Health, Safety, & Security Questions of the Week

Can I Ask if My Employees Are Vaccinated?

Can we ask if our employees are vaccinated? Isn’t this a HIPAA violation or an illegal inquiry under the ADA or somehow confidential information?

Employers can ask for proof of vaccination unless there is a state or local law or order to the contrary.*

When an employer is requesting or reviewing medical information in its capacity as an employer, as it would be when asking about an employee’s vaccination status, it is considered to be an employment record. In such cases, HIPAA would not apply to the employer. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will govern the collection and storage of this information.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces the ADA, has stated that asking about vaccination is not a disability-related inquiry, though it could turn into one if you ask follow-up questions about why the employee is not vaccinated. Asking a yes or no question, or requesting to see the employee’s vaccination card, does not violate any federal laws or require proof that the inquiry is job-related.

Finally, just because employees think that something is or should be private or confidential doesn’t mean they can’t be required to share it with their employer. Social Security numbers, birth dates, and home addresses are all pieces of information an employee may not want to advertise, but sharing is necessary and required for work. Vaccination status is similar. However, all of this information, once gathered, should not be shared by the employer with third parties, except on a need-to-know basis.

*It appears that some governors may attempt to prevent certain entities from requiring “immunity passports” (e.g., proof of vaccination) through an executive order (EO), though as of July 31, none of the EOs already issued appear to apply to private businesses and their employees. Also note that if there is a law in place that prevents treating vaccinated and unvaccinated employees differently (like in Montana), you may be able to ask, but not take any action based on the response.

Should we keep a record of who is vaccinated or make copies of vaccination cards? If we do, how long should we keep that information?

If you’re asking about vaccination status, you’ll want to keep some kind of record (so you don’t have to ask multiple times), but how you do this is up to you, unless state or local law has imposed specific recordkeeping requirements. You may want to keep something simple like a spreadsheet with the employee’s name and a simple “yes” or “no” in the vaccination column. If you’d prefer to make a copy of their vaccination card, that should be kept with other employee medical information, separate from their personnel file. Per OSHA, these records should be kept for 30 years.

If we keep a record of who is vaccinated, can we share it with managers who will be required to enforce policies based on that information, such as masking and social distancing?

Yes. We recommend not sharing this information any more widely than necessary. While anonymized information is okay to share (e.g., “80% of our employees are vaccinated”), each employee’s vaccination status should be treated as confidential, even if the fact that they are wearing a mask to work seems to reveal their status publicly. Obviously, managers will need this information if they are expected to enforce vaccination-dependent policies, and employers should train them on how they should be enforcing the policies and how and when to escalate issues to HR or a higher level of management.

Special thanks to the HR Support Center for providing this edition of our HR Question of the Week. 

For further COVID-19-related resources, check out our COVID-19 Employer Resources page or contact us for direct assistance. 

This article does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.  Information and content presented herein is for general informational purposes only and readers are strongly encouraged to contact their attorney to obtain advice with respect to any legal matter.  Only your individual attorney can provide assurances that the information contained herein is applicable or appropriate to your particular situation or legal jurisdiction.

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How Can HR Professionals Reduce Workplace Violence?

HR Question:

How can we reduce workplace violence?

HR Answer:

The numbers are staggering and undeniable. According to SHRM’s 2019 study, 48% of HR professionals reported some type of workplace violence incident in their organization. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also reported in the same year there were 888,220 events or exposures involving injury or illness.  Of those, 20,870 were assaults in the workplace.  Even worse, 454 of those assaults were fatalities.

Workplace violence has always been on the radar for HR professionals at some level. They are the first to encourage the involvement of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP); they regularly coach supervisors on having difficult conversations with employees; and often, they serve as sounding boards for employees when they are distraught or concerned.  Through actions and behaviors, they work to create cultures of engagement, awareness, and even compassion and grace when faced with difficult employee relations issues regularly. Despite all of these efforts, it is sometimes not enough.

What else can be done beyond the EAP to help reduce and prevent workplace violence incidents?

Proper planning and assessment can help to identify risks.

With proper planning and worksite assessment, employers can identify ways to limit potential exposure, reducing the likelihood of incidents occurring. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration promotes a well-written and practiced workplace violence prevention program. But to truly be effective, programs like this need to contain engineering controls and administrative controls in addition to training.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has developed specific guidelines to assist with violence prevention in a variety of work environments.  Some helpful engineering controls include bright lighting, silent alarms for front desk/access points, video surveillance, access control, and door locks/badge systems throughout the building to limit the access points.

When creating your plan, remember to work with your local firefighters and/or police to get specific direction or even a complete evaluation of your worksite preparedness plan.  There are also many paid professionals and consultants that will help write and/or review your plan specifically for your organization. In this situation, one size does not fit all, so be sure to get some expert advice in creating and training on a proper plan.

Encourage open communication – If you see something, say something.

Encourage open communication with employees, as raising and addressing concerns today can protect someone tomorrow. Create a culture where employees are free to voice their issues in a healthy manner and foster respect within the workplace.  Remember to take all staff communications seriously.  Even the smallest event can trigger individuals, so properly plan all messages and their delivery, especially if you are implementing any type of change.

Ask employees about safety concerns.

Be involved.  Ask questions.  Ask employees if they feel safe and what could be done to create a safer environment.  Ask them how they are doing.  Ask them what concerns or issues they have (and follow up).  Focus on early detection of potential issues. HR professionals can play an important role by asking questions and being involved with the goal of early intervention and prevention of workplace incidents.

Leverage technology to identify and address incidents quickly.

New technology is quickly becoming helpful in ways we could have never imagined.  A few examples include the following tools out in the market today.

Response technologies can be used to quickly activate the need for first responders.  There are tools with location and geofencing that allow responders to pinpoint the actual spot where an event is reported.  Active shooter research tells us that in many cases there is a very short window to intervene. Having location accuracy helps improve the chances of an effective and timely response.

Digital technology tools continue to evolve in this space. There are apps, for example, that organizations can provide to employees that allow for confidential reporting of workplace concerns.  Think “Ethics Line” gone mobile.  These tools allow employees to report concerns – confidentially – and in real-time. The employee report can even include uploaded photos, video, or audio of the behaviors or events they are concerned about or have witnessed, assisting with a future investigation if necessary.

Acoustic gunshot detection is another type of technology that has been implemented in some worksites. These types of systems automatically detect the sound and then tie it to the company’s security systems. It can then sound an alarm, notify the security team, and even dispatch help… long before someone onsite can even discern if the noise was a gunshot or make a call for help.

More sophisticated security programs and camera systems can also assist with potentially violent situations.  Old camera systems are reactive, sometimes only activating when a commotion activates the camera.  New systems today are proactive, using facial recognition.  The systems can send signals if an unauthorized person enters a building or even if someone is carrying a weapon onto the worksite.

As the number of incidents continues to grow, HR professionals and business leaders need to prepare their worksites in ways they have never done before.  It is important to remember that the culture we create, the programs we provide, and the tools and technology we implement can help to calm a potentially violent situation you did not expect.  Human Resources can take an active role “beyond an EAP referral” to prepare the workplace, staff, and employees to handle these unpredictable situations and even potentially save lives.

Special thanks to Patti Dunham, MBA, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP for contributing to this edition of our HR Question of the Week!

In 2019, strategic HR inc. and MYCA Learning partnered together to support organizations in their search for essential training in accessible ways, resulting in the creation of our Active Shooter Preparation e-Learning Course. Geared toward preparing and protecting our communities should they face the unthinkable, this fifteen-minute course seeks to educate participants on how to be aware, how to assess their surroundings, and how to make a plan. 

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How Can I Protect My Organization from Phishing Scams?

HR Question:

I keep seeing reports of large companies being compromised by phishing scams, data leaks, and hacking attacks. How can I protect my organization from some of these attacks?

HR Answer:

Phishing emails are a type of scam designed to obtain information or prompt certain behavior from their targets. To that end, they typically appear to come from a person or entity we trust.

In most cases, careful inspection will reveal cracks in the façade, little signs that the message is not what it purports to be. But, of course, most of us don’t thoroughly analyze every email we receive from a colleague or supervisor. When we get an email from our CEO, Lizzy Beth, we don’t hover the mouse over her contact card to verify that the message came from her actual company email and not brice@sneaky.scam. We see the email, assume Lizzy Beth wants us to send her the requested information, and send it.

Successful phishing scams can be costly data breaches with legal consequences. Businesses are generally required to take reasonable precautions to protect personal information in their possession. In the event of a breach, many states require that notice be given to those whose information was compromised. This notice might need to include the cause and nature of the data breach as well as what protections are afforded to those affected.

One of the best ways to protect your company from these sorts of phishing scams is to have a policy and practice of never emailing sensitive employee information. The language below may serve as an effective reminder:

“Employees should not under any circumstance email sensitive employee information such as W-2s, benefit enrollment forms, completed census forms, or anything with social security or credit card numbers. Email is inherently insecure, and scammers may pose as company executives or employees to steal information. If you receive a request to email any such sensitive information, do not respond to it. Instead, inform your manager immediately.”

You can help protect your organization by giving employees examples of the kinds of emails and other communications (texts, calls, etc.) that are likely suspicious. Here are a few:

  • A notice from your email provider suggesting you change your password.
  • A message from the IRS asking you to click a link, open an attachment, or provide information.
  • A message asking you to click a link to pay fines or penalties.
  • A request for W-2s or payroll records.
  • A request for names, birth dates, home addresses, salaries, and social security numbers.
  • A request for contact information.
  • A request to purchase gift cards and email the sender the card numbers.
  • A request for login information.
  • A communication with glaring typos.
  • A communication that says “EMERGENCY” in the subject.
  • A LinkedIn connection from someone you don’t recognize even though they purport to work at your company and have connected with some of your colleagues.

Special thanks to the HR Support Center for providing the response to this edition of our HR Question of the Week!

strategic HR inc. understands your concerns with the safety and well-being of your employees. We offer expertise in health, safety, and security to cover any need you may have from analyzing your safety programs to making sure your policies and procedures are compliant and protect your staff. Please visit our Health, Safety & Security page for more information on these services.

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Can I Require My Employees to Receive the COVID-19 Vaccine?

HR Question:

As vaccines continue to roll out, can I require that my employees receive the vaccine?

HR Answer:

Many employers are now beginning to face the difficult decision of whether or not to require vaccines for their employees. Some employees may refuse to come back into the office without it, others may staunchly refuse to receive the vaccine right away or at all. So how are employers expected to navigate this world of grey regulations and guidelines?

Can Employers Require Their Employees to Receive the Vaccine?

The answer? It’s complicated. In order to address some of the various guidelines, requirements, and generally muddy waters that the vaccination presents, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released some guidance for employers.

In fact, Graydon Law summarized some of the available guidelines for employers to consider when implementing such a policy. While this may allow employers to have a better understanding of some of the nuanced situations they may face when implementing a mandatory vaccine policy, no one should go it alone. To answer our first question: while it’s possible for employers to implement a mandatory employee vaccination policy, they should not do so without consulting legal counsel.

Should Employers Require Their Employees to Receive the Vaccine?

This answer is a little more difficult to pin down.

In an HR Question of the Week for strategic HR inc., Lee Geiger, Graydon Law attorney and our valued partner, raised some excellent questions for business leaders to ask themselves before establishing a mandatory vaccine. Issues such as industry patterns and potential exposure related to the company’s services are given questions with more concrete answers. Additional questions such as internal logistics, consequences for those who refuse the vaccine without ADA protection, and deciding who in the company will serve (as Geiger put it) as the “Vaccine Police” may begin to further cloud the situation.

Can an Employer Provide Incentives to Employees for Getting the Vaccine?

While this may seem like a great way to encourage all of your employees to get vaccinated, it can lead to even more issues.

  • In the EEOC’s eyes, the vaccination is seen as a wellness activity which is currently under review as it relates to incentives.  As of May 4, 2021, we still await technical assistance direction from the EEOC on whether or not vaccine incentives can be offered.  In a statement on April 22, 2021 the EEOC indicates that guidance will be issued with no date on when that will occur.
  • Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), remember if you offer cash, it could be viewed as a nondiscretionary bonus which means you may need to adjust the pay to any non-exempt employees who worked overtime during the same period that they received the cash incentive. Also, you may be required to pay the employee for their time to get the vaccination.
  • If you don’t allow employees in the workplace without the vaccine, you run the risk of actually not having enough employees to run the business.
  • Employee engagement may be impacted as some employees see this as their decision and their employer shouldn’t be telling them what to do in this regard.
  • If an employee does get the vaccine, what liability would you as an employer have if the employee had side effects? Would it be a workers compensation issue or worse – a legal issue?
  • The legal alphabet soup gets even more complicated when you consider OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Act) requirements, which require employers to provide a safe workplace, or NLRA (National Labor Relations Act) in which an employer cannot impact a worker’s “concerted activity.”

Nothing about COVID has been easy and the rules seem to continue to change daily.  Perhaps one approach may be to help educate employees on the impacts of COVID, the benefits of the vaccine, and additional preventative measures to be taken.

As employers, it very hard to navigate what to do in our workforces. Mandating or incentivizing getting the vaccine is meant to protect employees and customers.  However, it can actually lead to many other complicated issues.  Employers will need to take a close look at the impacts of mandating or incentivizing and decide if the need for the vaccine in their workplace outweighs those risks.

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What Are OSHA’s COVID-19 Requirements?

HR Question:

As an employer, I am concerned with creating a safe workplace for my employees, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. What are OSHA’s COVID-19 requirements?

HR Answer:

Since the 2009 outbreak of the H1N1 Flu, regulatory agencies have been considering the creation of an infectious disease standard for employers. Until the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) establishes such a standard, the agency released some much-anticipated guidance surrounding COVID-19 in January 2021.

So no, while OSHA hasn’t released any COVID-19 requirements specifically aimed at communicable diseases, that does not mean there aren’t OSHA regulations employers need to consider as it relates to communicable diseases.

Basic Safety Regulations

In the absence of a specific communicable disease standard, the most important OSHA guideline employers need to remember is the “General Duty Clause.” This over-arching clause is a catch-all for OSHA which states that employers have a “duty to provide employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” This arguably would include preventing the spread of infectious disease among employees. The General Duty Clause allows OSHA to enforce reasonable safety measures in the event that they do not have a specific standard to enforce.

Potential Citations

OSHA requirements do not stop there. Employers could be opening themselves up to citations directly related to their handling of common COVID-19 related situations should they fail to ensure a safe workplace. Violations can infringe upon several categories, such as the General Duty Clause, Personal Protective Equipment, Bloodborne Pathogen, and Respirator Protection violations, just to name a few. For example, some employers have handed out N95 masks – an innocent enough action, but OSHA considers these masks as “respirators” which require medical evaluation and fit testing. Should employees be found using such tools without the proper training, it could mean a citation. Now more than ever, employers should keep these standards in mind when reviewing their safety protocol in the workplace.

Communicable Disease Policy

OSHA requirements aside, it may be best practice that employers consider the implementation of a Communicable Disease policy as part of their Health and Safety program.  A Communicable Disease policy should be written to assure employees that any employment decision involving someone with a real or perceived communicable disease will be made with informed medical judgment and confidentiality. Additionally, employers must agree to involve medical professionals such as an occupational health provider who clearly understands the risk of transmission and impact on others in the workplace. Such a policy will assure that employers are proactive in protecting employee safety and health.

Thank you to Patti Dunham, MBA, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP for contributing to this edition of our HR Question of the Week!

During these uncertain times, be sure to check out our COVID-19 Employer Resources for webinars, resource guides, our Return to Work Guide, and more to help you navigate your business through the challenges you are facing.

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How Can I Help My Staff Prevent Work-Related Injuries?

HR Question:

With more of my employees working from home, how can I help my remote staff prevent work-related injuries?

HR Answer:

As many organizations have adjusted to a drastic increase in the number of employees working from home, many leaders and professionals are now having to address new challenges as it relates to work-related soreness and injuries. Many employers are finding that they are suddenly challenged with potential work-related injuries from hazards that are not under their direct control. So how can leaders help their remote staff prevent these new unique work-related injuries? Fortunately for both employees and employers, there are several solutions to consider for supporting employees working remotely.

Individual Virtual Ergonomic Evaluations:

Usually best for small workgroups under fifty employees, individual ergonomic evaluations (done virtually) can allow employers to evaluate employees’ workstations and to coach team members on the best work practices to stay safe and prevent injury. Plus, this provides an opportunity to review wellness topics for remote work.

That being said, this assessment can be more expensive for employers, depending on the number of employees. The model typically works for the occasional need, but may not be able to support a large demand for services. Recommendations for equipment may also be expensive, as well.

