Preparing for a Second Wave of COVID-19 Cases

Even as stay-at-home orders and restrictions are lifted, daily operations won’t be business-as-usual for many across the country. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is still going on, despite businesses reopening. Moreover, public health officials and experts are warning of a potential second wave of COVID-19 cases.

Of course, no one knows if or when a second wave of infection will strike—or whether it will be as bad as or worse than the first wave. As such, businesses across the country should start planning today so they’re properly prepared for a second wave of COVID-19 cases.

Review Federal, State and Local Guidance

Similar to the first wave of COVID-19 cases, governmental guidance will play a large role in how your organization should respond to a second wave of COVID-19 cases.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted states and regions in different ways. A second wave of cases may follow the same suit, affecting different regions at different times and in varying capacities.

This means that businesses in one region may be able to remain open, while businesses in other regions may need to close or adjust for a second time. As such, it’s critical to understand and continually review all relevant state and local orders to determine if your business needs to take action in the face of a second wave of COVID-19 cases.

Review Your Organizational Risks

Even if there aren’t federal, state or local recommendations to close your business or make changes to prevent the second spread of COVID-19 cases, that doesn’t mean your organization is safe from the coronavirus. What’s more, some businesses may have greater exposures than others, underscoring the importance of performing a thorough risk assessment to determine how you should respond.  

Similar to conducting a risk assessment for planning to reopen following the first wave of COVID-19 cases, your organization should conduct a risk assessment in preparation for a reemergence of COVID-19 cases. While the complexity of risk assessments will differ from business to business, they typically involve the following steps:

1. Identifying the hazards—When it comes to planning for a second wave of the coronavirus, businesses need to think critically about their exposures, particularly if an infected person entered their facilities. When identifying hazards, it’s a good idea to perform a walkthrough of the premises and consider high-risk areas. It’s also important to consider what tasks employees are performing and whether or not they are especially exposed to COVID-19 risks when performing their duties.

2. Deciding who may be harmed by a second wave of cases and how—Once you’ve identified hazards to your business, you need to determine what populations of your workforce are exposed to COVID-19 risks. When performing this evaluation, you will need to make note of high-risk individuals (e.g., staff members who meet with customers or individuals with preexisting medical conditions).

3. Assessing risks—Once you have identified the risks facing your business, you must analyze them to determine their potential consequences. For each risk facing your business, you’ll want to determine:

  • How likely is this particular risk to occur?
  • What are the ramifications should this risk occur?

When analyzing your risks, consider potential financial losses, compliance requirements, employee safety, business disruptions, reputational harm and other consequences.

4. Controlling risks—With a sense of what the threats to your business are, you can then consider ways to address them. There are a variety of methods businesses can use to manage their risks, including:

  • Risk avoidance—Risk avoidance is when a business eliminates certain hazards, activities and exposures from their operations altogether.
  • Risk control—Risk control involves preventive action.
  • Risk transfer—Risk transfer is when a business transfers their exposures to a third party.

For preparing for a second wave of the coronavirus, control measures could include cleaning protocols, work-from-home orders and mandated personal protective equipment (PPE) usage.

5. Monitoring the results—Risk management is an evolving, continuous process. Once you’ve implemented a risk management solution, you’ll want to monitor its effectiveness and reassess.

Remember, the COVID-19 pandemic so far has been rapidly evolving, and guidance can change quickly. Your business should be prepared to take action at short notice.

Maintain Workplace Safety

Maintaining workplace safety is crucial to preventing the spread of COVID-19 at your organization, and will continue to be crucial in protecting your organization against a second wave of COVID-19 cases. There are a number of OSHA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) workplace controls to consider if your risk assessment determines that COVID-19 poses a threat to your employees or customers. For instance, you should:

  • Implement administrative controls—Typically, administrative controls are changes in work policies or procedures that reduce or minimize an individual’s exposure to a hazard. An example of an administrative control for the coronavirus is establishing alternating days or extra shifts that reduce the total number of employees in a facility at a given time.
  • Utilize PPE—Businesses should focus on training workers on proper PPE best practices. Employees should understand how to properly put on, take off and care for PPE. Training material should be easy to understand and must be available in the appropriate language for all workers.
  • Consider engineering controls—Engineering controls protect workers by removing hazardous conditions or by placing a barrier between the worker and the hazard. For COVID-19, engineering controls can include:
    • Installing high-efficiency air filters
    • Increasing ventilation rates in the work environment
    • Installing physical barriers, such as clear plastic sneeze guards
  • Screen employees before they enter the building— To keep employees safe, consider conducting screening procedures to identify potentially ill employees before they enter the workplace. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission permits employers to measure employees’ body temperatures before allowing them to enter the worksite. Any employee screening should be implemented on a nondiscriminatory basis, and all information gleaned should be treated as confidential medical information under the Americans with Disabilities Act—specifically, the identity of workers exhibiting a fever or other COVID-19 symptoms should only be shared with members of company management with a true need to know. Be sure to notify employees of this practice prior to implementation in order to avoid catching them off guard.
  • Be adaptable—You should be prepared to change your business practices if needed to maintain critical operations. This could involve identifying alternative suppliers, prioritizing existing customers or suspending portions of your operations.
  • Create a dialogue with vendors and partners—Talk with business partners about your response plans. Share best practices with other businesses in your communities, and especially those in your supply chain.
  • Encourage social distancing—Social distancing is the practice of deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness. In terms of COVID-19, social distancing best practices for businesses can include:
    • 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
    • Discouraging people from shaking hands
  • Encourage employees to stay home if possible—Statistically speaking, the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to minimize person-to-person contact. As such, employers are using the following strategies to encourage employees to stay home:
    • Expanding telecommuting policies to ensure as many employees as possible can work from home
    • Highlighting benefits offerings that employees might not know about, including short-term disability
    • Expanding leave policies
    • Offering financial incentives for employees to stay home and not come into the office
  • Manage the different risk levels of their employees—It’s important to be aware that some employees may be at higher risk for serious illness, such as older adults and those with chronic medical conditions.
  • Separate sick employees—Employees who appear to have symptoms (e.g., fever, cough or shortness of breath) upon arrival at work or who become sick during the day should immediately be separated from other employees, customers and visitors, and sent home. If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19. The employer should instruct fellow employees how to proceed based on the CDC Public Health Recommendations for Community-Related Exposure, and applicable local guidance.
  • Support respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene—Businesses should encourage good hygiene to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 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
  • Perform routine environmental cleaning and disinfection—Businesses should regularly sanitize their facility to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some best practices include:
    • Cleaning and disinfecting all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, keyboards, telephones, handrails and doorknobs.
    • 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.

Be sure to consider the needs of your business and implement strategies that are specific to controlling and promoting workplace safety at your organization.

Communicate With Employees

The past few months have caused immense change for your business and your employees. A poll from Ginger, a mental health provider, revealed that 88% of U.S. workers have been moderately to extremely stressed during the past 4-6 weeks, with more than two-thirds reporting these times are the most stressful in their career.

It’s not possible for you to control the pandemic, but it is possible for you to help ease the stress your employees are experiencing. In these uncertain times, it’s imperative that you clearly communicate your business’s plans as frequently as possible. Here are some tips for effective employee communications:

  • Be open with employees about management decisions and ask for suggestions to rectify problems.
  • Provide as much information as possible about the pandemic.
  • Communicate the future of the business with employees often—in meetings, on the company intranet site, in newsletters and in blogs.
  • Be empathetic in your communications, as every employee’s situation may be different.

Additionally, try to give as much notice as possible if your organization plans to make significant workplace changes, including shutting down operations or requiring employees to work from home. 

Prepare Now to Stay Safe Later

Due to the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, rules and regulations are constantly changing. You should be prepared to change your business practices if needed to maintain critical operations. For more information on how to keep your business, employees and customers safe whether a second wave of COVID-19 cases occurs or not, contact Morris & Reynolds Insurance at 305.238.1000.

OSHA Guidance for Reopening Nonessential Businesses

On June 18, 2020, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released guidance to help employers plan how to reopen nonessential businesses. The guidance also addresses issues employers should consider as they ask their employees return to work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

OSHA’s guidelines for reopening nonessential businesses provide general principles for updating restrictions that were originally put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

OSHA’s publication includes charts, examples and illustrations of how safety principles can be implemented for reopening. Specifically, this new guidance covers:

✓ How to plan a reopening
✓ OSHA standards and required protections in the workplace
✓ Available OSHA assistance programs
✓ Answers to employer frequently asked questions.

