St. LOUIS — Educating employees about company policies is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Employees can’t comply or enforce a policy they don’t understand,” said Natalie Higgins, Equipment Dealers Association general counsel.
“Guidance is coming out at rapid fire, and this is probably not a short-term situation until we’ve got a vaccine,” Higgins said during an EDA Returning to Work in the Wake of COVID-19 webinar. “We need to be able to adapt our business practices for the long haul and remember that information I’m providing is as of May 5.”
Higgins advises dealerships to date their written policies and note if there is a sunset period.
“This is something that is going to continue to evolve, so you’re not going to develop a plan and be done,” Higgins said. “You need to continue to monitor the situation.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Mitigation Guidance, Higgins said, divides businesses into three categories based on the risk to the community, not just to a business.
Those categories include little or no COVID-19, minimal to moderate community transmission or substantial amounts.
“Your category could change dramatically over the next year,” Higgins said. “If you’re implementing polices or procedures in accordance with one of these categorizations that is a fluid concept and you need to be prepared if your risk escalates.”
Higgins discussed practical ways to keep dealership customers and employees safe including conducting health screenings at the start of the day and periodically during the work day.
“You need to keep the person doing the screenings safe and insure you are performing screenings in a non-discriminatory manner,” she said.
Screenings are not normally permitted under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“But during the pandemic prohibitions are waived to the extent needed to prevent a direct threat to the safety of others in the workplace, but be mindful that you’re not exceeding the scope of the exemption,” Higgins said.
“Employers should educate employees to self monitor for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and also teach them how to report signs and symptoms so sick employees can be removed from common areas and from the workplace,” she said. “We want to create a well-educated workforce that understands the risk and is actively working to keep others in the workplace safe.”
As dealerships develop policies for social distancing, including signage, markings and occupancy limitations, Higgins said, it is important to take in consideration local and state guidelines.
“You need to preach it, practice it and preach it again,” she said. “You have to talk to your employees about hand washing and hygiene and how to keep common surfaces clean.”
If employees use common items such as a phone, it is important to disinfect these items between uses.
“Put disinfectant wipes by a phone to minimize the inadvertent spread among employees,” Higgins said.
“You have to incentivize rather than penalize employees for helping to enforce policies,” she said. “The employees need to understand there’s no penalty for staying home if they have COVID-19 related symptoms and make sure you communicate clearly so the employees know their safety is top priority.”
Higgins answered the following questions during the webinar.
What should dealers do if a dealership employee is exposed?
“The CDC recommendations vary for critical and noncritical infrastructure workers. For critical workers the CDC does not mandate those employees who are asymptomatic to self quarantine. We need to pre-screen the employee, regular monitor that person, have the employee wear a mask for at least 14 days after the last exposure, abide by social distancing and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms and common areas routinely.”
What do I do if an employee tests positive?
“Employers should inform employees of possible exposure but the employer must maintain confidentiality of the employee. Make sure you are abiding by the CDC recommendations in terms of workplace sanitation.”
Can employers ask employees what symptoms they are experiencing if they call in sick?
“You are permitted to screen that employee for any symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19 such as fever, chills, shortness of breath or sore throat.”
Can we require taking temperatures of employees, screenings for symptoms and travel?
“Yes, but make sure you are doing them in compliance with CDC guidelines, you are protecting the person tasked with the screening process and not violating ADA guidelines for privacy.”
How long should an employee who tests positive stay home?
“If they have a physician’s order that’s what you should abide by. Otherwise the CDC says an employee can leave home after three days of no fever, all other symptoms have improved and at least seven days have passed since the symptoms first appeared.”
How do we handle employees who refuse to return to work in the dealership, either due to an irrational fear or due to liking the work from home?
“It depends on the agency’s interpretation of whether or not an employee’s fear of contracting COVID-19 constitutes a good cause. Employers are on solid ground if they extend an offer to return to work and the employee fails to do it, that employee jeopardizes his entitlement benefits. Consult with your local legal counsel.”
For more information about the Equipment Dealers Association, go to www.equipmentdealer.org.