Scalable Process to Support Larger Workforces:

A scalable process can provide a more comprehensive strategy, allowing for fluid access for larger teams – up to thousands of people. It also should include an ergonomic expert at your fingertips and support for your entire team to individually address their issues. Any partners you have in the process should assist in equipment recommendations and modifications that can be preselected options for your team. And, due to the large number of individuals to cater to, the per-screen cost can be lowered with volume.

This process isn’t for everyone, however, as this model may be more than what is needed for smaller employers due to the front-loaded start-up time.

Ergonomics in an at-home environment can be challenging, as there is no standardization of the working environment as there is in an office setting. To accomplish a Zero Injury goal, employers need to recognize this fact and be careful to select the best partner to support their teams. Be certain to choose a partner who has a vetted process in virtual assessments, experience providing ergonomics with injury prevention, and who has a secure platform to complete the needed assessments and reporting for your team.

To assist employees with computer workstation safety, employers can also access a valuable and inclusive Computer Workstation eTool Checklist, created by OSHA, that can serve as an office or home office assessment. The resource also includes “work station components,” “work processes,” and “work station environments.”

Employer support can extend beyond ergonomic support as well. This is also an opportunity for employers to encourage physical therapy and other movements to compensate for the lack of access to normal workout locations. Many employees may see stress and anxiety levels escalate due to COVID-19’s impact on their daily life, and as a result, will carry that stress and anxiety in their muscles without an opportunity to release it. Direct access to physical therapy is a great resource for employers and employees alike, as it can help to lower your healthcare cost and support your employees to stay active and healthy. Employers can look for local physical therapy partnerships that provide free screenings in person or virtually, via Telehealth, and other support options.

As an additional measure, employers may provide no-cost information resources to their teams such as PopSugar.  PopSugar is an online, app-driven website that provides hundreds of videos for workouts such as yoga, Pilates, and other classes that enable stress reduction, prevent burnout, and reduce bodily injury. The site also includes nutrition, wellness, healthy living fitness, and more. PopSugar is just one of many similar sites available with a quick google search.

While employers have been faced with new and ever-evolving challenges in 2020, there are some great options to help conquer these obstacles and turn them into opportunities for their at-home staff. Employers need to make the choice to address these issues proactively and seek out partners that can help them succeed in preventing new and debilitating injuries.

Special thanks to Tom Ernst from Oxford At Work for contributing to this edition of our HR Question of the Week! Oxford at Work is a mobile workforce available in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. Partnered with Fit For Work, Oxford at Work is able to assist clients locally and at a national level. 

During these uncertain times, be sure to check out our COVID-19 Employer Resources for webinars, resource guides, our Return to Work Guide, and more to help you navigate your business through the challenges you are facing.

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How Can I Help My Employees Stay Safe During the Holidays?

HR Question:

I hear many of my employees making plans for the holidays, which include family and friends from all over. I’m worried about them contracting COVID-19 and bringing it into our workplace. How can I help my employees stay safe during the holidays?

HR Answer:

It’s no secret that the 2020 holiday season will look drastically different this year for everyone. While many may be feeling “COVID fatigue” and desire a break from the stress with a visit from family, the risk of contracting COVID-19 has not faded away with the holidays. If anything, the risk has spiked, as many get-togethers are held indoors without masks or proper ventilation. It’s understandable that employers will begin to worry about additional COVID-19 exposures in their workplace as employees return after seeing their families and friends.

While employers can’t mandate that employees not see family or friends over the holidays, they can encourage safe practices and share recommendations to protect themselves and those around them. Some recommendations include:

Lead by Example

The first place to start would be with your own company holiday celebrations. How are you adjusting your typical holiday parties and get-togethers to safely celebrate with minimal risk? Depending on the size of your organization, consider small, socially-distanced get-togethers with minimal movement. So, instead of the team potluck from 11:30 am – 1 pm, perhaps try a small, socially-distanced gift exchange from 2 pm – 3 pm. Instead of doing a White Elephant gift swap (where the gifts can change hands multiple times), try a Secret Santa exchange (where the gift only goes to one person) or opportunities to pick from a small pile of gifts. From a virtual perspective, consider virtual meals where individuals on the team each order their favorite take-out, or host virtual Happy Hours. This setting can extend to gift exchanges as well, as long as the gifts are exchanged beforehand or sent virtually. Depending upon the size of your organization, you can safely lead by example and still spread some holiday joy across your team.

Make a Clear Plan

Encourage employees to make a clear plan with their families before gathering. Will everyone have received their flu shot? Will everyone quarantine for 14 days prior to your gathering? Or will the family have to settle for a virtual get-together? If the latter is the choice, Zoom, Facebook, Skype, Google Hangouts, and Facetime are just a few common virtual video platforms that can be used for gathering friends and families while remaining safe at home. As a bonus, Zoom announced there will be no time limits on Thanksgiving video get-togethers this year.

Getting Creative with (But Still Requiring) Masks

If your employees choose to physically gather with family and friends who live outside their household, it will be important that they take the extra precautions in order to remain safe and healthy. One of the top recommendations from health officials, outside of social distancing and good hand washing, is wearing a mask. While this practice is one that most people realistically do not enjoy, recommend fun ways to encourage mask-wearing for all ages. For example, consider creating spirited competitions where you can vote on the favorite within several categories: who has the funniest, prettiest, scariest, or most festive mask? You can also supply blank face masks that can be decorated, where children and adults can take part and have fun. These are just a few ways to lighten the mood and gamify mask-wearing to help to ensure everyone stays safe while celebrating.

Encourage Time Off to Destress

Even if the holidays look a little different, one thing remains the same – stress. Add on the stress of a pandemic and the interruption of treasured traditions, and it’s easy to see how many may find themselves more tense and irritable during “the most wonderful time of the year.” Share stress relief resources, such as The Mayo Clinic’s recommendations for reducing stress during the pandemic holidays. For those who are interested, find virtual ways of connecting over the holidays so no employee feels “alone.” Another option is to highlight your Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which might offer a variety of counseling options for employees to help them handle their stress and mental health.

Get Back to the Basics

As the hustle and bustle of the holiday season come upon us, don’t let your team forget the basics of protecting themselves, and in turn, their families. The following guidelines should be followed:

  • Practice social distancing at all times.
  • Wash hands frequently.
  • Wear a mask at all times.
  • Self-monitor for symptoms continuously.
  • Continue to check employees’ temperatures and ask about symptoms as they return to work each day.
  • If employees traveled outside of their state, consider additional guidelines before those employees return onsite.

By keeping safety protocols and social distancing guidelines top of mind, you can help your employees keep themselves, and their co-workers, safe throughout the holiday season.

Special thanks to Ashly Avery for contributing to this edition of our HR Question of the Week!

During these uncertain times, be sure to check out our COVID-19 Employer Resources for webinars, resource guides, our Return to Work Guide, and more to help you navigate your business through the challenges you are facing.

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An Employer’s Resource Guide to Coronavirus

As reports of coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) begin to inundate news and social media feeds, employers around the globe are struggling to keep up with the recommendations and updates health-related organizations are providing. In response, we’ve created an Employer’s Resource Guide to Coronavirus. Below are vetted and reliable resources to help employers prepare their workforce for this evolving public health concern.

Updated as of November 3, 2020

Back to Work Resources

As the nation begins to address the potential of returning to work, state and federal guidelines continue to be revealed. Below are some of the most recent “Back to Work Plans” as of May 22, 2020.

  • The White House released the Federal Guidelines for Opening Up America Again, a three-phased approach based on the guidance of public health experts.
    • To further support these efforts to return to work, the CDC has published information on Contact Tracing – the process of tracing and monitoring those who have been infected and those they may have come into contact with.
  • Governor DeWine released his “Responsible Restart Ohio” plan, structured throughout May and June 2020 to allow for a staggered return to work.
  • Governor Andy Beshear released “Healthy at Work“, Kentucky’s approach to reopening the state. The State of Kentucky has also published an interactive map of testing locations.
  • Indiana has published several resources (found below in our State Resources section), the most recent being a list of Testing Sites locations and Mental Health & Well Being Resources. Governor Eric Holcomb’s “Back on Track Indiana” was published May 1.

Urgent COVID-19 Employer Resources

We have compiled the most up-to-date and immediately relevant information and resources to prepare and protect your business. These resources are updated daily, if not hourly, to ensure the most accurate information to help you navigate through this unprecedented time.

  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has prepared a general summary page to answer many of the basic questions surrounding COVID-19, as well as a list of symptoms and a self-checking quiz to help the public determine if they may have COVID-19.
  • The CDC has also published a report on the number of cases and the spread of the disease, which will be updated every business day at noon.
  • Additionally, the CDC has prepared the COVID Data Tracker Weekly Review to provide a weekly surveillance of U.S. COVID-19 activity, including studies, COVID-19 cases, variants, testing and vaccination status, hospitalizations, and deaths.

New Laws & Business Resources

Federal Updates

Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)

Coronavirus Aid, Response, Economic Stimulus Act (CARES Act)

Small Business Resources

  • The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) provides COVID-19 Relief Options, including information on Economic Injury Disaster Loan Programs, SBA Debt Relief, and more.
  • The SBA site also provides a full overview of the Pay Protection Program to help business owners navigate the regulation.  
  • The U.S. Department of Treasury has provided detailed information related to the Paycheck Protection Program, with resources such as a general overview, borrower and lender application forms, as well as eligibility requirements.

Furloughs/Layoffs/Restructure

      For Employers:

     For Employees:

Compensation Practices

State Resources 

     OHIO

  • For information for families, individuals, healthcare providers, employers and employees, visit the Ohio Department of Health Coronavirus Website.
    • Included in this portal is a go-to reference for some of the basic questions the public is asking. We recommend distributing educational materials like this to address the risks and necessary safeguards.
    • They have also provided a list of public health orders to help reduce the amount of mis-information.
  • The ODH is available to answer COVID-19 related questions at 833-ASK-4-ODH.
  • For daily updates from Governor Mike DeWine, visit Coronavirus.Ohio.gov.
  • The Office of Small Business Relief (OSBR) under the Ohio Development Services Agency is focused on identifying and providing direct support to the state’s nearly 950,000 small businesses to help during the current public health crisis and to position them for a strong rebound.
  • Unemployment:  For those in need of unemployment answers, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has created a Q&A to provide guidance for those affected by any shutdowns.
  • Jobs:  The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has created a free Job Search Board for both employers and candidates to access.

     Cincinnati Region

     KENTUCKY

  • KY has set up an official Team Kentucky source for information from Governor Andy Beshearer and all government departments related to COVID-19.  This site includes hotlines, confirmation reporting, a Human Infection with Person Under Investigation Care Report Form, mental wellness guidance , Governor Beshear’s daily actions and executive orders and more.
  • Unemployment:  The Kentucky Career Center page found under KY.gov provides information on how to apply for unemployment insurance related to COVID-19.  It also provides an Employer section that covers topics such as mass electronic claims, tax credits and more.
  • The KY Chamber of Commerce provides COVID-19 resources for employers, SBA Disaster loan information, unemployment insurance information, best practices and more.
  • A COVID-19 Hotline operated by healthcare professionals at the KY Poison Control Center is available to provide advice and answer questions at (800) 722-5725.
  • JobsKentucky.gov has provided a list of job openings and training opportunities.

     INDIANA

  • The Indiana government has developed an extensive Coronavirus publication and resource page.  This site includes public updates, a data report map, orders from Governor Eric Holcomb.
  • General questions from the public or healthcare providers about COVID-19 can phone the ISDH Call Center at toll free (877) 826-0011 – available 24/7.
  • The IN.gov website provides information for Child Care Resource and Referral Changes to connect parents with local child care options.
  • Jobs:  Work for Indiana provides job opportunities and resources.

Business Practices

Working Remotely

Workplace Safety

  • If you’re looking for information on what to do post-exposure in your workplace, check out the CDC’s recommendations on Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, a comprehensive guide to preparation and prevention.
  • OSHA also released a fact sheet, Protecting Workers During a Pandemic, where they addressed the risk levels associated with today’s work environment – including the need for masks or special accommodations.
    • Should I wear a mask?  Many states are now encouraging the use of masks when outside the home.  However, their guidance remains to insure that front line healthcare workers have an adequate supply.  Families and individuals at home are asked to make their own masks for use in public. The CDC has put a recommendation for DIY masks to reduce the spread of the virus. They’ve also created instructions for how to make a safe mask at home
  • The CDC shared a checklist for businesses to utilize as they protect their workplaces and their employees against pandemic influenza and COVID-19.
  • The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) shared basic ways to keep your workplace clean amidst rising concerns of COVID-19.
  • Our eLearning partner, MYCA:Learning, has culled the best advice from experts into an easy-to-read, easy-to-digest,  informative eBook. This eBook comes free of charge in order to further encourage safety in the workplace.

Workplace Wellness

      Employee Assistance Program

  • For employees who are employed or on furlough, but still eligible for employer benefits, an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) may provide counseling services to aid employees with stress, financial advice, marital counseling and grief due to the loss of a loved one. Employees should consult their Human Resources Department or their direct supervisor to learn more. Follow this Society for Human Resources link to learn more about an EAP.
  • To learn how to ease your employees fears related to COVID-19, read Easing Employee Stress Surrounding the Coronavirus Pandemic provided by HRInsights from HORAN.

     Employee Illness

  • If you believe that you could have COVID-19, read the CDC’s recommended steps to care for yourself and prevent the spread of illness.
  • If an employee begins to feel ill, Dr. on Demand has created an assessment to help guide you through any potential symptoms and related recommendations.

Business Travel

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) put out an informational piece on what COVID-19 is, how it spreads, and things to consider before you or your team travel for business.
  • The CDC provides the latest updates on travel information to protect and prepare those who are on the road. For the most up-to-date information, we highly recommend keeping an eye on the site as the CDC will not only have the most recent, but the most accurate information.
  • If you have overseas operations, pull the CDC’s Overseas Checklist into your preparations. This will outline the necessary steps and precautions you should be taking while working towards business continuity.

Emergency Preparedness

Emergency Relief Funds/Organizations

Below is a list of non-profit entities that are providing assistance to individuals, families and/or businesses.  

  • United Way – Provides food, shelter and more to those left vulnerable by the pandemic.
  • Veterans and service members may apply for COVID-19 emergency assistance at the PENFED Foundation.  
  • FEMA is processing and funding Public Assistance projects related to COVID-19.  
  • Meals on Wheels in providing meals to millions of shut-in seniors nationwide.  To find a program near you or to donate, click here.
  • To gain support for people with disabilities who live in poverty and are affected by COVID-19, connect with humanity & inclusion.

*strategic HR inc. is not endorsing any particular group or association and are not intentionally excluding any group or association. We’re accepting recommendations for consideration in this area.*

Protecting your workforce moving forward

Educate your employees on good hygiene practices – this is truly your best defense in the workplace to reduce the spread of infection.  Frequent hand washing, properly covering sneezes and coughs, and cleaning/disinfecting of work surfaces will provide many of the necessary protections in the workplace.

In order to make sure that you’re well informed, keep your eye on websites like the CDC’s and the WHO’s to ensure that the information you’re consuming is accurate and up-to-date.

We will continue to add new information and links to this article as new information is available.

 

Want to ensure that your organization is fully prepared for workplace emergencies? Check out our Emergency Preparedness Toolkit – a customizable policy and planning tool with documentation templates and advice on how to organize your committees and planning teams.

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How Can I Attract and Retain Employees Despite COVID-19?

HR Question:

While some have traded their typical highway commute for a quick walk down their home hallways, others have returned to on-site facilities on a full-blown scale. Yet, fear of the coronavirus is abundant, and rightfully so. In this new reality, employers are trying to attract new talent, while retaining those who are already a part of the team. So, how can employers attract and retain employees despite COVID-19?

HR Answer:

As more employers return to open their doors, they may face job openings that weren’t there in March – whether employees chose to pursue other options, or a round of furloughs and layoffs become necessary. Either way, recruiting teams are diligently working to successfully fill these open roles. At the same time, employers are trying to address the concerns of some existing employees, many of whom are refusing to return to work or are resigning to stay at home and protect themselves and their families.

It’s clear the COVID-19 pandemic has not subsided, and according to the WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard, cases are growing on a more frequent basis. So how can employers reach the qualified candidates that they need, while assuring active candidates that there are steps in place to protect them?

Develop/Implement a Workplace Safety Plan

First things first: employers must invest the time, budget, and staffing hours necessary to formulate and install proper safety controls. The CDC made available step-by-step actions to assist employers in establishing measures that prevent coronavirus infection and exposure. Measures may include proper ventilation systems, hazard assessments, social distancing, physical barriers between workstations, handwashing stations, staggered shifts, cleaning and disinfecting protocols, personal protective equipment, and more. This plan is the basis for all the other methodologies below.