OSHA has stated that this new guidance is meant to supplement the White House’s Guidelines for Opening Up America Again and the Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 developed by the U.S. Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services. A as a result, businesses should follow local timelines and phased reopening plans as they implement OSHA’s guidance.

Employers should also continue to monitor federal, state and local updates about community disinfection, best practices and transmission mitigation measures. For example, employers can visit OSHA’s coronavirus webpage and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for updates.

As has been the case since 1950, the professional agents and underwriters at Morris & Reynolds Insurance are happy to help you. Whether you have a question about this topic or need help with any form of insurance, please contact us at any time at 305.238.1000.

Supreme Court Rules Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination Violates Title VII

In a highly anticipated decision issued on June 15, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act (Title VII) protects individuals against employment discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Title VII prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against employees and job applicants on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin or sex. Federal courts have previously held that the law’s protections only extend to traditional notions of gender.

The Supreme Court’s opinion in Bostock v. Clayton County reverses those rulings, holding that discrimination based on homosexuality or transgender status necessarily involves intentionally treating individuals differently because of their sex, which is prohibited by Title VII.

The Court also ruled that when an employer takes adverse action against an individual who is gay or transgender only in part because of that individual’s sex, that action still violates Title VII. This is true even if the employer subjects male and female homosexual or transgender individuals to the same rule.

Actions for Employers

Employers may need to review their employment policies to ensure that they do not discriminate against individuals due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Employers should also be aware that the Court’s ruling aligns with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)’s current Title VII enforcement policies and that state laws may specifically prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

As has been the case since 1950, the professional agents and underwriters at Morris & Reynolds Insurance are happy to help you. Whether you have a question about this topic or need help with any form of insurance, please contact us at any time at 305.238.1000.

EEOC Expands COVID-19 Return-to-Work Guidance

On June 11, 2020, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued more guidance concerning COVID-19 and return to work. This article compiles some of the frequently asked questions (FAQs) from the new guidance.

As a best practice, and in advance of having some or all employees return to the workplace, are there ways for an employer to invite employees to request flexibility in work arrangements?

Yes. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act permit employers to make information available in advance to all employees about who to contact—if they wish —to request accommodation for a disability that they may need upon return to the workplace, even if no date has been announced for their return. If requests are received in advance, the employer may begin the interactive process. An employer may choose to include in such a notice all the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)-listed medical conditions that may place people at higher risk of serious illness if they contract COVID-19, provide instructions about who to contact and explain that the employer is willing to consider on a case-by-case basis any requests from employees who have these or other medical conditions.

An employer also may send a general notice to all employees who are designated for returning to the workplace, noting that the employer is willing to consider requests for accommodation or flexibilities on an individualized basis. The employer should specify if the contacts differ depending on the reason for the request—for example, if the office or person to contact is different for employees with disabilities or pregnant workers than for employees whose request is based on age or child care responsibilities.

Either approach is consistent with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the ADA and the May 29, 2020 CDC guidance that emphasizes the importance of employers providing accommodations or flexibilities to employees who, due to age or certain medical conditions, are at higher risk for severe illness.

Regardless of the approach, however, employers should ensure that whoever receives inquiries knows how to handle them consistent with the different federal employment nondiscrimination laws that may apply, for instance, with respect to accommodations due to a medical condition, a religious belief or pregnancy.

What should an employer do if an employee entering the worksite requests an alternative method of screening due to a medical condition?

This is a request for reasonable accommodation, and an employer should proceed as it would for any other request for accommodation under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act. If the requested change is easy to provide and inexpensive, the employer might voluntarily choose to make it available to anyone who asks, without going through an interactive process. Alternatively, if the disability is not obvious or already known, an employer may ask the employee for information to establish that the condition is a disability and what specific limitations

require an accommodation. If necessary, an employer also may request medical documentation to support the employee’s request, and then determine if that accommodation or an alternative effective accommodation can be provided, absent undue hardship.

Similarly, if an employee requested an alternative method of screening as a religious accommodation, the employer should determine if accommodation is available under Title VII.

