Protecting Your Workers During the Pandemic

covid-19 workers

If you are one of the companies that has been deemed an essential employer and are remaining open during stay-at-home orders, you should be doing all you can to protect your workers against contracting COVID-19.

While some workers are really on the front lines of fighting the disease, like health care workers and emergency services personnel, there are many other people working in factories, grocery stores, warehouse and transportation, among other industries, that are also at risk to varying degrees.

The response to this has been varied. Some employers have taken steps to protect their workers. For example, some grocery stores have supplied cashiers with masks, face shields or plexiglass barriers between them and customers.

But not all employers are taking those steps and that’s ignited worker protests through a swath of industries:

  • After a mechanic tested positive for COVID-19, half the employees at his workplace stayed home to press the employer to clean the entire worksite before they would return.
  • Workers staged a walkout at a truck manufacturing facility because the company was not supplying them with hot water for washing their hands.
  • Bus drivers went on strike, saying the city they work for wasn’t doing enough to protect them.
  • 200 employees walked out of one warehouse after a worker tested positive for COVID-19.

Employers need to be careful, as failing to provide adequate protections against coronavirus to their workers could result in lawsuits and subsequent penalties if OSHA decides to strictly enforce its General Duty Clause.

What you can do

Facilities will vary in their own risks, but the following are some general areas that all employers should consider to reduce the risk or spread of infection in their workplaces, regardless of whether they are a large high-traffic facility like a food warehouse or a small hardware or specialty grocery store:

Providing personal protective equipment — This can range from gloves and masks to face shields.

Protective barriers or partitions — These could be partitions made of plexiglass so workers can communicate and make eye contact.

Air circulation — If you have fans or air conditioning units blowing, take steps to minimize air from fans blowing from one worker directly at another.

Spacing — Require employees to work at least 6 feet apart.

Hygiene — Place handwashing stations with hot water and soap or hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol in multiple locations, in order to encourage good hand hygiene. Also urge workers to avoid touching their faces.

Customer handling — Use rope-and-stanchion systems to keep customers from queueing or congregating near work areas. Mark spots on the floor spaced 6 feet apart to ensure social distancing.

Consider restricting the number of customers allowed inside the facility at any point in time. Also, consider options for increasing in-store pickup or delivery to minimize the number of customers shopping in store facilities.

Cleaning — Disinfect frequently touched surfaces in workspaces as well as doorknobs, buttons and controls. If you have customers entering your facilities, disinfect all public-facing areas, such as points of sale and service counters.

Employee issues — Add additional clock in/out stations. If possible, these should be spaced apart to reduce crowding in these areas.

Staggering schedules — Stagger workers’ arrival and departure times to avoid congregations of employees in parking areas, locker rooms and near time clocks. Stagger lunches as well, to avoid overcrowding in general areas where employees may often eat. If you have an area frequently used for lunches, make sure you enforce 6-feet spacing in that location too.

Keeping virus at bay — Actively encourage sick employees to stay home. Check temperatures of workers upon arrival — and consider checking customers’ temperatures too. If anybody is running a fever, they should not be allowed into the facility and should be asked to go home and call their doctor.

Want to know more?

OSHA has a fantastic COVID-19 resource page that outlines safety procedures that employers in a number of industries can implement to reduce the chance of transmission between workers, as well as between workers and customers. You can find it here.

How to Protect Your Business Teleconference Meetings

teleconference

Since face-to-face meetings are out of the question when most non-essential workers are under stay-at-home orders, many companies have opted for the teleconferencing app Zoom.

With the recent revelation that Zoom’s teleconferencing system is not always the most secure, it is still one of the least expensive and user-friendly options for holding meetings during the coronavirus outbreak.

Zoom has seen its user numbers exploded during the pandemic, but that has left it exposed to a number of different types of attacks and other problems like videos being exposed on the web. There are many alternatives to Zoom, but if you want to continue using the service, you should understand the security implications and what you can do to protect yourself, other participants and your company.

The risks

Because of complaints, Zoom in mid-April said it was working to fix a number of bugs and security holes in its system.

While some issues have plagued the system for a few years, others were recently discovered as usage surged in the first three months of 2020. Here’s a list:

Stolen passwords — One of the more recent vulnerabilities that was discovered was one that allowed hackers to steal Windows passwords.

Eavesdropping — Two other newly discovered holes could let hackers remotely install malware on affected Macs and eavesdrop on meetings.

Phishing attacks — Hackers are creating fake Zoom links and websites to lure people to log in. In so doing they can steal financial details, spread malware and steal Zoom ID numbers and passwords, which allows them to infiltrate meetings.

‘Zoombombing’ — This occurs when uninvited guests gain entry to private meetings. This typically happens for large events after log-in details were announced on social media, but it is happening in smaller meetings as well. Typically, these infiltrators will disrupt the meeting with profanities and insults or by streaming porn for the other participants to see.