Job Ads, Recruiting, & Interviews

It’s paramount that employees understand from the get-go that COVID-19 safety measures are in place and that the matter is relevant to the employers they are considering. As a result, employers are now incorporating COVID-19 safety language into their job ads, such as these sample job ads from ONGIG. The recruiting process may include flexible arrangements for the interview process, as well. Organizations may choose to host virtual interviews via platforms such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, and GoToMeeting to forego social distancing concerns altogether.

Onboarding

A robust onboarding process enables employers to jumpstart employee engagement and may eliminate questions later on. Incorporating COVID-19 safety education and awareness programs into your Onboarding Checklist may curb coronavirus fears. And for those who are not fearful, the learning experience may provide at least a new level of caution and an understanding of expectations to protect their co-workers. Connecting your team to credible online sources is another option that can be accomplished during onboarding.

Health and Mental Health Resources

Depression, loneliness, lack of engagement, and decreased communication are just a few of the impacts employees have suffered as a result of remote work and the overall pandemic environment. strategic HR inc. developed a list of resources to assist our clients in addressing these issues, not to mention the tremendous host of information available via reliable online entities such as the CDC’s “Mental Health” page and the “Global Healthy Living Foundation.” We encourage employers to provide ongoing communication about these opportunities and tools. For existing employees, this may mean weekly “did you know” type flyers or infographics. Another avenue may be enhanced education on the benefits and services available through the employer’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or the medical health insurance plan. By showing employees that the company understands their COVID-19 fears and cares about their well-being, employees are more likely to connect to the employer’s commitment to safety.

Community Support and Involvement

Not only are all eyes open to how employers are addressing COVID-19 safety in the workplace, but also on the employer’s actions (or lack thereof) in the communities where they reside. Employers can further grow their “employer of choice” brand by sponsoring or presenting COVID-19 safety webinars, having leaders serve on panels related to what employers are doing during the pandemic, or writing or contributing to articles. Another example is providing branded masks for employees. This is a simple effort that protects your team and provides brand acknowledgment.

 

Developing these and other strategies for addressing COVID-19 fears can go a long way to attract and retain top talent. Leadership, HR, Marketing, and Public Relations all play key roles in creating a winning plan – not just for the immediate future, but further down the line as companies face the next wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Take steps now to evaluate where your organization stands, research new information and resources, then go the extra mile to protect and educate your team members. The return on investment most likely will be felt both internally and externally as you attract and retain employees – despite COVID-19.

 

Thanks to Angela Dunaway, SPRH, SHRM-CP, for writing this edition of our HR Question of the Week!

During these uncertain times, be sure to check out our COVID-19 Employer Resources for webinars, resource guides, our Return to Work Guide, and more to help you navigate your business through the challenges you are facing.

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What are the COVID-19 Safety Measures for Returning to Work?

It may feel as if the country is taking a collective breath after holding it since March. But many are worried if we breathe too soon or too deeply, we’ll inhale more than we bargained for, leading to a worse global catastrophe in the form of a second wave of coronavirus infections. If you ask 100 people about the proper timing for reopening businesses and the economy, you’ll get 100 different answers — 200 if you come back next week and ask them again. But one thing experts agree on are the safety measures to use once you decide to reopen your business. So what are the COVID-19  safety measures you need to consider in order to return to work?

5 Categories of COVID-19 Safety Measures

Different states and jurisdictions have different required measures, and which resources are appropriate for you varies based on the kind of business you run. Common examples of the five categories of COVID-19 safety measures you should make a plan for are:

  1. Social Distancing: Making it easy (and even possible in some cases) for staff and customers to keep a safe distance from one another
  2. Hygiene Protocols: Systems, policies, and tools to prevent surface contact spread of the COVID-19 virus
  3. Staffing and Operations: policies and systems to keep your employees informed and safe
  4. Cleaning and Disinfection: For both employees and customers who show symptoms, as well as generally throughout your place of business
  5. Information Flow: Maintaining an up-to-date and accurate understanding of news and developments about the pandemic

Let’s look at all five categories in more detail— what they mean, why they’re important, and some of the best ways to service them effectively.

1. Social Distancing

Social distancing is effective because of the range of a human sneeze or cough. Maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet while in public is one of the strongest measures to prevent becoming infected or spreading infection.

To encourage social distancing in your business, you can:

  • Post signage in public spaces encouraging and guiding proper distancing.
  • Calculate the maximum number of people you can have inside while maintaining proper distance and enforce this maximum.
  • Reassess systems and protocols so your staff can maintain social distance.
  • Identify “choke points” where people are at risk of passing within 6 feet of each other and develop systems to prevent that from happening.
  • Place safety shields at counters where customers have to stand closer than 6 feet from a cashier or other employee.

2. Hygiene Protocols

After maintaining social distance, the best thing we can do to protect ourselves and others is to make sure we observe recommended hygiene standards while at work. A few policies you can put into place to help with this:

  • Encourage and enforce frequent hand-washing protocols for your employees. Use the models for food service or medical care, even if you aren’t in those fields.
  • Maintain sufficient supplies for frequent hand-washing.
  • Require employees to wear face masks and consider extending that policy to customers who enter your location, depending on local regulations.
  • Wherever possible, set up zero-contact protocols for delivery of what you sell.

3. Staffing & Operations

A micropreneur with a private office or a security guard who works alone in an empty building don’t need to worry about their co-workers and spreading COVID-19. For others, it’s co-workers who will be the most at risk should you become infected.

Beyond social distancing while on staff, you can take the following measures to help keep people safe:

  • Provide employees with sufficient training about your social distancing and hygiene measures, and follow up to make sure they’re being enforced.
  • Look at your current procedures and protocols for ways to reduce employee contact. For example, have people on the same shift arrive at different times, rather than all at once, and move workstations farther apart.
  • Adopt an “err-on-the-side-of-caution” policy for calling in sick so employees stay home if there is any chance they have become infected.
  • Adjust timelines of major projects to get by with less staff, operating with fewer people until the danger has passed.

4. Cleaning & Disinfecting

Although the most common form of transmission is through body fluids, COVID-19 can survive on skin and flat surfaces for long enough to put people at risk. Since most businesses operate in part by having people touch things all the time, this is a potential point of vulnerability. To combat this, you can:

  • Provide hand-washing or hand sanitizer stations throughout your place of business, including in public areas.
  • Note areas that get touched frequently, like doorknobs, restrooms, safety screens, and tools. Establish procedures to wipe them down with sanitizer on a regular basis.
  • Deeply disinfect your entire facility if an employee or regular customer is diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • Make disinfection and cleaning checklists for your employees to follow, and confirm they are followed consistently.

5. Information Flow

Our global network is one reason we’ve been able to take successful steps to contain the virus so far. As things return to normal, it’s important to remain informed from sources you can trust.

When searching for information about the COVID-19 situation, consider the following:

  • Use fact-checkers like Media Bias Fact Check to confirm the sources of your information are accurate and delivered with as little agenda as possible.
  • Bookmark the websites of your local and regional health authorities, and check them regularly.
  • Set aside time each week to communicate what you’ve learned with your staff so everybody is on the same page.
  • Stay current on changes in recommendations about COVID-19 safety measures. As we’ve already seen, best practices change as scientists learn more about the virus.

Nothing can guarantee your business won’t be impacted directly by COVID-19, but it’s important to follow the steps above as we move forward. These are challenging times, but approaching your business with a thoughtful and careful process will help your customers and employees feel more comfortable coming back to your business.

Special thanks to Justin Latenhaer with MoneyCrashers for contributing to this week’s HR Question of the Week. Justin Latenhaer is a Midwest-based consultant who provides strategies to businesses on how to market and run their companies. During COVID-19, he’s been offering steps to help businesses restart.

During these uncertain times, be sure to check out our COVID-19 Employer Resources for webinars, resource guides, our Return to Work Guide, and more to help you navigate your business through the challenges you are facing.

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What are the Reopening Plans for the Tri-state?

HR Question

Each state is putting out its own reopening plan for businesses amid COVID-19. What are the state reopening plans for our tri-state area of Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana?

HR Answer

This is the question on everyone’s mind! As many states are beginning to consider their reopening protocols, it can be tough to keep track of the updates and new information. We’ve compiled a list of the most recent state reopening plans for Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana below. 

Not in Ohio, Kentucky, or Indiana? Check out this USA Today article, which outlines a brief summary of each state’s most recent updates.

 

Ohio’s State Reopening Plan: Responsible Restart Ohio

On Monday, April 27, Governor Mike DeWine announced his plan to “responsibly restart Ohio” through a staggered approach. While many businesses may begin the process of reopening their doors on a staggered-restart schedule outlined below, there are still several safety regulations to consider prior to reopening. 

Through Ohio’s Safe Business Practices for Getting Back to Work, any business that wants to reopen must:

  • Recommend use of face coverings for employees (it is not mandated, but rather strongly recommended, for clients/customers)
  • Conduct daily health assessments by employers and employees (self-evaluation) to determine if “fit for duty” 
  • Maintain good hygiene at all times – hand washing/sanitizing and social distancing
  • Clean and sanitize workplaces throughout the workday and at the close of business or between shifts 
  • Limit capacity to meet social distancing guidelines, which includes:
    • Establishing maximum capacity at 50% of fire code
    • Using appointment setting where possible to limit congestion

Provided that businesses follow these guidelines, they can begin to follow the Responsible Restart Ohio schedule. All industries are required to meet mandatory requirements such as: 

  • Ensuring a minimum of 6 feet between people and installing barriers for when that is not possible 
  • Working from home if at all possible 
  • All employees must perform daily symptom assessments (monitoring for fever, cough, shortness of breath), and must stay home if symptomatic.
  • Staggering or limiting the arrivals of employees and guests

Should you not find your industry below, the Ohio Department of Health has updated its list of Continued Business Closures, as well.

On May 1:

The healthcare sector will be one of the first to reopen. All healthcare procedures (that do not require an overnight stay in a hospital) may move forward, including dentists and veterinarians

On May 4: 

Manufacturing, distribution, and construction industries may begin to reopen. They are expected to follow the above required regulations but are also recommended to provide stipends to employees for private transportation. For further information on how to adjust the shift patterns, physical spaces, and workstations, refer to the guidelines for manufacturing, distribution, and construction industries.

General office environments may also begin to reopen, provided they follow the mandatory guidelines above. Additional mandatory requirements for these environments include: 

  • Reducing the sharing of work materials
  • Limiting travel as much as possible
  • Post signage on health safety guidelines in common areas

Other recommended Best Practices include: 

  • Ensure seating distance of 6 ft. or more
  • Enable natural workplace ventilation
  • Health questionnaire for symptoms at entry
  • Temperature taking protocol

For further information, refer to the guidelines for general office environments.

On May 12: 

Consumer, retail, and services companies may begin to reopen to the public. They are required to meet the same mandatory guidelines as other industries, and in addition, they must:

  • Place hand sanitizers in high-contact locations
  • Clean high-touch items, such as carts and baskets, after each use  

The Ohio Department of Health also recommends grouping employees by shift to reduce exposure. Further requirements for guests and customers, as well as physical spaces, can be found on the guidance for consumer, retail, and other services page.

Moving Forward:

Should COVID-19 be detected in any of these workplaces, the Ohio Department of Health has stated the following: 

  • Mandatory Actions: 
    • Immediately isolate and seek medical care for any individual who develops symptoms while at work
    • Contact the Local Health District about suspected cases or exposures
    • Shut down shop/floor for deep sanitation if possible
  • Recommended Best Practices
    • Work with your local health department to identify potentially infected or exposed individuals to help facilitate effective contact tracing/notifications
    • Once testing is readily available, test all suspected infections or exposures
    • Following testing, contact your local health department to initiate appropriate care and tracing

 

Kentucky’s State Reopening Plan: “Healthy at Work” Program

Governor Andy Beshear created “Healthy at Work” – a phased approach to reopen Kentucky’s economy. Based on criteria set by public health experts and advice from industry experts, “Healthy at Work” is a phased approach to returning to “normal.” Phase 1 is a state-readiness evaluation while Phase 2 is a business-readiness evaluation. 

There are ten rules to reopening a business under the “Healthy at Work” plan, which include:

  • Continued telework where possible
  • Phased return to work
  • Onsite temperature/health checks
  • Universal masks and other necessary PPE
  • Closed common areas
  • Enforced social distancing
  • Limited face-to-face meetings
  • Sanitizer/hand wash stations
  • Special accommodations
  • Established testing plan

Phase 1: Beginning Monday, April 27 

During Phase 1 of Healthy at Work, the Governor will determine whether Kentucky has met certain public health benchmarks for reopening Kentucky’s economy. These benchmarks are based on the White House’s Guidelines for Reopening America

Any non-urgent/emergent healthcare services, diagnostic radiology, and lab services were allowed to reopen in the healthcare facilities, such as clinics, hospital outpatient settings, medical offices, and the following:

  • Physical therapy settings
  • Chiropractic offices
  • Optometrists
  • Dental offices (but with enhanced aerosol protections)

While this guidance does not apply to long-term care settings, prisons, other industries, or other settings, separate guidance has already been provided or will be provided in the future.

Phase 2

In Phase 2, economic sectors and individual businesses will be evaluated on their ability to safely reopen. From there, the Governor will gradually begin authorizing certain business sectors to reopen while still maintaining appropriate health and safety measures. Industry groups, trade associations, and individual businesses that are closed due to COVID-19 are encouraged to submit reopen proposals on their behalf and on the behalf of their members to discuss possible strategies and challenges their business or sector will face in safely reopening. 

Individual businesses may submit via the online reopen form. All proposals will be evaluated according to White House guidelines and other public health criteria. 

No business or business association is required to submit such a proposal in order to reopen. Once a sector of business is reopened, all of those businesses will be reopened regardless of if they submitted a proposal, provided that they implement all the necessary health and safety measures recommended.

Note: Businesses that are currently open do not need to submit proposals to remain open, but must comply with new standards set for their industries. Closed businesses or associations representing them are encouraged, but not required, to submit reopen proposals.

If you have questions, email them to HealthyAtWork@ky.gov.

Reopening the Healthcare Economy

The Kentucky Department of Public Health also released its multi-phase plan for reopening the healthcare economy. The four phase plan includes the following:

  • Phase 1: Beginning Monday, April 27, all non-emergent/non-urgent outpatient healthcare services (including diagnostic radiology, laboratory services, physical therapy, chiropractic, dentistry, oral surgery, and more) can resume.
  • Phase 2: Beginning Wednesday, May 6, outpatient/ambulatory surgery and invasive procedures may resume (with COVID-19 pre-procedure testing). All facilities must have a 14 day supply of all necessary PPE.
  • Phase 3: Beginning Wednesday, May 13, non-emergent/non-urgent inpatient surgery and procedures may resume at 50% of pre-COVID-19 shutdown. All facilities must have a 14 day supply of all necessary PPE.
  • Phase 4: Beginning Wednesday, May 27, non-emergent/non-urgent inpatient surgery and procedures may resume at a volume to be determined by individual facilities. All facilities must have a 14 day supply of all necessary PPE.

Testing Sites and Eligibility

In addition to some health care facilities, Kentuckians can now be tested free of charge for COVID-19 at many sites across the commonwealth including Kroger, Walgreens, and college and high school locations. For more information on drive-through testing visit kycovid19.ky.gov

Unemployment insurance Update

In his announcement on April 27th, Governor Beshear said those who applied for unemployment in March should expect to hear from somebody this week. As claims have reached a peak greater than any time in our history, many individuals are working hard to respond to the claims. In two weeks, the state has gone from receiving and responding to 1,200 calls per day to over 50,000 per day. As of April 27, the current staff working on unemployment claims totaled: 

  • 1,000 people answering phones and working on claims
  • 15 people addressing the backlog of unpaid claims
  • 250 people working on adjudication, appeals, e-claims, etc.
  • 200 people working on Tier 2 and 3
  • Over 20 staffers from three different Cabinets and the Governor’s Office are helping

 

Indiana – “Be Well Indiana” and Other Resources

On April 24, 2020, the Indiana government released Guidance for Employers During the COVID-19 Response. At this time, there has been no further guidance regarding Indiana’s state reopening plan. 

On Monday, April 27, Indiana released a few resources and initiatives, the first being the Be Well Indiana” resource. This site was created to help support mental health issues caused by the COVID-19 crisis. 

The second being the SNAP-Pandemic Initiative, which was created to support children who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.

Finally, Indiana launched a map of  COVID-19 testing sites located throughout the state.  These sites were released on 4/27/20.

