As employers in the United States begin planning for the return of their non-essential workforces to worksites in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, a recent Mercer survey found some significant challenges they may face.
These organizations can learn much from the experiences of employers of essential workers who have remained at their worksites throughout the pandemic. Most notably, nearly 45% of responding employers with essential workers have had issues with employees not coming to work because they are afraid of getting sick. This problem is more widespread in industries like retail/wholesale, manufacturing, and healthcare, where the risk of exposure is higher.
“The fact that so many employers have reported issues with employees not coming to worksites due to fear of becoming ill underscores that the first priority is to develop a comprehensive plan to keep employees safe at work,” says Dr. David Zieg, Mercer’s Clinical Services Leader. “The second priority is to clearly communicate this plan to employees so as to allay their fears.”
The most important safety consideration, by far, is to maintain adequate distancing. While nearly all employers of essential workers have made changes to ensure employees keep the proper distance from coworkers and customers, nearly 30% say they have had problems doing so. There is not one distancing solution that will work in all situations, so employers will need a plan that best suits their specific workplace and staffing needs.
Overcoming the physical distancing challenge may also mean fewer employees in a worksite at a given time.
According to the survey, 63% of respondents planning for return to worksites are considering “staggered returns” with measures such as having employees whose last names start with A-M working on certain days and N-Z working other days. Other employers, about 44%, say they will create smaller work groups in order to limit the mixing of employees and groups in the workplace at the same time.
While 43% of respondents with essential workers say they have conducted COVID-19 screenings and assessments on-site, only about 35% of the respondents planning for return to work say they will conduct COVID-19 screening and assessments on-site, most commonly with temperature screenings at 26% and/or by administering a symptom questionnaire at 20%.
Although antibody testing is receiving heightened attention, just 4% of all respondents say they are planning to conduct serology screening for antibodies. This low percentage may reflect concerns about the reliability of the tests as well as the fact that much is still unknown about immunity to COVID-19. Just 3% say they will screen for the presence of the virus.