposure
EM – The next thing I would say is that taking temperature is one thing, but having a plan in place for when there is somebody who has a fever, or somebody who shows up and has a fever. So what do you do? Do you have to notify people? How long are they out of the workplace? Do they have to go get tested? Can they get tested? All those things need to be talked about and discussed prior to implementing a plan for taking temperatures.
RL – On top of that, I believe we, as employers, now have to give two weeks sick leave to anybody who shows up sick.
EM – That is correct, and they don’t have to test positive. There are contact tracers. So if a contract tracer traced them down to possibly being exposed, and they were informed by the local or state health authority that they need to quarantine themselves, that would apply. You’d have two weeks off. So there are different coverages for that as well. So if you have it, if you don’t have it but you think you have it, or if somebody told you that you may have been exposed to it, that all qualifies for time off during this pandemic.
CM – Fun stuff, guys. What else have you got for us?
What If an Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19?
EM – Another thing I want to discuss is in regards to somebody testing positive. They have it, they’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19 or they have an elevated temperature. How do you return that employee back into the work environment? This is where I think a lot of employers are going to get themselves in trouble, because what potentially could happen is you could discriminate against that employee if you release information or let information get leaked out about why that individual might not be at work.
Everybody knows the rumor mill starts going around at work. So there are a lot of things you need to do in regards to returning that person to work. And right now, what guidance we’re seeing is that a lot of employers were saying they need a medical certificate from a doctor saying that this person no longer has the virus.
Well, as we know, it’s very hard to get tested, as well as a lot of the medical facilities, emergency rooms and clinics are overloaded or overwhelmed. And so employers need to be really flexible in regards to getting some sort of proof to bring back this employee. And so just relying on a doctor’s note, that might not be something you can do right now.
So you need to look into different ways. It might just be talking to that employee and feeling comfortable in saying, hey, you were out this long and now you’re coming back. Can you work from home? There are a lot of things to discuss with that employee prior to just demanding that they have a doctor’s note. So I would be very cautious in regards to just saying “doctor’s note or bust” before you can come back.
RL – That makes sense. It’s kind of scary that, in order to get a doctor’s note, you have to go back into the clinic where this bug is. We know that the best place to get a bug is probably at the hospital at this point.
EM – And then the last thing I would say, and I brought this up at the very beginning, is you really need to stay plugged in and follow the guidance from your state, local, and federal authorities in regards to this. It’s changing so rapidly, and what you’re doing one week might change significantly because there are a lot of bills being passed.
One thing I’ve been doing is every single week, going into the local health authority and asking what their recommendations are. What should we be doing now? So those are the things I would stay plugged into because it’s just changing so quickly.
Returning to the Office
CM – So I know even with our own office, we’re starting to come back in, things that we’re looking at are face masks, hand sanitizer, where is it? Do we have enough of it? Wiping down everything. What do we have? Do we have enough Clorox bleach wipes or are we using a bleach bucket?
RL – Do we let anybody in the building besides the employees?
CM – Yeah, is it something where maybe we do it by appointment only, or we’re only having employees and everything else is over the phone, just like it has been. Even screens, I know a lot of retail facilities now have clear plastic screens and we’re even doing that to try to keep our employees safe. So what physical stuff do you have to think of too? It’s kind of a moving target, but it’s just something to think about.
EM – I would say in regards to having protocols for what sort of protective equipment you have your staff wear, that should be discussed early on prior to bringing employees back and really getting their buy-in on it. This is a really tricky subject in regards to forcing them to wear or not wear certain things.
In regards to OSHA, there’s the general duty to keep your employees safe. And if you’re a hospital and you have a receptionist, if you’re going to have sick people coming in wanting to get tested for COVID-19, your general duty to keep them safe might be having them wear a face shield and a face mask and gloves. That might be different for an insurance agent who works in an office and takes calls on the phone, requiring them to wear a face mask and a face shield and gloves might be a little ridiculous. Might be a little overkill.
It’s all going to depend on your occupation. And once again, I would steer you over to your state and local guidelines in regards to requirements and what they’re recommending. They have a list of different occupations as well as different businesses like restaurants, recommending that this is what you should do in regards to protecting your employees, protecting the customers, and spacing out your environment. So all that stuff is easily accessible for people and I would encourage them to go to it because it’s going to be unique based on everybody’s different business and how they operate.
CM – Rex do you have anything else to add? Are any insurance companies putting anything out there that’s amazing?
RL – I haven’t seen anything that’s amazing, it’s pretty much basically people are going through this one step at a time. And nobody, even old people like me, have ever been through anything like this before. It’s been a hundred years since we’ve had a pandemic, and in that a hundred years the world has changed. A hundred years ago, we were just starting to have automobiles and telephones and we had just learned to fly.
Now we have a whole different world where we’re doing this step by step. It’s like looking for landmines with your foot, you never know when you’re going to step on one. People are going to try things, and some things are going to work, some things aren’t. Almost everybody who’s doing this has everybody’s best interests at heart. And just hope that we can do it well enough so that we can get through this with everybody being healthy, as healthy as they possibly can be at the end of it.
Workers Comp and COVID-19
EM – I would just mention one other thing in regards to workers’ comp, and that is to remember an employee has the right to file a claim. So if they bring up and they want to file a claim, let them file a claim.
RL – Just go ahead and file the claim. Don’t do anything, don’t say anything. Just say here’s the claim paperwork and then let the insurance company handle it from there on out. That’s what you do. If the insurance company calls you up and asks you questions, you answer them honestly saying this was our procedure for handling it, but we felt we made these people safe. Definitely just work with it. Just turn it in. Don’t try to tell someone that they can’t do it, it’s not covered. Transfer the risk of that to somebody else. That’s what the insurance company is for.
CM – That’s why we buy the workers comp in the first place.
You’ve been listening to Insurance Talk again with Cheri Martinen, Rex Lesueur, and our special guest Edward Martinen. He is a professional in human resources. He’s been working in HR for over nine years now for a couple of different companies, and he’s been doing a great job with us, teaching us all a little something about how we can be safer. Thank you Ed, thank you for being here.
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Disclaimer: This content is provided for general information purposes and is not intended to be used in place of consultation with our agents.