 

During these uncertain times, be sure to check out our Employer’s Resource Guide to the Coronavirus which is updated regularly to help you navigate your business through the challenges you are facing. Still have questions? Contact us – our HR experts are here to help!

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How Can I Protect Employee Privacy During COVID-19?

HR Question:

It seems like everyone is talking about the coronavirus – particularly who’s got it and who doesn’t.  As our company’s HR Manager, how can I protect employee privacy concerns during COVID-19?

HR Answer:

Protecting employee privacy during COVID-19 has become a challenge given the rapid spread of information (and disinformation) in this pandemic. The rumor mill may seem like it’s running rampant with the general population talking about concerns before managers or HR can get involved. Part of the barrier that many HR teams and managers are running into is that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits an employer from inquiring about an employee’s health condition. This means that HR and managers need to approach potential COVID-19 situations with extreme caution. The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) has provided helpful guidance on this and many other FAQ’s related to the coronavirus.

Keep It Confidential

While an employer is not a covered entity under HIPAA, it’s important to remember that any health or medical information needs to be held in privacy.  If someone brings symptoms to a manager’s attention, that employee should be referred to Human Resources.  Managers should refrain from asking specifics like “what are your symptoms,” “have you been tested,” “when did you go to the doctor,” etc.  While the impulse may be to ask further medical questions, medical information should be handled by HR, just as they would any FMLA or ADA claim. An employee may bring something to their manager’s attention, but any information the manager receives should be on a need-to-know basis (e.g., will the employee miss work, any restrictions, etc.)

From an HR perspective, what should you do when an employee makes it known that they have been diagnosed, have symptoms as identified by the CDC, or have been exposed to COVID-19? It’s a tricky situation.

Initial Response

First and foremost, express sympathy and support. The employee may be just as scared, if not more so, than the rest of the team. Continue to focus on the facts, such as asking the employee who they may have come in contact with in the past 14 days. Keep in mind, there are still privacy concerns.

Stop the Spread

Secondly, the employee needs to take action to protect those they interact with often. It’s imperative that the employee remain away from the workplace until they have been symptom-free for 72 hours and at least 7 days have passed since the symptoms first appeared. Additionally, should testing be available in the area, two negative test results are also required. For more information, see the CDC guidance on discontinuing isolation for those who have been infected.

Purposeful & Planned Communication Approach

Thirdly, consider any communication that needs to be published – weigh who needs to know and what should be shared.  Those the employee may have come in contact with need to know they may have been exposed.  The answer to who needs to know will also depend on the size of your organization and proximity in the work environment.  If you are a small company where everyone works in an open space, you may need to communicate with the whole team.  If the employee in question works in a department at the other end of the building, with minimal interaction with other departments, that communication can be narrower in focus.

Given privacy concerns around COVID-19 (or any health-related information), it is not appropriate to disclose the name of the employee.  The message should be along the lines of, “The company has been made aware that an employee either has symptoms of, has been exposed to, or has tested positive for COVID-19.  We wanted to make you aware of this so you can take appropriate steps for your own health and safety.”

If you are made aware that employees are talking about someone’s medical condition (even if it’s their own), a gentle reminder of privacy would be appropriate.

In these difficult times, it’s essential to find the right balance of empathy and sharing information without causing panic. Approaching privacy concerns around COVID-19 with the same tact and confidentiality one would approach an FMLA or ADA concern is the best course of action. At the same time, you can be a steady and calm resource for those who need it.

 

During these uncertain times, be sure to check out our Employer’s Resource Guide to the Coronavirus to help you navigate your business through the challenges you are facing. Still have questions? Contact us – we’re here to help!

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Coronavirus Absenteeism Pay

Question:

We’re seeing more issues related to the Coronavirus and employee absenteeism. How do we handle pay for salary / exempt employees who are absent from work?

Answer:

There are three scenarios in which you might be concerned with how to handle pay for an exempt employee who is absent from work because of the Coronavirus.

  1. The business is closed due to excessive absenteeism?
    • Pay the employee if the business is closed for less than a week; if the business is closed for a week or more, and if the employee does not work from home that week, arguably the employer does not have to pay the employee.
    • The best and recommended course is to pay the employee.
  2. The employee is sick from the Coronavirus?
    • Typically if an employee is on FMLA leave, you don’t pay them. However, some companies have policies that provide for pay while employees are sick; in such cases, you must follow that policy and pay the employee.
    • For exempt employees, the rule is to pay them if they are sick. However, employers may make deductions for a full day’s absence due to illness if they have a bona fide plan, policy, or practice that provides compensation for loss of salary as a result of sickness or disability.
  3. The employee’s family member is sick and they have to stay home to provide care?
    • If an employee takes FMLA leave, they most likely would not be paid for the time off.
  4. The employee doesn’t want to come to work to avoid getting the coronavirus?
    • While employees cannot use FMLA in order to stay home and avoid getting ill, it is a good idea to encourage employees that are ill with the coronavirus or are exposed to ill family members to stay home.
    • Because of the severity of this illness and the far reaching effect it is having, businesses should consider creating flexible leave policies for their employees to cover these circumstances.

Under these unusual circumstances, a virus of pandemic proportion causing significant absenteeism, we recommend that you create a sick leave policy specific to the coronavirus. This enables you to “flex” your typical attendance policies to allow for the unusual amounts of absenteeism that you might not otherwise experience and allows you to spell out how absences will be handled.

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Surgical Mask Use to Prevent Coronavirus

Question:

Should I require my employees to wear a surgical mask to protect themselves from the recent coronavirus outbreak?

Answer:

The decision to require surgical masks in the workplace would depend upon an analysis of the work environment.  OSHA categorizes and defines employee risk of coronavirus exposure at work into four categories – very high, high, medium, and lower risk.  The level of risk depends on their potential exposure (typically repeated exposure) to those infected with the virus.  The designations are as follows:

  • Very high risk occupations are those with high exposure to known or suspected sources of the virus such as healthcare employees performing “aerosol-generating” procedures on known or suspected pandemic flu patients or laboratory employees handling specimens of known or suspected patients.
  • High exposure risk occupations are those with a high potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of the virus.  These include healthcare employees and support staff (outside of those defined as very high risk), morgue and mortuary employees,
  • Medium exposure risk occupations are those that have frequent, close contact (defined as 6 feel) with known or suspected sources.  This would include employees in schools as an example or high volume retail.
  • Lower exposure risk occupations are those that do not require contact with people known to be infected nor frequent, close contact with the public.  Office employees with limited contact with the general public or other coworkers would be in this category.

An analysis of the risk associated in the workplace is essential in determining appropriateness.  In many instances those in very high and high exposure occupations would be better protected through the use of a respirator, not a surgical mask.

For the other levels of occupations, education is key.  The most important thing to know is what surgical masks can and cannot do.  Surgical masks (those approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) are used as a physical barrier to protect employees from hazards, such as body fluids, by trapping the body fluid that may contain the virus when they are expelled.  The most important benefit for a mask is to prevent accidental contamination through the limitation of exposure to secretions and body fluids (blood, saliva, mucus, etc.)  Surgical masks are not made to prevent the inhalation of small airborne contaminants.  Surgical masks don’t seal tightly, which leaves gaps and thus loses any filtration it may provide to keep out airborne particles.

According to OSHA, there is very limited information on the value of surgical masks to prevent the spread of the virus when there is no known source of infection.  So the question remains, is the cost worth it?  The bottom line – educate your employees on good hygiene practices; these are truly your best defense in the workplace to reduce the spread of infection.  Frequent hand washing, proper sneezing, and cleaning/disinfecting of work surfaces will provide many of the necessary protections in the workplace.  Of course, if there is someone infected in the workplace keep in mind that surgical masks would be only one small step (with questionable value) in protection.  Isolation and social distancing is a more effective control strategy in the workplace and should be enforced to eliminate occupational exposure.

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What Should Ohio Employers Know About Marijuana in the Workplace?

Question:
As an Ohio employer, can you help me understand how marijuana legalization fits into our employment policies?

Answer:
You are not alone in trying to navigate the everchanging state of marijuana legalization. A growing number of states have either passed laws, or are considering legislation, to ease restrictions on employees’ use of marijuana for medicinal or recreational reasons. So, employers that need or want to continue testing or disciplining for marijuana use must know the applicable state and federal laws, including the court decisions that interpret those rules.

Medical marijuana was legalized in Ohio in September 2016, and retail sales began on January 16, 2019, when the first four licensed dispensaries opened for business.  As of February 1, 2020, OHDispensaries.com reports 48 of the 57 licensed dispensaries are operating. So, it is important that you know your rights as an Ohio employer regarding medical marijuana.

Below, we will walk you through some commonly held perceptions and workplace scenarios to help your Ohio-based company evaluate how marijuana legalization impacts your employment policies.

True or False: Medical marijuana users have job protections in Ohio due to state disability discrimination laws.

Answer: False. Presently, there is nothing in Ohio’s medical marijuana law that prohibits or limits an employer’s right to drug test employees for marijuana, require a drug free workplace, or impose discipline or discharge an employee violating an employer’s policies The law protects the employer’s right to fire or discipline any employee found to be using medical marijuana. The statute also states that it will not interfere “with any federal restrictions on employment” related to the use of medical marijuana in the workplace. All marijuana use, whether for medical or recreational use, is still illegal under federal law. It is listed as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, which means that it is deemed to have no medical value and a high potential for abuse.

True or False: If an employee has a medical condition that requires the use of medical marijuana, I must accommodate the employee.

Answer: False. In outlining employers’ rights, Ohio’s Revised Code 3796.28 states that an employee has no specific protections. Under the law, you do not have to accommodate an employee’s need to use the substance. An employer has the right to not hire an employee based on medical marijuana use, possession, or distribution. The law does not allow a cause of action against an employer if an employee believes he or she was discriminated against due to medical marijuana use. An employer is allowed to have a zero-tolerance drug free policy in place, with or without special accommodations for those who use medical marijuana.

True or False: My company has its headquarters in Ohio but has locations in other states. Even if the laws in those states provide workplace protections for medical marijuana users, our employees in those states who use medical marijuana may be disciplined, fired, or not hired.

Answer: False. Thirty-three states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana use, and 10 states have approved both medical and recreational use. Registered medicinal users—or “cardholders”—in some states other than Ohio may have job protections. For example, beginning in 2020, employers in Nevada and New York City cannot consider positive pre-employment marijuana screens. However, some exceptions apply, particularly for safety-sensitive positions. Consider research published last year by the National Institute on Drug Abuse where they found that employees who tested positive for cannabis had: 55 percent more industrial incidents, 85 percent more injuries and 75 percent greater absenteeism compared to those who tested negative.

State statutes with nondiscrimination provisions for medicinal use typically exclude jobs that require drug testing under federal law. For example, certain commercial motor vehicle operators would be excluded from job protections because the Department of Transportation requires them to pass drug and alcohol screens.

While Ohio law provides employers with employment rights on the topic of medical marijuana use, HR professionals must remain vigilant to ensure that your company does not act irresponsibly or apply policies in a discriminatory manner. Make sure that your drug-testing practices and drug-free workplace policy fall within the parameters of the laws in the states in which your company operates. You may find it helpful to consult your legal counsel to ensure that you understand and comply with the federal, state and local laws that may apply to your organization.

strategic HR inc. knows that keeping abreast of workplace compliance issues and deadlines can be daunting, especially when the laws keep changing. We can help you by offering resources to help you identify and mitigate compliance issues and by making sure you are informed of changes and reacting in a timely manner. Our HR Audit will help your organization identify trouble spots in your HR function. Visit our HR Audit page to learn more about this helpful service.

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Does My Company Need an AED?

Question:
AED’s have been mentioned in safety demos and tutorials that I have attended. Does my company need one of these devices? If so, what type of training is needed in order to use it?

Answer:

The safety and well-being of your employees and anyone who visits your place of employment should be top of mind for all organizations. There are many tools and resources that can help with your organization’s first-aid and emergency preparedness, including an AED.

What is an AED?

An AED is an Automated External Defibrillator, which is a portable device that measures the heart’s activity and can deliver an electric shock in order to correct the rhythm of the heart. It can also restore a heartbeat if the heart suddenly stops.  An AED is meant to be placed in high traffic locations, and it is designed to be extremely simple for users to operate in times of an emergency.

According to the American Heart Association, there are roughly 350,000 cardiac arrests outside of a hospital setting each year. Cardiac arrest is when a person’s heart stops beating, and blood will stop flowing to the brain, lungs, and other important parts of the body. The person will typically lose consciousness very quickly, and they will die if normal heart function is not restored. Time is crucial in these instances since permanent tissue damage can occur within three to five minutes of loss of blood flow.  For every minute the body goes without oxygen, the chances of death increase by 10%. Over 90% of patients that receive a shock from an AED within the first minute of arrest survive.

A study recently published by JAMA Surgery showed that the average response time for emergency medical personnel was roughly seven minutes. This time could increase up to 14 minutes for rural areas. This study drives home the fact that the general public can play a critical role in saving lives if they are trained on the basic skills and tools to help those in their community until medical professionals can arrive. Having an AED in your workplace can play an important role in your company’s emergency preparedness and saving lives.

Where can I find an AED?

There are multiple resources that can help a company pick out the best plan for their AED purchase, placement, maintenance, and training. Make sure to ask the manufacturer or seller about the intended use, storage options, maintenance and training requirements for any AED being considered for purchase. Contact multiple reputable vendors to find the best option for your company.

What type of training does my team need for an AED?

AEDs are designed to be as simple and user-friendly as possible. They often have voice and visual aides to help in their function. Although emergency training is not required in many states, it is encouraged. AED storage and display is also an important factor to consider. According to the American Heart Association, over half of employees do not know where they can find an AED in their workplace. Create an awareness plan to ensure employees know where to find the AED in the case of an emergency. It is commonly recommended to place the AED near the entrance of your building so employees, as well as non-employees, see the device when they enter the building. It is a best practice to have the device marked with a brightly colored “AED” sign.

There are multiple national nonprofit organizations, including the Red Cross and the American Heart Association, that provide online and onsite training to prepare your employees for how to use AED devices. Many local first responder organizations, like fire departments and police departments, can help provide training as well. Be sure to reach out and find the best fit for your organization. Also consider factors such as the size of the company, the costs of the training, the timing of training, and how to create an ongoing training program to keep people up to date in the future.

 

strategic HR inc. understands your concerns with the well-being of your employees. We offer expertise in health, safety and security to cover any need you may have from analyzing your safety programs to making sure you are OSHA compliant to proactively ensuring employee wellness. Please visit our Health, Safety & Security page for more information on any of these services.

 

 

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Workplace Wearable Technology Safety

Question:

Should your workplace use wearable technology to enhance employee safety and health?

Answer:

Before determining the usefulness of wearable technology in the workplace, it is important to first identify it.  So, what is wearable technology?  Wearables can include any type of “smart” personal device.  In our everyday lives, we think fitness trackers and smart watches.  In the workplace, that definition expands to include all types of “James Bond-esque” type equipment.  EHS wearable tech could include such things as:

  • Devices with radio-frequency identification (RFID) used to determine someone’s location;
  • Devices that conduct any type of measurement gathering – air quality for example;
  • Hard hats with sensors;
  • Glasses with displays;
  • And really any other device that provide information to assist in the safety, health, and well being of employees in the workplace.

Health and Safety professionals continue to expand their use of these items and are intrigued at the potential of these items to reduce workplace accidents and injuries and promote safety.  While using such equipment, employees could be alerted to potentially hazardous conditions.  For example, employees could be alerted if they are lifting an item that is too heavy or they are using unsafe movements.  In the event of catastrophic events such as fires or explosions, RFID equipment could allow employers to locate staff who may be trapped.  The devices could also prevent injuries by providing job activity simulation for difficult tasks, allowing time to practice and avoid potentially harmful mistakes.  Using wearable technology, employers may be able to predict hazardous situations and enhance accident prevention measures.

With all of this great opportunity, why not move forward with these initiatives?  There are a few things to consider.  The first being cost.  Wearable technology varies in price from a simple $40 fitness tracker to $5,000 smartglasses and beyond.  An ROI must be considered when investing in this type of equipment, keeping in mind the value of worker safety.  The second consideration is worker privacy.  In 2017, National Institute of Safety and Health published a white paper regarding the ethics of the use of wearable sensors.  The study reviewed the delicate balance between safety and the obvious concern, worker privacy.  NIOSH suggests that employers be transparent on what data is being collected / observed, how the data is being used, and allow for employees to opt out of a program.

Technology is great!  Consider cost, use, and benefit before implementation and be sure and clearly communicate with staff if you decide to take the dive into the world of wearable tech in the workplace.