Hackers are using the same techniques to eavesdrop on or disrupt business meetings.

Meeting recordings exposed — This can only happen if the meeting organizer records the meeting. A Washington Post investigation found thousands of private Zoom videos that had been posted on the web. The exposed video calls included private business discussions, casual conversations with friends, therapy sessions, and nudity. Many of these videos seem to have been made public by mistake.

Meetings are typically not recorded. The default setting on Zoom does not record meetings. But meeting hosts can save the videos on Zoom’s servers or their own computers without participants’ consent.

Tips to keep your Zoom meetings private

  • Don’t post your Zoom meeting IDs publicly. Send them privately by e-mails or using a messaging app.
  • Create a new ID for every meeting. Don’t recycle old ones from prior meetings.
  • Adjust the Zoom settings to require participants to enter a password to access the meeting.
  • Enable Zoom’s “Waiting Room” feature. This lets you keep participants in a digital queue until you approve them to join the session. Beginning April 4, Zoom enabled the feature by default, requiring additional password settings for free users. Zoom has a guide to the feature on its website.
  • If you are worried about abuse, you can turn off a number of features, such as private chats, annotation and file transfers.
  • Keep the Zoom desktop app up to date, so that any patches Zoom makes to security vulnerabilities are added to your device.
  • If you are concerned about hackers accessing your data and you don’t need to screen share, you may want to use Zoom only on mobile devices such as a smartphone or tablet. These seem to be less susceptible to hacking.
  • Build awareness of Zoom phishing scams into user training programs. Users should only download the Zoom client from a trusted site and check for anything suspicious in the meeting URL when joining a meeting.
  • Ensure all home workers have anti-malware protection, including phishing detection installed from a reputable vendor.

 

Tips for Successful Telecommuting During Outbreak

telecommute

As the coronavirus spread ramps up and more people are being asked to self-isolate, many employers are scrambling to put systems in place to allow their employees to telecommute.

Many companies are not set up for telecommuting arrangements, and they have legitimate concerns about productivity, communications ― and even the possibility of workers’ comp claims stemming from home hazards that may not be typical in the workplace.

But there are steps you can take to make sure that you keep your employees engaged and on task.

1. Make sure they have the right technology

If you don’t already have one, you may want to consider setting up a company VPN so your employees can access their company e-mail and databases. Any employee working from home should also be provided with a company laptop and make sure that they have an internet connection that is fast enough to handle their workload.

Also provide an infrastructure for them to be able to work together on files. If they are not sensitive company documents, they can use Dropbox or Google Documents.

These services allow multiple editors to view and update documents simultaneously, from remote locations. This ability to check up on your employees’ work helps keep them honest. Plus, a centralized online location for shared work files minimizes the likelihood that important files will be accidentally lost or deleted.

2. Provide clear instructions

It’s extremely important that you provide clear instructions to remote workers. Some people do not perform well without direct oversight and human interaction. Without that factor, you will need to spell out your expectations and the parameters of the project they are working on in detail.

Make it clear that if they are confused or unsure about any part of the work, they should contact a supervisor for clarification. If you can eliminate misunderstandings, then your workers can be more efficient.

3. Schedule regular check-ins

To hold your employees accountable for being on the clock, schedule calls or virtual meetings at regular intervals. Even regular instant messaging works. Use these meetings to allow them to update their superiors on their work. This also helps with productivity, since there are consequences for failing to meet expectations and showing up to the meeting empty-handed.

Their supervisors should be working when they are, so they can be in regular communication. If your employees know when their supervisors are working, and vice versa, then you also create a collaborative environment where they can ask and answer questions and provide input.

4. Keep employees engaged, feeling part of the team

One of the hardest parts of working from home is the feelings of isolation and detachment from colleagues. It’s important that you build in interactive time for your workers.

One way to do that is by using a chat program like Slack, Hangouts or WhatsApp (which has a group chat function). For remote workers, these programs are a blessing because they make it easy to keep in touch with their colleagues in and out of the office ― and they level the playing field, so to speak, by making distance a non-issue.

You can also encourage your staff to collaborate and use Skype, Facetime or Google Hangouts to video chat. Using video services creates a distinctly more intimate and real-feeling work environment for both parties.

5. Cyber protection

With more employees working from home, you also increase your cyber risk exposure, especially if they are using a company computer that is tapped into your firm’s database or cloud.

You should impress upon your employees the need to follow cyber protection best practices, such as:

  • Not clicking on suspicious links in e-mails from unknown senders.
  • Making sure that their systems have the latest security updates and patches.
  • Backing up their data daily.
  • Training them on phishing, ransomware and malware scams, especially new ones that try to take advantage of people’s fears about COVID-19.

The takeaway

If you’ve not had staff telecommuting in the past or are asking many employees who never have worked in that way to telecommute, there will be some growing pains as you work out the kinks.

