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Your Team Needs to Feel Safe at Work - Now

By: Mark Heymann

Lawsuits against employers have exploded in the past four months, with more than 480 lawsuits directly related to COVID-19 filed since April. Employees are sending a very clear message to employers as they return to work during this pandemic: “We need to be safe!”

 

When they feel that their concerns about safety are falling on deaf ears – or worse, believe they are being retaliated against for complaining – employees are taking action.

 

According to the recent Washington Post-Ipsos Coronavirus Employment Survey, almost 70% of workers are worried they might be exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace. Given this level of concern, every business faces a growing risk as team members lose patience with unsafe or inconsistent practices.

 

The number of cases filed has increased significantly month-over-month since April. And service businesses that require staff to work in close proximity to each other and the public – like restaurants, hotels, and casinos – are being hit the hardest.

 

team_feel_safe-1(Source: Fisher Phillips COVID-19 Employment Litigation Tracker)

 

While many of these cases are not related to unsafe working conditions, safety-related lawsuits have a higher likelihood to lead to additional complaints and claims against employers. Central to many of these cases are four key issues:

 

  • Team members were permitted to work without being screened for COVID-19 symptoms before starting a shift or while displaying symptoms consistent with the virus
  • Safety protocols for social distancing, PPE, and sanitation throughout shifts were not maintained
  • Team members were not informed when they may have had contact with a co-worker who confirmed COVID-19 exposure or infection
  • Management retaliated against team members who make complaints related to safety
Unfortunately, management is often caught off guard when these complaints are filed. Why? Because today’s environment is demanding more of managers. They are taking on more of the day-to-day work during this time when volumes are low and team members are hesitant to return to work. Add to that the new responsibilities specifically related to COVID-19, such as monitoring staff for symptoms or exposure and ensuring new cleaning protocols are met.

 

Even with clearly documented policies and procedures, this workload makes it more likely that compliance with manual processes – like screening staff before each shift – is less than perfect. It also leaves managers with less time and energy to stay in touch with how team members are feeling about work-related issue.

 

Here are a few things companies can quickly implement to make it easier for managers to ensure your team members feel safe and mitigate some of the issues that have prompting legal action:

 

Automate Pre-Shift Screening. Implement tools that relieve managers of the burden of ensuring that every scheduled team member is screened before they clock in for each shift and ideally before they are on property. A tool such as UniFocus Pre-Shift Screening , can help ensure almost 100% compliance by prompting team members to answer COVID screening questions from the privacy of their personal smartphones before they arrive for their shift. Managers are immediately alerted when exposure or symptoms are reported, and affected team members are automatically instructed not to come to work so others are not exposed. This approach makes it easier for managers to ensure consistent compliance with pre-shift screening and provides a clear audit trail of that compliance.

 

Trace Employee Contact. When a team member has confirmed COVID-19 infection or exposure, managers need to identify others who may have been in contact with that employee. This ensures that team members who are exposed at work are informed and scheduling adjustments can be made. Manually stitching this information together is either guesswork or very time consuming. With tools such as the UniFocus Employee Tracing Report, managers can access this information in minutes because the tool does the analysis of schedule and timekeeping data to assess potential contact throughout the period when staff may have been exposed.

 

Survey Staff Regularly. Give team members a way to anonymously provide consistent feedback on how they feel about safety at work. Initiate feedback with team members 10 – 14 days after their first scheduled shift using a tool that enables you to track trends in staff sentiment. Then conduct quick, anonymous pulse surveys every 7 – 14 days to ensure you and your managers maintain ongoing awareness of team members’ perceptions of safety in the workplace and whether that sentiment is trending positively or negatively so they can make adjustments when necessary. UniFocus has designed the Employee Safety Sentiment Survey to specifically assess team members’ confidence in the safety measures being implemented in the workplace, along with gauging their general engagement in their jobs.

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