 

strategic HR inc. understands your concerns with the safety and well-being of your employees. We offer expertise in health, safety and security to cover any need you may have from analyzing your safety programs to making sure your policies and procedures are compliant and protect your staff. Please visit our Health, Safety & Security page for more information on any of these services.

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What to Do About Workplace Bullying (And How to Prevent It)

Question:

Do you know the signs of workplace bullying?

Answer:

Can you believe that approximately 2 out of every 5 people have been bullied at work? (1)

About 50 percent of those bullied have had stress-related, health problems as a result.

Workplace bullying—whether verbal, psychological, physical, or online—can be very destructive for any culture. It’s extremely damaging to morale, productivity, safety, and the health and well-being of all your workers…not just the ones involved with the bullying! (1)

One thing is for sure: this kind of treatment is not acceptable, not deserved, and any kind of behavior that resembles bullying shouldn’t be happening in any work environment.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the signs of workplace bullying, and what you can do to work against it becoming an issue in your company.

Do You Know the Signs of Workplace Bullying?

What is workplace bullying? It can take many forms, but according to the Workplace Bullying Institute, workplace bullying is any kind of treatment that is repetitive and abusive in nature. That can be threatening, humiliating, intimidating, or any combination of those. It can also include forms of verbal abuse, in some cases.

It’s a kind of mistreatment that can not only can impact someone’s health, but it can also prevent them from getting work done. Obviously, that’s a significant issue!

You may be surprised to learn who is a workplace bully.

It’s not necessarily someone who yells or intimidates or humiliates; that’s the kind of bully we think of in most cases, but it doesn’t have to look like that. Keep in mind that sometimes the signs of bullying are not that “loud.” Bullying can be more discreet, and can be more difficult to identify than just someone who is perceived as a “jerk.”

Do You Know Someone Being Bullied at Work Today?

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, here are examples of experiences at work that could suggest you, or someone you know, is being bullied:

  •      Impromptu meetings are held where the sole point of the meeting is to humiliate someone
  •      The work is never good enough for the boss
  •      People have been told to stop talking or to “ignore” someone else
  •      People feel it is okay to scream or yell in someone’s face
  •      HR or coworkers agree the person is a problem, but no one ever does anything about it
  •      Your request to change to another boss/division is denied….with no reason
  •      When confronting the tormentor to stop the abusive conduct, you/someone else is accused of harassment or you/someone else is ignored

Sadly, often times the person who is being tormented is being targeted because they are perceived as a threat of some kind. The Workplace Bullying Institute’s research on the so-called “targets” of bullying saw that often times, the targets are a company veteran and/or the most skilled person in the workgroup (2).

And what if you feel YOU are the one being bullied? According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, here are a few signs you may be bullied at work:

  •      You almost feel sick or do feel sick before going to work
  •      Your family or loved ones think you are obsessed with work at home
  •      You have changes in health like blood pressure or other recent changes in health
  •      Paid time off feels like it is for mental health breaks
  •      You feel ashamed about what is happening at work, so much so that you don’t tell your partner about the interactions you are having with that person
  •      You start to believe that you were the one that provoked the cruelty (2, 3, 4)

How to Prevent Workplace Bullying

Many HR and safety managers, understandably want to prevent workplace bullying. They also want to be able to put an end to it if they suspect it may be an issue already.

The answer to how this can be done: company culture. Let’s take a closer look at what you can do to shut it down.

1. Take steps to make sure workers know what workplace bullying is.

If it’s identifiable behavior, that means it can be appropriately called out. Don’t be blinded by high performers or the person who is doing well in their job; believe it or not, these people can still be bullies. Get clear on what is—and what is not—acceptable behavior in your company.

2. Train your people on how to shut it down, on the spot.

Do workers know how they can respond to a bully if they deal with one, directly or indirectly? And do they just let this mistreatment happen without addressing it, right then and there, if they witness it? Don’t assume all your staff know the right way to deal with someone, in-the-moment, who may be toxic (3, 4).

Also be sure employees feel equipped and empowered enough to say something if they see it happening. That may require ongoing training, which can be well worth the investment. Give workers some sort of space or tool that can allow them to report what they are seeing.

3. Create a script to manage any bullying incidents.

If you are going to sit down and have a conversation with someone you suspect may be a bully, have a script readily available to help address the issue. You want to be as prepared as possible to put an end to any bad behavior.

Mark Murphy, a Forbes Contributor, suggests the following four-part script:

  •      Establish a candid context
  •      Describe the recent issue
  •      Share how that is going to change/needs to change (based on the policies of the company)
  •      Offer a choice to change behavior based on that HR policy (3)

This gives someone the option to adapt their behavior and to stop the mistreatment of others. If they come up with excuses or are unwilling to commit to change, do what it takes to remove them from the environment.

4. Dig for the full story.

Last, have metrics in place that can help tell the whole story about the workplace climate. Identifying and knowing about bullying is part of the solution, but you also want to know why it’s really happening—so you can fix that issue, too.

That’s where a platform like iReportSource can be helpful so you can see unbiased, actionable data points and stats that tell you more about the whole story.

What Else to Know About Workplace Bullying

A company’s culture is always in flux, and you’re never going to be completely immune to any and all bullying. But despite how a company culture is always going to be evolving, you can still do your best to create a stable environment where norms, values, and acceptable behavior is clear (1).

Learn More about iReportSource’s Dashboard

Our analytics dashboard will show you everything you need to be completely confident: from ROI, cost savings, the number of safety trainings completed and much more about the ongoing state of your culture—and that is all with the click of a button.

Are you ready to use data for better decision-making in your company? Learn more today.

Sources:

  1.    https://www.workplacebullying.org/individuals/problem/who-gets-targeted/
  2.    https://www.forbes.com/sites/markmurphy/2018/10/21/five-ways-to-shut-down-workplace-bullying/#2f9ba275e711
  3.    https://www.workplacebullying.org/individuals/problem/early-signs/

A special thanks to iReportSource for sharing their insights on safety in the workplace. For more information on iReportSource, contact Christi Brown at cbrown@ireportsource.com or 513-549-3459. iReportSource allows you to avoid complacency and manage risk, all while helping you to reinforce behavior-based safety practices.

strategic HR inc. understands your concerns with the well-being of your employees. We offer expertise in health, safety and security to cover any need you may have from analyzing your safety programs to making sure you are OSHA compliant to proactively ensuring employee wellness. Please visit our Health, Safety & Security page for more information on any of these services.

 

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Emergency Action Plan: Preparing for an Emergency Before It Happens

Question:

What is the best way to prepare your workforce for an emergency?

Answer:

The best way to prepare for any emergency is before it happens. The workplace is not immune to emergencies even with the best preparations. Every day companies across the world deal with small issues like health and safety to major incidents like natural disasters.  While we can’t control the weather to stop hurricanes, tornadoes, or even wildfires, we can help mitigate and prevent some of the smaller issues from turning into larger concerns.

It’s always a best practice for a company to have a solid Emergency Action Plan (EAP). Regardless of the size, location, or industry, a company’s EAP is an important document to help employee’s follow best practices and guidelines when incidents occur (see strategic HR inc.’s Emergency Preparedness Toolkit).  To help you get started, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) provides great checklists.

Most EAP’s cover the major incidents that can put employees or companies in jeopardy. But what about the smaller incidents that are not covered? Here is a list of minor steps companies can take to handle the small stuff before they get more serious:

  1. Appoint a Safety Officer or Safety Team: Safety should be the number one priority for an organization. Having a safety team can be a great way to boost awareness of issues that are pertinent to each area of the business. The team can develop a plan to promote awareness and to perform minor checks / drills to make sure the team is on the ball.
  2. Promote a Safety-First culture: Great leaders understand that their employees need to come to work everyday feeling safe and secure to do their jobs. Leadership should empower a safety-first culture with “open door” and “See something. Say Something” policies. Many companies should also look into, “Stop Work Authority” policies which gives any person the ability to shut down their area due to safety concerns.
  3. Have the right equipment! We aren’t advising for each company to have a doomsday prepper bunker, but there are basic minimum standards such as flashlights, batteries, first aid kits, access to minimal food and water, and sanitary cleaning supplies. These supplies are not expensive, and they can help incidents stay as an inconvenience and not turn into calamities.
  4. Empower the team with training: It is a great idea to diversify the safety knowledge for each member of the team. Having multiple team members trained in basic medical emergency preparedness will boost the chances of success. Encourage your team to learn basic first aid skills and CPR. Many local organizations will come onsite to train your team on how and when to act in certain emergencies onsite. Some first responder organizations will even provide some training for free under the right circumstances.
  5. Conduct regular inspections: Steps 1-4 will have no lasting impact on a company’s safety readiness if they are not maintained. The leadership and safety team should work in unison to ensure that these supplies are regularly checked for expiration dates and quantities. Weekly safety briefs are a great way to foster the safety culture in an organization.

It’s not negative thinking to plan for a devastating event that could harm employees or impact your company’s ability to function – in fact it’s a good business practice. Bad things happen, but it’s how we prepare for and recover from a disastrous event that often leads to success or failure. strategic HR inc. has a variety of resources to help you prepare for such emergencies. Visit our Health, Safety & Security page to learn more about how we can help you with your Emergency Preparedness needs.

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Why Continuous Background Checks Are Now Trending

2018 was filled with a series of events that led many employers to question: Is one initial background screening at the point of hire really enough? Movements like #MeToo triggered concerns about the character of their existing workforce. In addition, a long list of questionable employee actions continues to make the news. As a precaution, many employers have started to implement routine background checks to monitor existing employees for any red flags.

“Continuous background checks are not a bad idea and can be useful in many scenarios. We often see companies conduct yearly checks on their employee’s license as well as additional screenings on education or credit when promotions occur.”

Signet Screening President Matt Messersmith

WHAT DOES CONTINUOUS BACKGROUND CHECKS LOOK LIKE?

Continuous screening involves periodic background checks on current employees to identify issues that can occur after a worker is hired.

Continuous background checks aren’t new to the pre-screening employment industry. For some employees, such as healthcare professionals, re-screening every six months is the standard process. But, as technology advances, other industries are deciding to jump on the bandwagon – and so far, success rates appear to be high.

The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is one such example in the educational field. Nearly 130 CPS employees have been “terminated, recommended for dismissal, or have resigned amid scrutiny” after a review of background checks performed on CPS staff, according to The Chicago Tribune.

WHY SHOULD YOUR COMPANY CONSIDER CONTINUOUS SCREENING?

1. Security in your brand

Your company’s brand is extremely valuable and can be easily tarnished. Avoid taking any unnecessary risks and be proactive with continuous screening.

2. Confidence in your employees

An initial screening is just a snapshot in time. Just as every employer wants to have confidence in the performance of their employees, they also want to have confidence in their character. Reaffirm your confidence in hires with a continual screening process.

3. Ensure a standard is maintained

Every company has an initial standard that employees must attain to get their foot in the door. But six months later, is your company still holding that standard? If continuous screening isn’t in place, you could be settling for less than you planned. With continuous screening, you can be confident that your company standard is honored.

Thank you to Matt Messersmith, President/CEO, Signet Screening, for sharing your expertise on background checks. Make Signet Screening your hiring partner. By doing so, you will get accurate, timely information about a candidate’s history and insight into their abilities which helps you make better, more informed hiring decisions. Their background screening services include federal, state and local criminal checks, education and employment verification, drug screens, motor vehicle reports, registrations and social media searches. They will work closely with you to design the optimum screening and hiring process that best fits your needs. 

Matt can reached at mtm@signetscreening.com or (513) 330-6695.

Impact of Inclement Weather on Employees

Question:

With the cold months and potential for bad weather, I’m concerned about the possibility of weather impeding our employees’ ability to get to work. What workplace practices and policies do we need to consider?

Answer:

Great Question, and kudos to you for proactively thinking about potential challenges for your employees and the business. As we move into these colder months with inclement weather, there are a few things that you should consider ahead of time that will help you, your employees, and organization.

By discussing the issue with your management, you can determine what their expectations are for employees should inclement weather impact the employees’ abilities to get to work. You’ll want to talk with your management about:

  • How do they want to handle employees coming to work when the weather may be bad? Are you encouraging employees to be present or is it acceptable to work from home?
  • What will they use to determine if the office would be closed? Consider the level of the weather emergency declared for the county you are located in as well as surrounding counties and how that impacts your decision to close the office.
  • How will they notify employees whether the office is closed or start of day is delayed?
  • Will they allow employees to work remotely on “snow days” and do you have the appropriate processes / connections in place to assure they are productive?

Additionally, you’ll want to be prepared to discuss some key issues with your management, specifically how pay is impacted. Things to consider include:

  • For non-exempt employees, the company is not required to pay the employees. Companies have the choice of:
    • Paying them for the day, even if they don’t work.
    • Not paying them – as long as they conduct no work. This includes quick emails or texts to the non-exempt employee for a “quick question”. If you are asking them a “quick question”, you must pay them for the time worked.
    • Paying them Paid Time Off / Vacation – either requiring them to take it or allowing them to choose PTO or not be paid for the day.
  • For exempt employees, if the company closes, the employee must be paid their regular salary. You may require them to use accrued Paid Time Off / Vacation during a closure, IF you have a policy in place and/or that has been past practice.  If the exempt employee does not have enough accrued time to cover the closure, you are still required to pay them and allow them to go “negative” with their balance.

Keep in mind that PTO is generally voluntarily chosen by the employee, and then is approved or denied by the employer based on business needs. The employer can make it mandatory for employees to use PTO for hours not worked due to missing work due to weather. Again, PTO policies should be stated in a company handbook to avoid any misunderstandings around when employees can use PTO.

Finally, following this discussion with management, we recommend that you formally document the plan into an Inclement Weather Policy and add it to your employee handbook, or at a minimum, notify your employees of your expectations.

If you need assistance in creating a severe weather policy for your workplace, strategic HR inc. can help you. Contact Us to learn more about how we can help you with this policy or any other policies for your employee handbook.

Do Injury Prevention Programs Really Work?

Question

We’ve experienced an increase in work-related injuries this year.  Do injury prevention programs really work?

Answer:

The answer is a resounding YES! Quality onsite injury prevention programs accomplish over a 50% reduction in musculoskeletal recordable injuries and the associated cost along with a 30% reduction in non-work-related musculoskeletal issues.

This is a key point as you begin to look at the various injury prevention programs because many employers do not realize the level of impact preventative measures could have on their business.  Injury prevention programs return a significant ROI in many different industries and with employers of all sizes.  The value of an injury prevention program extends way beyond the dollars and cents impacting the lives of your employees and changing the culture of your organization.

There are some actionable steps that can be taken to identify if your organization may be a good environment for an injury prevention program, but it starts with a commitment at the leadership level.  Start by investigating the questions below and consider your responses:

  • Evaluate OSHA logs and look at the frequency of your musculoskeletal injuries or sprains and strains. What is the % of your recordable injuries that fall into these categories (Contusions, sprain/strain, slip, trip or fall)?
  • Look with an outsider’s eye at the culture of your organization and try to be objective. Is there a focus on early reporting without consequences?  Are there other programs in place such as ergonomics teams, safety teams or cross functional groups that look at injury prevention opportunities?
  • Do you have a significant number of employees out for non-work related musculoskeletal issues? Does this create strain on your workforce in any way?
  • Do you have a high amount of injuries with newly hired employees?
  • Evaluate your operations for work that is physical and or repetitive. Do you have one or both?

If you answered yes to these questions above or if you feel like you would like to change any of your answers, an Onsite Injury Prevention program may be perfect for you.  Injury prevention programs are best operated through third party companies whose interest totally aligns with one of preventing employees from becoming patients.  Furthermore, a quality injury prevention program should focus on the leading versus lagging indicators to an injury.   The best programs focus on ergonomics, human movement patterns and early intervention for minor soreness’s in the space where work is occurring or “on the floor”.

A properly infused program can be magical for organizations and can have a significant impact on bottom lines, injury rates as well as employee morale and retention.  Don’t let preconceived notions about programs not working or being too expensive stop you!

A special thanks to Tom Ernst, PT, MPT, OCS, COMT with Oxford Physical Therapy, a client of strategic HR inc., for responding to this question for us.  If you are evaluating your business for an onsite injury prevention program, we’d encourage you to reach out to Tom to learn more about Oxford at Work. Tom can be reached at tom.ernst@oxfordatwork.com or 859-240-4761.  Oxford at Work’s goal is “Keeping your employees from becoming patients.” To learn more, check out this video (password: 50%reduction).

strategic HR inc. is an outsourced HR management firm that works with many businesses of all sizes and industries. We all have similar needs across the HR spectrum and in general in running our businesses.  Please keep strategic HR inc. in mind as a strategic partner for your business. We are just an email (info@strategicHRinc.com) or phone call away (513-697-9855).