But if you follow the above tips, it will make the transition easier and less painful for your workers, their managers and the organization as a whole.

Coronavirus Could Trigger Multiple Insurance Policies

coronavirus mask

COVID-19 is forcing businesses to face a number of risks, liability and insurance implications.

Companies could seek coverage for a variety of claims stemming from the outbreak, including workers’ compensation, business interruption, liability and more.

And, now that it is a pandemic, the economic fallout may be expansive — hitting your company’s operations in the form of lower sales or supply chain disruptions.

Now is a good time to understand which of your insurance policies could come into play.

Workers’ compensation

Workers’ compensation policies generally extend insurance benefits to employees for injuries and illnesses “arising out of or in the course of employment.”

That wording makes it difficult for most workers to file a claim if they suspect that they got the coronavirus at work, presumably from another employee, customer or visitor to the workplace. But if an employer knows that the virus is in the workplace, coverage could apply.

Workers’ compensation could come into play in the following instances:

  • Health care personnel who work where there are patients being treated and tested for COVID-19 would have a strong claim if they contracted the virus.
  • Employees who travel overseas for business and contract the illness.
  • Employees who are exposed to the illness at work by an infected co-worker.
  • Employees who are assigned to work in a location with infected parties.

However, workers’ comp insurance would likely not cover employees who are working on assignments abroad for more than a short time.

Business interruption

One major fallout from the spread of COVID-19 is that it has cut into global supply chains, forcing manufacturers around the world to suspend production. This has been especially true for companies that rely on China for their parts and materials.

But now that the virus has exploded in a number of countries, the threat to supply chains will only increase. This has already started affecting companies in the United States. If your company’s operations are affected or stopped due to the virus, you may be wondering if the business interruption coverage in your property policy or business owner policy may payout.

Business interruption coverage replaces income that was lost due to a disaster, such as a fire on the premises of the company or one of its suppliers, or a hurricane that hinders a company from operating.

However, any hit to your income from coronavirus would not be physical damage, which is a prerequisite for this coverage. Viruses and disease are typically not an insured peril unless added by endorsement. In many cases, the policy may specifically exclude coverage for viruses and diseases.

There is potential coverage through communicable disease coverage under proprietary insurance carrier forms if the insured is closed by a “public health authority” order for closure, decontamination, etc. But it’s worth noting that these usually require the order to happen, so the insured cannot voluntarily decide to close and then claim coverage.

General liability

In terms of liability, a third party — customer, vendor or guest — could claim they were sickened on your property and sue your business for negligence for failing to provide a clean facility, which could trigger your commercial general liability policy.

Any company that deals with the public or customers, like a retailer, restaurant, hotel, daycare center or gym, would be at greatest risk for this type of action.

While the chances of them winning such a case would be small, you could still face legal bills, which your CGL policy would typically cover. If there is coverage, it would come under the policy’s “bodily injury” portion.

Some CGL policies exclude claims arising from a pandemic, virus or bacteria, so read your policy carefully. Many insurers also include broadly worded pollution exclusions that could preclude or limit coverage.

Business travel accident insurance

This insurance could cover employees who travel on business domestically or internationally, foreign employees of U.S.-based businesses and U.S. employees on offshore assignments. The insurance provides:

  • Traditional accidental death & dismemberment coverage.
  • Emergency evacuation, repatriation, and out-of-country medical benefits that cover costs for the treatment and transportation of sick or injured employees.
  • Optional coverage for unexpected medical expenses.

Train Your Workers in COVID-19 Prevention

coronavirus covid-19

As the COVID-19 virus spreads across the world and the number of cases growing in the U.S., there is a lot of hysteria and misinformation about how to protect yourself from this new virus strain.

More and more people are wearing surgical masks when they go outside, thinking it will protect them, and some people have stopped drinking Corona beer because the virus is a coronavirus. This has left plenty of people not sure what they can do to avoid catching it themselves. There are also obvious concerns about workplaces as the virus spreads some employees may be afraid to come to work.

You should consider talking to your staff about how to protect themselves and consider holding a meeting to go over the main points they should follow. To help, we’ve compiled best practices information from the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization to provide you with unfiltered advice so you can protect yourself and your family:

What should I do to protect myself and others?

The most common way for this disease to spread is from a person touching a surface that has been infected through a sneeze or cough from a carrier. And then the person touches their eye, nose or mouth. That’s all it takes.