The CDC has explained that individuals age 65 and over are at higher risk for a severe case of COVID-19 if they contract the virus and, therefore, has encouraged employers to offer maximum flexibilities to this group. Do employees ages 65 and over have protections under the federal employment discrimination laws?

The ADEA prohibits employment discrimination against individuals ages 40 and older. The ADEA would prohibit a covered employer from involuntarily excluding an individual from the workplace based on his or her being 65 or older, even if the employer acted for benevolent reasons such as protecting the employee due to higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

Unlike the ADA, the ADEA does not include a right to reasonable accommodation for older workers due to age. However, employers are free to provide flexibility to workers ages 65 and older; the ADEA does not prohibit this, even if it results in younger workers ages 40-64 being treated less favorably based on age in comparison.

Workers ages 65 and older also may have medical conditions that bring them under the protection of the ADA as individuals with disabilities. As such, they may request reasonable accommodation for their disability as opposed to their age.

If an employer provides telework, modified schedules or other benefits to employees with school-age children due to school closures or distance learning during the pandemic, are there sex discrimination considerations?

Employers may provide any flexibilities as long as they are not treating employees differently based on sex or other EEOC-protected characteristics. For example, under Title VII, female employees cannot be given more favorable treatment than male employees because of a gender-based assumption about who may have caretaking responsibilities for children.

Due to the pandemic, may an employer exclude an employee from the workplace involuntarily due to pregnancy?

No. Sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act includes discrimination based on pregnancy. Even if motivated by benevolent concern, an employer is not permitted to single out workers on the basis of pregnancy for adverse employment actions, including involuntary leave, layoff or furlough.

Is there a right to accommodation based on pregnancy during the pandemic?

There are two federal employment discrimination laws that may trigger accommodation for employees based on pregnancy.

First, pregnancy-related medical conditions may themselves be disabilities under the ADA, even though pregnancy itself is not an ADA disability. If an employee makes a request for reasonable accommodation due to a pregnancy-related medical condition, the employer must consider it under the usual ADA rules.  

Second, Title VII as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act specifically requires that women affected by pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions be treated the same as others who are similar in their ability or inability to work. This means that a pregnant employee may be entitled to job modifications, including telework, changes to work schedules or assignments, and leave to the extent provided for other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work. Employers should ensure that supervisors, managers, and human resources personnel know how to handle such requests to avoid disparate treatment in violation of Title VII.  

As has been the case since 1950, the professional agents and underwriters at Morris & Reynolds Insurance are happy to help you. Whether you have a question about this topic or need help with any form of insurance, please contact us at any time at 305.238.1000.

Firework Safety

Fireworks are a staple of many Fourth of July and other celebrations, but remember to take precautions to ensure your special event is safe and accident-free.

The Risks

Unfortunately, many people do not realize just how dangerous fireworks and sparklers can be—which is a primary reason that injuries occur. Fireworks can not only injure the users, but can also affect bystanders.

Bottle rockets and firecrackers can fly in any direction and may explode on or near someone instead of up in the air. Sparklers are also a huge risk, as they burn at very high temperatures and are often given to children too young to use them safely. All fireworks pose potential risks of burn, blindness and other injury.

Tips for Safe Use

When using fireworks, always plan carefully in advance for who will shoot them and what safety precautions you will have in place. Here are some suggestions to ensure safety and avoid accidents:

  • Use fireworks and sparklers outdoors only.
  • Always have a hose or water bucket handy.
  • Only use fireworks as intended. Do not alter or combine them, and do not use homemade fireworks.
  • Keep spectators a safe distance away.
  • Never give sparklers to young children.
  • Wear safety goggles when handling or shooting off fireworks.
  • Do not shoot fireworks off if under the influence of alcohol.
  • Show children how to properly hold sparklers, how to stay far enough away from other children and what not to do (throw, run or fight with sparkler in hand)—but supervise closely, regardless.
  • Point fireworks away from people, homes, trees, etc.
  • Never try to relight a dud (a firework that didn’t properly ignite).
  • Soak all firework debris in water before throwing it away.
  • Do not carry fireworks in your pocket or shoot them from metal or glass containers.

As has been the case since 1950, the professional agents and underwriters at Morris & Reynolds Insurance are happy to help you. Whether you have a question about this topic or need help with any form of insurance, please contact us at any time at 305.238.1000.