 

 

Emergency Response Plans: Preparing for Emergencies & Natural Disasters

Question:

Would your team members know how to react if there was a tornado? What about a fire or an active shooter? These questions matter because emergency response plans are becoming more critical than ever.

Answer:

Emergency response plans should include the actions that need to be taken, should certain situations occur as well as what to do following the emergency or disaster.

Often, companies may talk about this in terms of a business continuity plan, or having an enterprise resource management plan. Whatever it’s called, it’s important to have so that there are guidelines for how to best respond. “It’s just a way of thinking about what happens after the firetrucks leave, after the tornado rolls through, or after that emergency happens: What are workers going to do?” says Karen Hamel, CSP, WACH, a regulatory compliance specialist and technical writer at New Pig Corp. (New Pig Corp specializes in workplace safety and spill containment products.)

“Part of that is, of course, being prepared for the emergency itself. It’s important to make sure that you have Emergency Response Plans for what the insurance doesn’t cover, too,” she says.

Hamel shares 4 planning tips that can assist leaders with emergency planning and prevention:

Tips for preparing Emergency Response Plans

#1: Predict What Kind of Emergencies Could Happen

Whether it be a natural disaster or a business attack, take the time consider what kind of risks your company has, even if they’ve never happened before. It’s not acceptable to say, “We never thought that would happen.”

“It can be looking at what happened in your facility or looking at the nature of your facility,” explains Hamel. “If you’re a chemical facility and you deal with a lot of hazardous chemicals, how can they affect your employees? How can they impact the environment? If you’re dealing with a lot of flammable products, if you had an explosion, what would the result of that be?

“Look at both natural hazards as well as the manmade ones to determine what might happen at your facility so that you can properly plan and have the equipment, the people, the training that you need to deal with whatever your particular emergencies are.”

Action steps: “The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the American Red Cross and other organizations offer free information that can help you become aware of disasters and emergencies you may face. They also offer templates to help facilities begin planning,” says Hamel.

#2: Prepare Your People

After you’ve considered what could happen, start preparing employees. Procedures and drills are important to ensure everyone knows what to do at the time. But also make sure you have the resources that you’ll need after.

“If you have a call center, for example, it could be establishing a different call center. Or, it could be establishing a way for some of your employees to work from home so that you still have the capability of taking customers’ calls, and being ready for those sorts of emergencies if they do happen,” says Hamel.

Action steps: Planning also needs to include your communicate plan. How will you communicate with employees, families, outside responders, mutual aid groups, stockholders, vendors, customers and the media? “Maintaining organizational charts with contact information can seem like a never-ending task, but it is a critical element of emergency planning.”

#3: Focus on Protecting Lives

Life safety is a key principle of every emergency response, and the logistics you have in place need to be able to align with your plan to protect your people (and property). “Make sure that when there is that crisis or emergency, that people and property are taken care of.”

The list is long, but that can include:

  • Making sure there is shelter place for employees for certain disasters
  • Knowledge and plans of response duties
  • Evacuation plans
  • Steps to make sure people are accounted for after an emergency
  • Back-up power systems

Action steps: Just like standard operating procedures you have, detail the steps to be taken to perform work tasks safely. These emergency response plans need to outline and make visible what procedures the company expects employees to follow when anything out of the ordinary happens.

#4: Be Sure You Practice  

“Practice” comes down to training and making sure that people have the tools that they need to do their jobs. And, make sure that they know how to use the tools.

Making sure workers have the confidence and the ability to use whatever tools, resources, supplies are on-site is going to make things go smoother in case of an emergency.

“This is about just making sure that people know what’s expected of them. It can help avoid a lot of chaos, and it can help keep everybody be a lot safer when a response is needed.”

Action steps: Don’t neglect training or drills and do you best to make sure workers have the right attitude about practicing.  “Training and drills do take time, but they give everyone the chance to get things right before they are in a critical situation. They also can identify plan shortcomings so that they can be corrected before an emergency. Allow time after drills for everyone to comment on what worked, as well as areas where people may need further training,” says Hamel.

A special thanks to iReportSource for sharing their insights on safety in the workplace and the importance of having Emergency Response Plans. For more information on iReportSource call 513-442-8595. iReportSource allows you to avoid complacency and manage risk, all while helping you to reinforce behavior-based safety practices.

 

It’s not negative thinking to plan for a devastating event that could harm employees or impact your company’s ability to function – in fact it’s a good business practice. Bad things happen, but it’s how we prepare for and recover from a disastrous event that often leads to success or failure. strategic HR inc. has a variety of resources to help you prepare for such emergencies. Visit our Health, Safety & Security page to learn more about how we can help you with your Emergency Response Plans OR pick up our Emergency Preparedness Toolkit and do-it-yourself.

Managing Workers’ Compensation and Claims

Question:

I just took over responsibility for managing workers’ compensation claims at my company. Where do I start?

Answer:

If you are new to the responsibilities of managing the workers’ compensation process, it can be overwhelming. There are responsibilities that both the employer and employee have in the process. Compliance laws vary from state to state, so make sure that you are familiar with your state requirements. Compliance is very important, but it’s far from the only thing that matters when it comes to true operational excellence.

It takes an integrated risk management strategy to ensure your organization is performing safely, efficiently and profitably. When proactive measures are implemented consistently, accountability is shared across the entire organization. And, when this is combined with a transparent process for when an injury occurs, an organization can achieve operational excellence, improve results, improve employee engagement, and the company reputation will also benefit.

The Basics

Outline Your Policies

As a first step, outline the process and expectations at your company for what happens when an injury occurs at work, medical care for the injured, a process for completing the claims such as:

  • First Report of Injury
  • Accident investigation
  • Time away from work
  • Accommodations
  • Return-to-work process
  • Training requirements
  • Communication methods and frequency
  • Employee responsibilities
  • Preventing injuries

Build a Consistent Process

Once outlined, you need a uniform and consistent process for executing these policies and procedures. Many companies have had challenges with managing workers’ compensation claims as traditionally the forms to be completed have been paper-based and then emailed or shared on an intranet. Many companies are moving away from this due to the challenges of consistency of information, accuracy, timeliness, siloed information, and using incident reporting and safety software for data collection to solve these challenges.

Simply put, using technology to track the data and information, that is—makes it more easily accessible and it helps to make your programs more effective. These systems help you get the reporting and insights that you need quickly and easily to make improvements and understand your most vulnerable areas.

Prevent Injuries In The First Place

Much like healthcare’s focus on preventive care, Environmental Health & Safety has been adopting processes to prevent incidents. If you keep workers safe, you will have fewer accidents and reduce your workers’ comp exposure. This is the secret to being successful in your role in handling workers’ compensation responsibilities.

A safe workplace includes basics such as:

  • Providing and using proper equipment and personal safety gear
  • Identifying potential hazards regularly and resolving them quickly
  • Reporting and addressing unsafe conditions
  • Providing health and safety training on safe work practices
  • A process to report and investigate accidents

Not only is proper equipment, training and processes important, but establishing a culture that has a commitment to health and safety is key. This includes creating a supportive work environment that makes everyone accountable for safety and accident prevention.

As the owner of the process, it’s important that you ensure that all supervisors and/or managers know that they are responsible for the safety of employees under their direction as they can take an active part in preventing injuries.

Not only is injury prevention important for the health and viability of your employees, but it saves substantial costs – both direct and indirect. Costs of managing workers’ compensation claims are not only the direct costs of sick and/or disability pay, but the indirect costs associated with lost productivity, replacement costs, and overtime.

Technology Can Help

With anything, in order to make an overwhelming process successful, you need to provide the right tools. Easy to use software, like iReportSource, allow your workers to collect information in the field on a proactive and reactive basis. The ability to complete safety audits, site inspections and/or allowing workers in the field to submit safety suggestions in a real-time manner will help reinforce a culture of safety accountability as it’s simple to see who, when and what was submitted. And what’s easier than a few taps on a mobile phone?

Your role in managing workers’ compensation is critical to the success of the business. Don’t let the compliance and day-to-day requirements overwhelm you. It can be intimidating in the beginning, but there are plenty of tools, like iReportSource that can help you be successful.

The barrier to operational excellence in safety and workers’ compensation is lower than ever. What’s stopping you?

A special thanks to iReportSource for sharing their insights on safety in the workplace. For more information on iReportSource contact Nancy Koors at nkoors@ireportsource.com or 513-442-8595. iReportSource allows you to avoid complacency and manage risk, all while helping you to reinforce behavior-based safety practices.

 

strategic HR inc. understands your concerns with the well-being of your employees. We offer expertise in health, safety and security to cover any need you may have from analyzing your safety programs to making sure you are OSHA compliant to proactively ensuring employee wellness. Please visit our Health, Safety & Security page for more information on any of these services.

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Protect Your Company: Investigate Workplace Accidents Effectively & Legally

Question:

How do we investigate workplace accidents effectively, while still protecting ourselves legally?

Answer:

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) caused controversy and sowed corporate confusion with a recent comment on post-accident drug testing. In the Preamble to the Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, OSHA noted that post-accident drug and alcohol testing could be viewed as a retaliatory practice.

Even though OSHA’s comment doesn’t carry the force of law, it does hint at a potentially different approach, according to Sebaly Shillito + Dyer attorney Karl R. Ulrich.

“It’s still murky and there’s a lot of uncertainty about where OSHA is heading,” he says. “Following an accident, it’s important to document any observations leading up to and after the accident, plus have reasonable suspicion which includes the employee’s background, to support the requested drug testing.”

If a supervisor was on-site at the time of the accident, the supervisor should note in a memo to the employee’s file observations such as:

  • Drug or alcohol odors
  • Slurred speech
  • Sleepiness

If there was no on-site supervisor, company representatives should launch an investigation.

Some of the current confusion stems from the fact that the OSHA comments are diametrically opposed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) stance. “The EEOC endorses a standard drug-testing approach so there’s no individual distinction. If companies applied a one-size-fits-all policy, they were insulated,” says Ulrich.

In the current regulatory environment, Ulrich recommends a cautious, well-documented approach until OSHA issues a new post-accident regulation regarding retaliatory practice. If that does occur, he advises companies to seek legal advice and compare risks for every individual case.

Note: Drug-using employees are 3.6 times more likely to be involved in workplace accidents and 5 times more likely to file a worker’s compensation claim. The National Drug-Free Workplace Alliance, http://www.ndwa.org

A special thanks to Matt Messersmith with Signet Screening for sharing his insight on this topic.  For more information about Signet’s background checks, pre-employment assessments and technological capabilities, visit Signet’s website.

 

Do you struggle with doing what is right for your company and right for your employees when it comes to creating a Drug Free Workplace? Sometimes the “right” solution isn’t always easily identified. strategic HR inc. understands your dilemma of being between a rock and a hard place. We can provide you with best practices, policies and training when it comes to creating a Drug Free Workplace, how to investigate workplace accidents, or any needs concerning the Health, Safety and Security of your workforce. Please visit our Health, Safety & Security page for more information on these services.

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Emergency Preparedness

Question:

What are some things we need to consider in the event of an emergency?

Answer:

No matter what the season, there are natural  disasters we need to be ready for: tornadoes, severe storms, flooding, snow, and ice. Unfortunately, we also need to be prepared for the unforeseen emergencies such as workplace violence or an active shooter event. It is critical for companies to prepare for emergency situations – events as small as a temporary power outage to major disasters like a tornado hitting the workplace. One important planning tool is to develop a Business Emergency Preparedness and Resumption Plan detailing your company’s commitment to the safety and protection of employees and the public.

An Emergency Preparedness Plan should contain information including, but not limited to:

  • Identifying the hazards that the business could face (natural, technological disasters, civil emergencies, pandemic, workplace violence, active shooter event, and other business interruptions).
  • Detailed instructions on how emergency response and recovery actions will be organized by position and within what timeframe.
  • Maintaining emergency contact information for company staff.
  • Identifying a minimum of two (2) emergency contact persons for your business.
  • Determining orders of succession/Human Capital Management (HCM) to ensure leadership as well as essential function sustainability during an emergency to obtain business resumption.
  • Identifying who will be named as “in charge” during an emergency situation to ensure continuous leadership authority and responsibility.
  • Determining the company’s essential functions (i.e., functions that should be resumed within 12 hours of a disruption and be able to continue for at least 30 days following a disruption).
  • Describing the vital records and databases that are necessary to complete the essential functions identified in the plan.
  • Identifying an alternate location where your business can carry out the identified essential functions during an emergency.
  • Information cross referencing other necessary documents such as emergency evacuation plans, shut down procedures, and federal requirements under The Homeland Security Act, etc.

These are just some areas that should be examined when developing a thorough Business Emergency Preparedness and Resumption Plan, but it is also imperative that once the program is in place it is periodically reviewed and evaluated.

It’s not negative thinking to plan for a devastating event that could harm employees or impact your company’s ability to function – in fact it’s a good business practice. Bad things happen, but it’s how we prepare for and recover from a disastrous event that often leads to success or failure. Strategic HR, inc. has a variety of resources to help you prepare for such emergencies. Visit our Health, Safety & Security page to learn more about how we can help you with your Emergency Preparedness needs OR pick up our Emergency Preparedness Toolkit and do-it-yourself.

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Avoid Prison: Strategies to Promote a Safe Workplace

Question:

I’ve read a few articles about individuals at companies potentially getting sentenced to prison for accidents in the workplace. What is my responsibility as an HR Professional in ensuring a safe workplace?

Answer:

Human resources professionals play an important role in ensuring employee health and safety. In some organizations, health and safety are responsibilities within the human resources department. While in others, human resources professionals may not be directly involved in the daily operations of workplace health and safety. In either case, human resources should ensure that the company is proactively doing their part to ensure a safe workplace, and know and respond to employee concerns around health and safety.

As reported in an article from EHS Today in December 2015, OSHA and the U.S. Department of Justice put employers on notice in December 2015 that “serious jail time could be in their future if employees die as a result of violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and other Department of Labor Statutes.”

With this memorandum, prosecutors now have been encouraged to consider utilizing Title 18 and environmental offenses, which often occur in conjunction with worker safety crimes, to enhance penalties and increase deterrence.

Below are three strategies HR professionals and their companies can implement to promote health & safety and avoid potential OSHA violations and penalties:

  1. Clarify policies, roles, and responsibilities.

In order to meet these heightened responsibilities, human resources professionals must take an active role in safety. They need to understand and clarify the health and safety responsibilities of employers, managers, supervisors, and employees within the organization and implement policies to ensure everyone is aware of and practicing his/her responsibilities. In addition, Human Resources needs to establish effective ways of ensuring individuals can fulfill their health and safety responsibilities.

  1. Implement ways to improve collaboration.

Often times, since HR professionals are not out in the field or on the shop floor, it’s difficult to monitor what’s going on and be able to react quickly when an incident does occur, as many companies are still managing these processes manually via paper and email. That’s why we like technology solutions, like iReportSource.  iReport helps alert human resources when an incident occurs and provides easy access to one system of record for collaboration with the appropriate parties to get the incident resolved quickly and accurately.

  1. Make steps to cultivate a proactive culture.

In addition, Human Resources needs to monitor activities to ensure that safety audits, site inspections, near-misses, training, and appropriate interactions are happening consistently. A system like iReport proactively tracks these best practice measures, along with the data from accidents that occur, to allow HR professionals to not only monitor what’s happening but to identify where the next accident might occur, so that measures can be taken to prevent accidents from happening. This data isn’t possible to get to easily or quickly when you are using a manual, paper-based process. Better yet – the data is yours. It eliminates relying on your TPA or insurance company for this data.

Having a safe workplace is the basis to having a productive and engaged workplace. As a Human Resources professional, the responsibility is yours to ensure your company is actively managing safety. Employing a tool that makes it easy, helps reinforce the right behaviors consistently, and gives you insight to improve your outcomes makes it a no-brainer.

A special thanks to iReportSource for sharing their insights on safety in the workplace. For more information on iReportSource contact Nancy at nkoors@ireportsource.com and 513-442-8595.

 

Have you had a safety audit recently? Do you know which OSHA forms you are required to complete? A safe environment plays a key role in keeping a company Healthy, Safe and Secure. Strategic HR, inc. has the expertise you need to ensure your policies and practices are keeping your workers, and customers, safe. Visit our Health, Safety and Security page to learn more about how we can assist you.

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What Does It Mean To Be a Partially Exempt Industry Under OSHA?