  • Be mindful of what you touch all day. If you press elevator or ATM buttons, use a knuckle instead of a fingertip, while on escalators or stairs try to avoid touching the handrail.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth and if you have touched something in public, do not touch your face at any time until you have a chance to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.
  • When washing, wet your hands with clean water, lather soap on every surface, scrub your hands together for at least 20 seconds, and rinse before drying. Just how long is 20 seconds? Humming the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Clean “high-touch” surfaces (like doorknobs and counters) in your home every day with a solution or half rubbing alcohol and half water.
  • Clean your mobile phone daily. Most people are touching their phones hundreds of times a day, making it ripe for harboring the coronavirus.
  • Stay away from people you know you are sick and stay away from someone who is coughing or sneezing near you.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • If you cough, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. If none is available, sneeze into your arm or cover it with your hands. Wash your hands as soon as possible after a sneeze.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe. 

Should I wear a mask to protect myself?

Health experts recommend against using a mask. Most people have been using simple surgical masks which do nothing to protect the wearer from airborne viruses expelled through an infected person’s coughs and sneezes. These types of masks are more designed to keep the wearer from spreading whatever they have.

There is one type of mask that is more suitable for protection: The N95 mask, which is named so because it can filter out 95% of airborne particles, but even these are not foolproof and must often be fitted properly to provide the desired protection. The CDC does not recommend wearing an N95 mask if you have not been trained in how to wear it.

Stockpile stuff for your home

Experts suggest stocking at least a 30-day supply of any needed prescriptions, and you should consider doing the same for household items like food staples, laundry detergent, and diapers, if you have small children.

Remember, alcohol is a good disinfectant for coronaviruses so make sure to keep surfaces in your home clean.

What if you get sick?

The WHO recommends that if you feel sick, you should stay home. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance to let them know your symptoms and that you are coming. Follow the directions of your local health authority.

Employer Guide for Dealing with the Coronavirus

coronavirus

As the outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus gains momentum and potentially begins to spread in North America, employers will have to start considering what steps they can take to protect their workers while fulfilling their legal obligations.

Employers are in a difficult position because it is likely that the workplace would be a significant source of transmission among people. And if you have employees in occupations that may be of higher risk of contracting the virus, you could be required to take certain measures to comply with OSHA’s General Duty Clause.

On top of that, if you have workers who come down with the virus, you will need to consider how you’re going to deal with sick leave issues. Additionally, workers who are sick or have a family member who is stricken may ask to take time off under the Family Medical Leave Act.

Coronavirus explained

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the virus is transmitted between humans from coughing, sneezing and touching, and it enters through the eyes, nose and mouth.

Symptoms include a runny nose, a cough, a sore throat, and high temperature. After two to 14 days, patients will develop a dry cough and mild breathing difficulty. Victims also can experience body aching, gastrointestinal distress and diarrhea.

Severe symptoms include a temperature of at least 100.4ºF, pneumonia, and kidney failure.

Employer concerns

OSHA — OSHA’s General Duty Clause requires an employer to protect its employees against “recognized hazards” to safety or health which may cause serious injury or death.

According to an analysis by the law firm Seyfarth Shaw: If OSHA can establish that employees at a worksite are reasonably likely to be “exposed” to the virus  (likely workers such as health care providers, emergency responders, transportation workers), OSHA could require the employer to develop a plan with procedures to protects its employees.

Protected activity — If you have an employee who refuses to work if they believe they are at risk of contracting the coronavirus in the workplace due to the actual presence or probability that it is present there, what do you do?

Under OSHA’s whistleblower statutes, the employee’s refusal to work could be construed as “protected activity,” which prohibits employers from taking adverse action against them for their refusal to work.

Family and Medical Leave Act — Under the FMLA, an employee working for an employer with 50 or more workers is eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave if they have a serious health condition. The same applies if an employee has a family member who has been stricken by coronavirus and they need to care for them.

The virus would likely qualify as a serious health condition under the FMLA, which would warrant unpaid leave.

What to do

Here’s what health and safety experts are recommending you do now:

  • Consider restricting foreign business trips to affected areas for your employees.
  • Perform medical inquiries to the extent legally permitted.
  • Impose potential quarantines for employees who have traveled to affected areas. Ask them to get a fitness-for-duty note from their doctor before returning to work.
  • Educate your staff about how to reduce the chances of them contracting the virus, as well as what to do if they suspect they have caught it.

If you have an employee you suspect has caught the virus, experts recommend that you:

  • Advise them to stay home until symptoms have run their course.
  • Advise them to seek out medical care.
  • Make sure they avoid contact with others.
  • Contact the CDC and local health department immediately.
  • Contact a hazmat company to clean and disinfect the workplace.
  • Grant leaves of absence and work from home options for anyone who has come down with the coronavirus.

If there is a massive outbreak in society, consider whether or not to continue operating. If you plan to continue, put a plan in place. You may want to:

  • Set a plan ahead of time for how to continue operations.
  • Assess your staffing needs in case of a pandemic.
  • Consider alternative work sites or allowing staff to work from home.
  • Stay in touch with vendors and suppliers to see how they are coping.
  • Consider seeking out alternative vendors should yours suddenly be unable to work.