Considering that the number of COVID-19 cases in this country recently surpassed 7 million and more than 200,000 Americans have died from the virus, it’s hard to imagine that there are still employees who don’t understand the importance of social distancing or wearing a mask to protect themselves against this serious global health threat.
Some believe the virus is a hoax. Others flat out refuse to wear a mask. On weekends, employees may socialize at restaurants or backyard barbeques without social distancing. Then they return to their jobs, sometimes with a mask hanging around their neck, and potentially spread the virus to co-workers, clients or customers.
Training your entire workforce about the importance of observing COVID-19 practices and policies is just as important as complying with state and local occupational, safety and health regulations. Ask around. How many employees are well informed? Could they explain your policies to state regulators after an outbreak occurs? Do they know who to contact at your company if they test positive for COVID-19? Their answers may surprise you. At the least, training programs can act like a safety net by minimizing virus outbreaks, preventing OSHA violations and related fines, or avoiding wrongful death lawsuits.
“There’s no reason not to educate the full [workforce] as to what your policies are and ask them to read and acknowledge them,” says Dan Wolff, partner at Crowell & Moring law firm. “Employees don’t get to dictate terms of the workplace but you need take this seriously.”
Besides, he adds, training programs help build a better workplace culture.
Training doesn’t need to be lengthy and can assume various formats. HR can lead a Zoom chat, create a 10-minute online video or email new or revised policy information. Even supervisors can conduct five-minute meetings at the beginning of the workday, asking employees to read and sign off on printed materials.
Then, spend time training managers and supervisors on how to consistently enforce these rules.
“If you have a mask policy in the workplace but half are disregarding it, action should be taken in the form of discipline,” Wolff says, adding that no policy is worth much unless enforced. “Discipline to the gravity of the situation.”
Meanwhile, he says, personal injury lawsuits are stemming from occupational exposure to COVID-19. He also expects wrongful death lawsuits to climb.
“This isn’t hard,” Wolff says. “We all know COVID is out there. It doesn’t take much to do a few things to diminish the risk in your workplace environment. Invest a little bit now [in training]. It’s a much better business move than ignoring it and facing lawsuits or citations.”