Question:

According to our company’s NAICS code it says we’re a Partially Exempt Industry. Do we have to complete the OSHA Form 300A each year?

Answer:

If your North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code classifies you as a Partially Exempt Industry, it is not necessary to complete OSHA injury and illness records (including the OSHA Form 300A). Unless you are asked in writing to do so by OSHA, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), or a state agency operating under the authority of OSHA or the BLS. 

SHRM’s article “Am I Exempt from OSHA’s Recordkeeping Requirements” notes that there are two exceptions to OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements.

  1. First, businesses with 10 or fewer employees must keep these records only if the agency specifically requires them to do so. Businesses with 10 or fewer employees throughout the previous calendar year do not need to complete recordkeeping forms. Keep in mind that if there are more than 10 employees at any time during that calendar year, the employer may come under the requirement. When counting employees, business owners must include full-time, part-time, temporary and seasonal workers.
  2. The second exemption is for establishments classified in certain industries. For example, restaurants, banks, and medical offices do not have to complete the forms. For a complete list see the OSHA List of Partially Exempt Industries.

Please note that all employers, including those partially exempt by reason of company size or industry classification, must report to OSHA any workplace incident that results in a fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye. Make reports to the local OSHA office or to 1-800-321-OSHA within eight hours of when managers become aware of the incident.

Strategic HR, inc. understands your concerns with the well-being of your employees. We offer expertise in health, safety and security to cover any need you may have from analyzing your safety programs to making sure you are OSHA compliant to proactively ensuring employee wellness. Please visit our Health, Safety and Security page for more information on any of these services.

 

Should HR Be Concerned About Cybersecurity And Phishing Scams?

Question:

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about cybersecurity and phishing. What is it and does HR need to be doing anything about it?

Answer:

You’re concerned. That’s good! Phishing is a complex problem that is not easy to deal with. The Federal Trade Commission describes phishing as “when internet fraudsters impersonate a business to trick you into giving out your personal information.” While this is a good definition, it isn’t comprehensive. Phishing at its core, is not reliant on any form of technology. Phishing in and of itself is using the perpetrators wit and guile to persuade the victim to ignore common sense or best practices and give them the requested information or object.

Phishing is something that you must be prepared for at any time. How are you supposed to know when someone is going to try and trick you into giving them information? As such, there are three major things to remember and make sure your employees are aware of:

  • Check phishing reports quarterly to see what’s trending and what’s changing with how the common scams operate.
    • Kaspersky Labs, maker of Kaspersky Antivirus, publishes a quarterly report containing examples, trends, and statistics of everything that has happened in that quarter.
  • Always be sure to double and triple check who’s asking you for information.
    • Attackers are becoming more and more intuitive in how they reach out to you. It doesn’t matter whether it’s your mother, your boss, or your best friend who emailed you, check where the email came from and be certain before you respond.
  • Never let your guard down.
    • This is probably one of the most important things to remember. It’s not easy to do, but phishing is only a problem if it succeeds. And phishing will succeed. We’re all human and we will make mistakes. It’s these mistakes that attackers capitalize on. Remember these three rules, and you’ll be much safer and prepared to deal with any phishing scams that come your way.

Thank you to Tyler Throckmorton with Great American Financial Resources for sharing your insight on cybersecurity and how to train employees to be aware of the scams.  

It’s not negative thinking to plan for a devastating event that could harm employees or impact your company’s ability to function – in fact it’s a good business practice. Bad things happen, but it’s how we prepare for and recover from a disastrous event that often leads to success or failure. Strategic HR, inc. has a variety of resources to help you prepare for such emergencies. Visit our Health, Safety & Security page to learn more about how we can help you with your Emergency Preparedness needs OR pick up our Emergency Preparedness Toolkit and do-it-yourself.

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OSHA New Recordkeeping Rules

Question:

Can you explain OSHA’s new electronic recordkeeping rules?

Answer:

OSHA’s new recordkeeping rule goes into effect January 1, 2017.  The rules require certain employers to not only continue to maintain the logs they have in the past but to now submit their injury and illness data electronically to OSHA.  The amount of data you are required to submit will depend on the size of your company and the type of industry you are in.  For many employers the new rule means that the OSHA summary (300A) for 2016 will need to be posted by 2/1/2017 but it also must be submitted electronically by July 1, 2017.

For example, employers with 250 or more employees must submit the information from their 2016 Form 300A by July 1, 2017.  Subsequently, 2017 forms will be due by July 1, 2018 but starting in 2019 and thereafter, the information is due by March 2.

The site is not yet ‘live’ so it is hard to say how it will work.  The OSHA website provides additional information.

Some are asking why? According to Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, “Our new rule will ‘nudge’ employers to prevent work injuries to show investors, job seekers, customers and the public they operate safe and well-managed facilities. Access to injury data will also help OSHA better target compliance assistance and enforcement resources, and enable ‘big data’ researchers to apply their skills to making workplaces safer.”

strategic HR inc. understands your concerns with the safety and well-being of your employees. We offer expertise in health, safety and security to cover any need you may have from analyzing your safety programs to making sure your policies and procedures are compliant and protect your staff. Please visit our Health, Safety & Security page for more information on any of these services.

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House Bill 523: The New Law that Legalizes Medical Marijuana

Question:

As an Ohio company, I am confused about what changes, if any, I need to make as a result of the implementation of House Bill 523, the new law that legalizes medical marijuana on September 6, 2016.  Does this mean my drug free workplace policies are no longer valid?

Answer:

No, this does not mean your drug free workplace policies are no longer valid.

Employers are still free to have drug free workplace policies and now is the time to look at your policy and make sure it can withstand the change.  Some legal counsels are recommending that policies be updated to state specifically that medical marijuana is prohibited under the policy.  If you make the change, be sure to distribute and explain the policy and have employees sign off on the acknowledgement.

With such a policy in place, employers may still have the right to discharge employees who fail a drug screen, even if it was due to the use of medical marijuana.  The discharge would be considered ‘just cause’ making them ineligible for unemployment.  In addition, an employee may not be eligible for workers’ compensation for their injury if their injury was the result of being under the influence of marijuana.

Be sure to make sure your policy is up to date and all employees are treated equally under the policy. (For the nitty gritty details, click here)

Do you struggle with doing what is right for your company and right for your employees when it comes to creating a Drug Free Workplace? Sometimes the “right” solution isn’t always easily identified. Strategic HR, inc. understands your dilemma of being between a rock and a hard place. We can provide you with best practices, policies and training when it comes to creating a Drug Free Workplace or any needs concerning the Health, Safety and Security of your workforce. Please visit our Health, Safety & Security or Training page for more information on any of these services.

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What is a powered industrial truck according to OSHA? Do you need proper training?

Question:

Our Warehouse Manager just got a new piece of equipment that I would describe as a type of pallet-jack. When I questioned him about training on the equipment, he said that because an employee does not sit on the piece of equipment to operate it, so there was no required training under OSHA. Is that true? What is the definition of a powered industrial truck according to OSHA?

Answer:

Actually, the Warehouse Manager is incorrect. When most people think of required OSHA standards for that type of equipment, they think of lift trucks. OSHA’s standard for “Powered Industrial Trucks” , however, is much broader than that. OSHA defines a powered industrial truck as “Any mobile power-propelled truck used to carry, push, pull, lift, stack or tier materials. Powered industrial trucks can be ridden or controlled by a walking operator.” The standard does designate and say that earth moving and over the road haulage trucks are not included in the definition. Equipment that was designed to move earth but has been modified to accept forks are also not included. Your Warehouse Manager better get his policy in order and start training under the standard.

See OSHA’s Q&A on the standard here: https://www.osha.gov/dte/library/pit/pit_q-a.html

Accidents happen! But they’re called accidents because they weren’t anticipated. Once the accident does occur it’s up to employers to make sure accidents don’t repeat themselves. Strategic HR, inc. has the tools and knowledge needed to help you break the cycle of accidents in the workplace. We offer expertise in everything from safety audits to writing safety manuals and procedures.

For more information on how we can keep your employees safe please visit our Health, Safety & Security page.

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OSHA 300-A Log

Question:

I know I am supposed to take my OSHA 300-A log down on April 30.  How long do I have to keep it after I take it down?

Answer:

You are correct!  The log can come down on April 30, but according to OSHA Standard – 29 CFR -1904.33(a), employers must save their OSHA 300 Log, the Form 300-A (annual summary), and the Form 301 Incident Report forms for 5 (five) years. The stored OSHA 300 Logs must be updated by the employer to include any newly discovered recordable injuries or illnesses…even after the log had been posted.

Have you had a safety audit recently? Do you know which OSHA forms you are required to complete? A safe environment plays a key role in keeping a company Healthy, Safe and Secure. strategic HR inc. has the expertise you need to ensure your policies and practices are keeping your workers, and customers, safe. Visit our Health, Safety and Security page to learn more about how we can assist you or contact us now at info@strategicHRinc.com.

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Obesity in the Workplace

Question:

According to SHRM’s 2014 Global HR Trends Report, obesity is on the rise in the U.S. and worldwide. If current trends continue, more than 50% of the U.S. adult population will be obese by 2030. The growing number of employees and candidates who are obese concern me as an employer because I have heard that they are deemed as having a disability.  Is that true?  What does that mean to me as the HR Manager?

Answer:

Yes, under the ADAA, the courts have expanded the legal definition of when obesity constitutes a disability. Employees are no longer required to establish that their obesity is due to another physiological condition or disorder. Obesity alone – whether morbid, severe, or simple obesity – can cause sufficient impairment that a person can be deemed as “disabled”.  Morbid obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher; severe obesity is a BMI of 35-39.9 and simple obesity is a BMI of 30-34.9. Under the new amendments, the EEOC states that basic obesity alone can sufficiently impact life activities like bending, walking and transportation and it could now be treated as a physical impairment.  As in most potentially legal situations, each situation is unique and should be looked at carefully before taking any action.

As an HR Manager, the bottom line is that there are many more potentially disabled employees in the workplace. Employees who may be entitled to nondiscrimination protection and potentially reasonable accommodations if necessary.  Keep in mind, accommodations can be simple.  Things such as a large ergonomic chair, seat belt extenders for industrial equipment, or even allowing an employee to use a scooter.  Bottom line, be sure to treat obese employees as any other potentially disabled employee in the workplace and work with the employee to determine if an appropriate accommodation is necessary and can be made.

Strategic HR, inc. understands your concerns with the safety and well-being of your employees. We offer expertise in health, safety and security to cover any need you may have from analyzing your safety programs to making sure your policies and procedures are compliant and protect your staff. Please visit our Health, Safety & Security page for more information on any of these services.

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Rating Employees On Safety

Question:

How do we rate employees on safety?

Answer:

Rating employees on safety starts by having an organization whose norms, beliefs, attitudes,and practices are concerned with minimizing exposure of employees to workplace hazards.Having an effective Safety Incentive Programs can definitely help and, although all are not alike,it is important to consider some of these basic elements:

  • Identify the objective – Determine why you want to establish the program. It could be to decrease workers’ compensation premiums by reducing the number of worker injuries, or your goal may simply be to reinforce general safety principles.
  • Select participants – Decide which employees need to participate in the program to achieve the long-term goal.
  • Establish a theme – Having a focus reminds participants of the goal you want your employees to achieve.
  • Select appropriate prizes with increasing value – Prizes don’t have to be expensive, but they should have meaning. Prizes that reinforce the contest theme can be very effective; for example, safety glasses, work shoes, hard hats, etc. Give prizes based upon the company’s safety record (i.e., 1,000 accident free days, 50,000 hours worked without lost-time accident, etc.).
  • Determine the program’s length – It should be intermittent and last for a specified period of time. If carrying out a program idea will require a prolonged period, you might consider having several short contests. This will maintain employee interest and allow managers to stress various safety issues.
  • Communicate the goal – It is important that the program is fun and relevant to the work experience of all participating employees. Also, make recognition for working safely more significant than the value of the prize.

Have you had a safety audit recently? Do you know which OSHA forms you are required to complete? A safe environment plays a key role in keeping a company Healthy, Safe and Secure. Strategic HR, inc. has the expertise you need to ensure your policies and practices are keeping your workers, and customers, safe. Visit our Health, Safety and Security Page to learn more about how we can assist you.

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Who’s Using Your EAP

Question:

We just implemented an Employee Assistance Program. What do I need to know about EAP use in order to better share this new resource with employees?

Answer:

Although depression is a primary reason employees call their Employee Assistance Program (EAP), many other services are available. In addition to personal and family counseling, most programs cover substance abuse, grief support, child care, elder care, financial education and legal assistance.

ComPsych, a leading provider in Employee Assistance Programs, recently analyzed data from the millions of calls they handle each year. The published results were quite interesting.

The top four types of EAP calls were:

  1. Psychological (mental and emotional) 41.7%
  2. Partner/relationships 19.9%
  3. Family/child (behavioral issues) 14.3%
  4. Stress/anxiety 10.5%

Though women callers still outnumber men (61 versus 39 percent), the percentage of men accessing EAP and work-life services has gradually but steadily risen over the past decade. Though fewer men call assistance lines, more men called for help with relationship issues than women (22 versus 18 percent). Furthermore, men were almost five times as likely to call about alcohol and chemical dependency issues.

Why are these statistics important? Because most employees won’t even think to use your EAP until they are in the middle of a crisis. By understanding your audience and their concerns, you can tailor your communications to meet their particular needs. Ask your provider for data on the EAP services most used by your employees. Then create a targeted, year-round communications plan to help employees understand the types of support they can receive and how to take action when they are ready.

How can you promote your EAP?

  • Display posters promoting the most-used services, focusing on one issue at a time. If possible, ask your provider to use images of people who reflect your audience. For example, are they blue-collar workers? What’s their age range and ethnicity? Always highlight the phone number and website so employees know where to go for help. And be sure to change the posters frequently, since different services are needed at different times.
  • Dedicate a portion of your benefits website to your EAP. List all the services available (putting the most-used at the top of the list) and provide simple instructions on how to get help. Emphasize that all services are provided by a third party who protects their privacy and never shares personal information with the company.
  • Promote your benefits website through a direct link on the home page of your intranet.
  • Cross-promote EAP services by featuring a variety of stories in your company newsletter, enrollment materials or postcards. Remember, spouses and other family members may not realize assistance is available, so include EAP information in materials sent to homes.
  • If a location suffers a natural disaster, such as a hurricane or tornado, actively promote your EAP services. If possible, have representatives from your provider available on site to assist employees and their families through the aftermath.

Statistics show both men and women are taking advantage of a variety of valuable EAP services. By understanding who’s using your EAP and why, you can create a targeted, year-round communications plan that increases awareness, acceptance and usage of your plan.

A special thanks to Elizabeth Borton, President of Write On Target, for sharing her expertise with us. Sign-up on her website at to receive future communication blogs at www.writetarget.com. Or, you can contact her with questions at EBorton@WriteTarget.com or 937.436.4565 at extension 28.

Strategic HR, inc. understands your concerns with the well-being of your employees. We offer expertise in health, safety and security to cover any need you may have from analyzing your safety programs to making sure you are OSHA compliant to proactively ensuring employee wellness. Please visit our Health, Safety & Security page for more information on any of these services.

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Accidents in the Workplace

Question:

We seem to be experiencing a flare up in minor workplace accidents. What are some steps we can take to raise safety awareness and reduce the number of incidents?

Answer:

It happens to many organizations…it is easy to take safety for granted and that is when the bottom falls out and accidents start to rear their ugly head. With a recent outbreak of accidents, be sure you are doing a complete accident investigation and determine if there are any trends in the accidents that are occurring. The accidents may have the same root cause which you can nip quickly and effectively. In addition to the actual accident review, the best recommendation is to GET YOUR TEAM INVOLVED! You can’t maintain a safe environment alone. A great way to ‘revive’ the safety culture is to get others active in the process. Those involved will become engaged and energized in helping you and perhaps even drive safety activities and suggestions. Use your safety team to review current safety policies, create new safety programs and training, and come up with new safety incentives and recognition awards. This team could also conduct safety audits as well as review current training programs to identify what doesn’t “work” or identify things that may not even be covered. When creating this new safety-focused team be sure to involve established employees as well as new hires. Newly hired employees are an especially important part of the team because they may bring ideas from other organizations AND they see things in the workplace through fresh eyes. What we become used to seeing every day, someone from the outside can see through. They may be more apt at picking out potential danger or safety concerns. In some cases allowing a fresh set of eyes review the situation may be all that is needed to create effective solutions.

Accidents happen! But they’re called accidents because they weren’t anticipated. Once the accident does occur it’s up to employers to make sure accidents don’t repeat themselves. Strategic HR, inc. has the tools and knowledge needed to help you break the cycle of accidents in the workplace. We offer expertise in everything from safety audits to writing safety manuals and procedures. For more information on how we can keep your employees safe please visit our Health, Safety & Security page.

