This week’s post was co-authored by Robinson+Cole Labor and Employment Group lawyer Madison C. Picard.
It’s the season of football, fall foliage, and unfortunately, the flu. As the temperatures dip and boxes of tissues begin to fly off the shelves, it’s time for employers to prepare to meet the challenges of cold and flu season, as well as COVID-19. The following are several steps manufacturers may wish to consider at this time of year.
1. Communicate with Employees
Although there is no longer a federal designation of “public health emergency,” it is still important for employers to ensure that there are protocols in place to support the health and safety of employees. Employers might consider reminding employees of the expectations and protocols to follow if they have cold, flu, or COVID-19 symptoms. For example, what should the employee do, should the employee report to work, should they contact a supervisor or human resources, will the time off be paid, and what are the protocols that must be followed in order to return to the workplace? Additionally, employees should understand the protocol with regard to COVID-19 infection and exposure including isolation/quarantine expectations and the protocol to return to work.
Employers might also consider communicating to employees about the sick leave or paid time off policy, including appropriate reasons to take sick time or paid time off, protocols for requesting time off, and the manner in which the company will support employees who need time off (e.g., coverage of work). Employees could be reminded that sick time or other paid time off is available and encouraged to take it when needed for themselves or their family members. In addition, employers can remind employees that other leave or benefits may be available in the event that the employee is ill with a more serious health condition including state and/or federal Family and Medical Leave, short-term or long-term disability insurance, workers’ compensation insurance for illness related to the workplace, among other leave and benefits.
2. Prepare the Physical Workplace
Employers may also want to consider putting in place protocols to reduce the spread of illness in the workplace. During the pandemic, manufacturers may have been subject to executive orders and laws that required them to maintain and provide sanitizer and facemasks, regularly clean equipment and shared spaces, minimize physical contact, limit nonessential visitors to the workplace, encourage employees to wash their hands regularly, provide cleaning products, among other protocols. Employers, including manufacturers who may have employees working closely together, may consider whether such protocols should be implemented this season, when cold, flu, and COVID-19 symptoms may be on the rise in order to limit the spread of illness.
3. Plan for Business Continuity
Employers, especially manufacturers that are busy at this time of year, may need to consider the possibility that operations could be disrupted due to absences during the colder months. To that end, it is important to ensure that any personnel including managers, supervisors, and human resources, understand the applicable sick and other paid time off and absenteeism policies as well as the disciplinary action that should be considered if time off or leave is misused; such personnel should also understand how to communicate the company’s expectations around time off and manage any related issues that may arise. In addition, operational leaders may need to create a contingency plan in the event of widespread or excessive absenteeism to ensure that they are able to meet such challenges; this could include cross-training employees, creating a relationship with a temporary staffing agency in case temporary staff may be needed, among other action items. There may also be creative ways to incentivize employees to work during the fall/winter and holiday season including providing bonuses, paying the value of unused vacation or paid time off at year-end, among other offerings.