The COVID‑19 pandemic has disrupted the day-to-day functioning of businesses and public agencies in myriad ways, raising safety worries and motivating a large shift to remote work. Amid these changes, employers have obligations to support their sick employees, protect their healthy ones, and figure out how to restart normal operations in a safe and prudent manner. In this interview, Diane Campanile, the founder of human resources (HR) firm People-Dynamics, tells Irrigation Leader about the rules and regulations all employers should be aware of in these challenging times.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about yourself and your company, People-Dynamics.
Diane Campanile: I started People-Dynamics in 2018 after serving for many years in HR in both public and private organizations at various levels. People-Dynamics concentrates on assisting small to mid-size organizations in need of HR expertise and assistance. Our focus is on employer compliance. I received my formal education from West Chester University, the Wharton School of Business, and Villanova University. I am enrolled at Tulane Law School.
Irrigation Leader: What are the top HR concerns amid the COVID‑19 pandemic?
Diane Campanile: Employers are deciding how to bring employees back into the workplace, whether they have been telecommuting, laid off, or reporting to their regular place of work each day. It will need to be determined whether temporary layoffs and furloughs constitute a separation of employment; that will determine whether employees who are brought back need rehire or new hire paperwork.
Another task is designing offices that provide social distancing, developing policies and procedures that keep employees safe, and working to create and sustain a positive culture. It will be necessary to enforce social distancing and hygiene measures and to clean workspaces sufficiently. Offices with open floor plans and cubicles pose a challenge, particularly with regard to cleaning the cubicles, many of which are made of fabric, and figuring out how to distance them. Daily sanitation is going to be required.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about the recent federal legislation dealing with employers’ responsibilities during the pandemic.
Diane Campanile: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), effective on April 1, provides sick leave and extended family leave to employees who are out of work for a number of reasons related to COVID‑19. The extended family leave portion of the act covers employees who need to care for children 14 years old and under who are not attending a school building or do not have proper childcare as a result of COVID‑19. Employees are being asked to return to work at a time when our schools and childcare centers are still closed, and they’re still going to ask to remain out of work beyond the time allotted by the FFCRA.
Under the FFCRA, an employee is only allotted up to 2 weeks of sick time. Once it is exhausted, it’s gone. This is why we are seeing eligible employees request to use the extended family leave portion first. They are saving their sick time in case they need it in the future.
Irrigation Leader: How much total time can employees take from work?
Diane Campanile: The FFCRA allows for up to a total of 12 weeks. It is important to note that there are some circumstances in which this time may be more contained, for example if the employee has used traditional family and medical leave time in the past year.
Irrigation Leader: What is your advice for organizations drafting a policy for returning employees?
Diane Campanile: Employers should remember that this has been a difficult time for employees who may have lost family or friends or sustained financial hardships due to this virus. They are still concerned. Employers need to act in good faith, make required changes to the workplace to ensure the safety of their employees, and consider reasonable accommodations for employees at high risk of contracting the virus.
Clients have considered bringing employees back on a rotating basis: first group A employees and then group B employees. However, some medical professionals have suggested that this increases the likelihood that somebody in the building has COVID‑19. It may be better to bring some employees back while allowing others who can telecommute to continue for now.
Employers need to prepare for visitors to the workplace. Consider a notice requesting that those with symptoms not enter. Employers should already have a visitor log in place to keep track of those in their building. Have your visitors confirm that they do not have any of the symptoms described by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). People-Dynamics can supply any interested employers a copy of a self-screening questionnaire for employees and visitors. Require guests to use hand sanitizer and a mask if appropriate.
Irrigation Leader: What sorts of personal protective equipment are employers obligated to supply their employees when they return?
Diane Campanile: At this point, it depends on the state and the industry, but we think employers will be encouraged, if not required, to make masks available for their employees. Most of my clients plan on providing masks.
Irrigation Leader: Are employers required to deep clean work areas?
Diane Campanile: Yes; they are going to be responsible for ensuring that the workplace meets reasonable standards. Sanitation instructions are specifically outlined on the CDC website. We are seeing claims come in from employees who contend that they have contracted the virus while at work. It will be interesting to see how that plays out, but we believe that it is in employers’ best interest to deep clean their offices every 24 hours.
Irrigation Leader: What other policies should employers have in place with regard to COVID‑19?
Diane Campanile: Employers should create a telecommuting policy if they do not have one already. Next, they should work on a return-to-work policy. Employees may be required to self-screen prior to coming into the organization’s facilities. This can be done through new technology available on cell phones. Another thing to consider is a policy requiring employees to attest to daily review and self-monitoring. Nonexempt employees should be paid for the time it takes to be screened. As most employers are aware, they may be eligible to check their employees’ temperatures. If your organization adopts a policy to do so, ensure that the area where it is done is private and that the staff is properly trained.
Irrigation Leader: What are the best sources of information for employers who want to know what rules they have to comply with?
Diane Campanile: For any healthcare-related questions, the CDC; for any employment-related questions, the U.S. Department of Labor. Employers will need to pay attention to each website, along with that of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. Employers with labor union contracts should work with the union to make sure the measures put in place don’t violate their collective bargaining agreement.
Irrigation Leader: If folks have questions, can they contact you?
Diane Campanile: Absolutely. They can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or via our office phone at (484) 889‑9682.