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How To Handle Expired Prescription Drug Use In The Workplace?

Updated July 29, 2020

HR Question:

We recently had a situation where a longtime employee, with no prior incidences, took an expired prescription drug that was inhibiting her performance. After her drug test, she tested positive with it in her system and the script was older than one year. What should I do?

HR Answer:

This is certainly a tricky situation, and you are not alone in dealing with this challenge. A recent National Safety Council survey reports that more than 70% of employers have been impacted by prescription drugs, yet only 19% feel extremely prepared to deal with prescription drug misuse.

As you begin to assess your next steps, here are some things to consider:

Policy

What does your Drug Free Workplace Policy say? Typically, an acceptable deviation of a positive drug test is supplying a valid prescription from an attending physician. In this situation, the employee does not appear to have that if the drug was expired. What does your policy say about the consequences of a positive test? Take the opportunity to assess if you’ve covered as many conceivable scenarios as possible – from an expired prescription to innocently taking a family member’s prescription in an unusual circumstance.

Training

This is why Drug Free Workplace training is so critical. Such training should inform employees and managers of exactly these types of situations and potential consequences so this scenario can be avoided. What does your policy say about training? Have you adhered to that?

Precedent

What are the consequences of making an exception? If you make an exception for this individual, are you willing to make an exception the next time it happens to another employee (perhaps a lower performing employee)? Does making an exception impact the effectiveness of your Drug Free Workplace program?

Consult

Contact your Medical Review Officer (MRO) or find one that is familiar with your industry to gain some advice, as they are the experts. They will be able to assess whether or not the positive drug test is justified by the prescription or not, shedding some light on the next steps to take.

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer in this situation. It is vitally important that you remain unbiased, fair, and that you do what’s best for your company. Carefully consider the impact of your decision on future situations that may arise.

 

Providing a Drug Free Workplace Policy and Training are incredibly important when it comes to the safety and security of your workplace and employees. strategic HR, inc. can provide you with best practices, policies, and training when it comes to creating a Drug Free Workplace or any other needs concerning the Health, Safety and Security of your workforce. Contact us to learn more about how we can help to develop your Drug Free Workplace Policy and Customized Training or view our Online Drug Free Workplace Training.  

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Good Samaritan Law

Question:

If an employee tries to medically help someone during a medical emergency are they or our company liable if something should go wrong?

Answer:

If you work in Ohio you are covered by something called the “Good Samaritan” law that protects bystanders who provide emergency aid from financial liability if there is an unintended injury or wrongful death. This law is meant to protect those providing emergency care at the scene of an emergency and does not apply to care provided to someone already in a medical facility. Nor does it protect someone if they expect payment for the treatment (such as from an insurance company). Stated best, the law is designed to let people do the right thing without fear of being sued.

To see the details of Ohio Good Samaritan laws  visit the ORC website.

An injury in the workplace is no laughing matter and strategic HR inc. understands your concerns with the well-being of your employees. We offer expertise in health, safety and security to cover any need you may have from reviewing your safety procedures to helping you with employee wellness initiatives. Please visit our Health, Safety & Security page for more information on how we can assist you with Health, Safety and Security.

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How do we deal with employee body odor?

Question:

We have an employee with strong body odor and other staff feel it is making them ill at work. How do we address such a sensitive topic?

Answer:

Addressing personal care issues that affect others at work can be difficult conversations to have. Keep in mind the offending employee may not be aware that they have an odor problem, they may have a medical condition, or it may be the result of customs or cultures. Regardless, to keep harmony among your staff the situation needs to be addressed in a sensitive manner.

Be sure to take the employee to a private area to speak. It is also important to be clear in the reason for the conversation, but also be sensitive to the embarrassment it might cause the employee to have such a personal a discussion with their manager or human resources. The most direct route is best. State the problem, “It has been brought to my attention that you have a strong body odor”, and ask a follow up question to allow them the opportunity to share any possible reasons for the situation, “Do you have a health condition or a custom that might be contributing to excessive body odor?” If a health condition is present you will need to determine if there is an issue under the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) that will need to be accommodated in some way. If the cause is determined to be due to hygiene issues, the employee should be coached to work on their hygiene, focusing on the connection to the health and well being of themselves and others around them. If there is a company policy addressing appearance and cleanliness, this can be referenced as a guideline for the employee to follow and to emphasize the connection of the discussion to company policy versus a personal attack.

In any case, be considerate and handle the issue with discretion. This can be one of the toughest HR conversations you may have and in most instances it is just as hard for the receiver.

Having healthy employees is a key reason for developing a company wellness program, but also give consideration to the cost savings. Not only does a healthy workforce impact costs related to ever increasing health care expenses, but also impacts other expenses that are being trimmed as the economy necessitates a tightening of the belt in all areas of the company. Visit our Health, Safety & Security page to learn how we can assist you with issues surrounding the health and safety of your workforce.

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How To Conduct A Safety Audit

Question:

I have a safety committee comprised of all new members. We need to conduct a safety audit of our facility. How should we structure our audit?

Answer:

The most important part of a safety and health audit is to make some specific decisions early on. Questions must be answered such as:

  1. Who is going to do the audit? Are you going to do it internally or involve an external party? If internal, who is involved specifically – HR? A team of safety and healthy experts in a committee?
  2. What are you actually going to audit – a part of safety and health in the organization or all aspects? If you are interested in doing a full audit, it is best to pick a specific area to work on – one at a time. Pick a monthly task to audit specifically (e.g. hazardous communication standard, lock out/tag out, emergency evacuation, etc.) and focus on that as an audit topic each month. Focusing on one topic will allow you to dig deeply into the standard and ensure compliance at all levels.

Once you are ready to audit and you know who and what is going to be a part of the audit, you need a clear checklist or questionnaire to use to audit each of the various aspects. In general, the audit should include the following items:

  • Determine what requirements you are supposed to meet – look at all areas of legislations including state and federal.
  • Assess whether or not you are meeting those legal requirements.
  • Review your documents to ensure you have good documentation as well as best practices in place in recordkeeping.
  • Identify any areas of risk in the workplace and determine how the organization attempts to minimize those risks.
  • Identify strengths and weaknesses in your safety procedures.
  • Recommend areas of improvements necessary for compliance and best practices.
  • Document the implementation of those recommendations to ensure they do not become a legal liability in the future.

Once you have these pieces in place you are ready to audit – good luck!

Do you worry about doing what is right for your company and right for your employees while being legally compliant? Strategic HR, inc. understands your concerns with the well-being of your employees and the legal compliance of your organization. Conducting an audit of your Health and Safety function is a key component to making sure you are compliant. Let us help you with your audit using our tried and true practices. Please visit our Health, Safety & Security page or Legal Compliance page for more information on any of these services.

 

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What is a Safety Audit?

Updated July 2021

HR Question:

My manager is concerned about our company’s ability to pass a safety inspection and wants us to do an audit. What is a safety audit?

HR Answer:

Safety audits (known more formally as health and safety audits) are routine, comprehensive reviews geared towards gauging the efficiency, effectiveness, and legality of a company’s safety management programs. Audits assess a company’s compliance to applicable regulations or codes as well as the identification of unsafe conditions in the workplace. Audits also provide an evaluation of workplace adherence to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards relating to workplace and worker safety. There are also DOT regulations that need to be met if they apply to your company’s line of work. Keep in mind that safety audits are meant to check the effectiveness of various programs, but they do not take the place of regular facility inspections, which should be done on a much more frequent basis as facility rules dictate.

When conducting a safety (or OSHA) audit there are two things to evaluate: compliance and safety. When reviewing compliance it is important to evaluate how the company handles conformance to the prescribed codes or standards, recordkeeping, and training of employees. When assessing safety, the objective is to identify unsafe work conditions, rather than unsafe acts or behaviors. And with the addition of COVID-19 safety precautions and regulations, employers have an additional layer of guidance to adhere to in order to keep their employees safe.

There is no “one size fits all” approach to health and safety audits. Audits must be customized to the type of industry, size of the company or location being audited, applicable local, state, and federal laws and any other company-specific factors that might affect the safety and health of your workforce.

Have you had a safety audit recently? Do you know which OSHA forms you are required to complete? strategic HR has the expertise you need to ensure your policies and practices are keeping your workers, customers, and visitors safe. Visit our Health, Safety & Security page to learn more about how we can assist you with workplace safety.

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Work Related Injuries from a Home Office

Question:

I have “virtual” employees who don’t spend all their work time in the office. How do I know if an employee’s injury is work related if they work out of their home?

Answer:

This is one of the big challenges that employers face when they allow their employees the opportunity to work from home. Overall, injuries and illness that occur while an employee is working at home is considered work related (and thus compensable) if the illness or injury occurs while the employee is performing work for pay in the home and the injury or illness is directly related to the performance of work. These type of injuries cannot be related to the general home environment (i.e faulty wiring, tripping on the carpet) but rather must be related to the performance of work.

What is a compensable injury? One might be an injury to a finger that was slammed in a filing cabinet drawer while filing papers for work. Another could be an injury to the foot due to a dropped heavy box (assuming the box was for work purposes and contained work materials). Proving how some of these injuries occurred in the home is a challenge because there is a lack of witnesses, and there is the inability to control the work environment to ensure adequate safety and housekeeping to prevent injuries. Creating policies for your employees to ensure they keep a professional, well-kept and safe work environment at home, as well as requiring them to report any work related injuries or illness immediately, is essential.

Strategic HR, inc. understands your concerns with the well-being of your employees. We offer expertise in health, safety and security to cover any need you may have from creating a communicable disease policy to developing a business resumption plan for handling unexpected emergencies. Please visit our Health, Safety & Security page for more information.

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Ensuring Safety in the Workplace

Question:

We seem to be experiencing a flare up in minor workplace accidents. What are some steps we can take to raise safety awareness and reduce the number of incidents?

Answer:

The most important thing to do is to look around and see what you are doing and determine what has changed in the recent past to cause this flare up. Sometimes the cause is easy to identify, but many times not. Overall, there are a number of things employers can get involved in to ensure their organization moves toward a ‘safety culture’, one where safety is valued and resulting in an improved safety record.

  • Create a safety culture from the top down. Safety should be discussed  at the very beginning of employment from recruitment to job descriptions to background checks and reference checks. Start talking safety early and always in your workplace.
  • Be sure your employees know they are partners with the organization in the safety effort. Safety is NOT just for the employer to do. It must be a team effort with cooperation of the employees and employer to be successful.
  • Create involved safety programs to involve employees in that effort.
    • Create safety committees that are employee based.
    • Make safety training a priority in your organization and talk about it (even if briefly) in all meetings.
  • Investigate all accidents and near misses in your organization to determine their cause and to avoid future accidents.
  • Conduct self audits. Have employee teams do audits on different areas of the workplace to review for hazardous conditions.
  • Recognize and reward the safety successes.

These types of activities will ensure a safety culture and ultimately improve the safety record of your organization.

Have you had a safety audit recently? Do you know which OSHA forms you are required to complete? A safe environment plays a key role in keeping a company Healthy, Safe and Secure. Strategic HR, inc. has the expertise you need to ensure your policies and practices are keeping your workers, and customers, safe. Visit our Health, Safety and Security page to learn more about how we can assist you.

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How to Handle Bed Bugs at Work

HR Question:

An employee has indicated that she has bed bugs in her apartment building. How should we handle bed bugs at work? What responsibility do we have as an employer towards our other employees?

HR Answer:

The first step is to communicate with your employees measures that they can take to prevent exposure, or if exposure has occurred, minimize the risk that the bed bugs will be transported to work. Under the OSHA general duty standard, an employer has an obligation to provide a safe work environment free of hazards that may cause physical harm. If it is determined that there are bed bugs in your workplace, you should take immediate action to eradicate the infestation (typically by calling an exterminator). There may also be obligations of notification and recordkeeping if hazardous chemicals are used to rectify the situation. If an employee has indicated that he or she has been exposed, you can request that the employee stay home until the problem has been taken care of on their end. Keep in mind, an exempt employee may be required to be paid for time away from work that is less than a full day.

Every situation should be taken on its own merit. In addition to OSHA, there are a number of different issues that should be considered: Family and Medical Leave (if the employee has been exposed and needs to deal with the exposure), Workers’ Compensation (if the employee is exposed at work), and the Fair Labor Standards Act (determining if you have to pay for time missed from work). We do recommend consulting with an attorney before any adverse action is taken resulting from bed bug exposure.

You may find additional information on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Strategic HR, inc. understands your concerns with the well-being of your employees. We offer expertise in health, safety, and security to cover any need you may have from analyzing your safety programs to making sure you are OSHA compliant to proactively ensuring employee wellness. Please visit our Health, Safety & Security page for more information on any of these services.

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Handling Contagiously Sick Employees

Question:

One of our employees has had a persistent cough for a few months. It has gotten to the point where other employees have expressed concerns about their health and work environment due to this employee’s perceived illness. What actions can I take? Can I ask the coughing employee if she has seen a doctor – If she is contagious? Do we ask for a doctor’s note telling us she’s not contagious? Can we take other measures such as moving her desk, suggesting the use of a mask or even working from home?

Answer:

With the cold and flu season approaching you may find you have many sick employees over the next few months, though this is a particularly tough situation. There are many issues to consider as you tackle this problem, including employee relations issues that could arise by upsetting the employee by addressing the issue or frustrating the employees raising the concern if you choose not to say something, which might impact morale. On the other hand, you also need to consider some employment legislative issues. For example, you can approach the employee with symptoms to ensure the individual is not contagious under OSHA’s general duty clause. This clause requires employers to provide a safe working environment for employees and is inclusive of eliminating potential health risks that are associated with contagious / infectious diseases. Approaching the employee from that angle and requesting a physician’s statement to ensure that they are not contagious is probably the best way to approach it.

However, be sensitive to the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and HIPAA when you approach the employee to avoid further entanglements. If you have not already, you will need to create and implement an infection / contagious disease policy and determine how the company will handle any type of similar disease or condition in the future. This would cover things such as the flu, coronavirus, concerns, etc., – anything that might prevent the spread of such diseases in the workplace.

As with all of our advice, keep in mind that we are not attorneys nor can we provide legal advice of any kind, but rather interpret laws and do our best to advise you on how we might handle a situation from an HR management perspective. If you feel this situation could lead to the disclosure of a disability, you may want to seek legal counsel.

Strategic HR, inc. understands your concerns with the well-being of your employees. We offer expertise in health, safety and security to cover any need you may have from creating a communicable disease policy to developing a business resumption plan for handling unexpected emergencies. Please visit our Health, Safety & Security page for more information on any of these services.

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Preventing Disruptive Behavior and Workplace Violence

Question:

Seems like there have been a lot of recent tragedies in the news involving workplace violence. What can we do as a company to reduce the risk of workplace violence and protect our workers?

Answer:

While workplace violence is significantly less common than popularly believed, due to extensive media attention brought to recent high-profile incidents, prevention is critical.  Incidents involving disruptions and threats are increasing, and early intervention helps prevent more serious acts. Workplaces prone to disruptive incidents are often characterized by high levels of unresolved conflict and poor communication. Conflict at work is normal, but must be addressed promptly and effectively; not avoided or suppressed.

Disruptive behavior can be reduced or prevented by facilitating a workplace environment that promotes a healthy, positive means of airing and resolving problems (methods that do not disrupt the workplace or harm or frighten others). It is also essential to improve the conflict management skills of managers and staff, to set and enforce clear standards of conduct, and to provide help (e.g. mediation and counseling) to address conflicts early.

Even with appropriate conflict management strategies in place, it is important to remember that even the most respectful environment can experience incidents of workplace violence. The environment may not always be the stressor that leads to the occurrence of an incident. An employee may be experiencing psychological problems, be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or suffering from familial stress. He or she may have developed a “romantic” obsession for  another employee and feel abandoned and humiliated by his or her rejection; he or she may be feeling overlooked in not receiving a desired promotion; or an employee may be experiencing rage due to the  knowledge of a potential layoff.

In order to intervene in a timely and appropriate manner before a violent episode occurs, it is important to be able to identify the stages of workplace violence. Employees, in addition to management, should have knowledge of these stages so that they can inform management of potential incidents. Management should have a plan in place for appropriate, early intervention.

Strategic HR, inc. understands your concerns with the well-being of your employees. We offer expertise in health, safety and security to cover any need you may have from analyzing your safety programs to making sure you are OSHA compliant to proactively ensuring employee wellness. Please visit our Health, Safety & Security page for more information on any of these services.