Staffing agencies address COVID-19 workplace practices, concerns

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- Posted
June 16, 2020

Unemployment claims caused by the coronavirus pandemic are skyrocketing in many parts of the U.S.

Some who are lucky enough to still have a paycheck are confined to working from home, using technology to link with their offices and duties.

But not everyone has the luxury work from home and for those who have to report to work in-person, staffing agencies on the Peninsula have some advice for them and their employers.

So what do employees need to know before going back to work or starting a new job and what do employers need to do to make sure the workplace is safe?

Sarah Fulton, vice president of operations for The Lee Group, a staffing agency with locations in Newport News, Chesapeake and Richmond, said employees need to communicate with their employers from mask use to morning temperature checks.

“I would say No. 1 ask the company what is the protocol, what are the expectations,” she said of employees working at a new job. “Ask lots of questions about what the expectations are, I would also encourage employees… [to have] open and honest communications about your level of risk.”

Some employers require their employees to wear masks in certain areas while others require daily temperature checks and masks to be worn while at work, she said.

The coronavirus has changed the way medical information is shared and employers are allowed to ask certain questions about health during the pandemic.

Fulton said employees should try not to be offended by such medical questions.

Employers can also make their workplaces safe for their employees by cleaning more frequently, limiting the amount of people in a workspace and offering masks to their employees.

“Sanitizing practices are what I think everyone wants to physically see,” Fulton said. “I think people are still trying to practice social distancing.”

Another thing employers should do is review their policies too such as paid time off, sick leave and making sure they are in line with the CARES Act, Fulton added.

“One of the things were putting in place [is] establishing a protocol for regular notification outside of business hours,” she said.

That applies to employees who call out sick over the weekend or got tested for COVID-19 are waiting for results.

“We have to know that if you suspect anything,” she said, if employees feel sick. “I would almost say over-communicate.”

Fulton said the problem is trying to shift the culture of working through an illness if a person does not feel well.

“It’s a big deal to change the American culture, that American work ethic,” she said. “Oh I just have a cough and a couple days later…before you know it, you affected 50 people.”

“Six months ago, if someone called our offices “I think I’ve got a cold”, we’d be like ‘go in, you’re fine.’ It’s a big deal to make that switch,” she said.

Another recommendation is to be flexible and ask questions, even if they might sound stupid.

“Nobody can predict the future,” she said. “What I can predict is there will probably be more change.”

At Integrity Staffing Services in Newport News, staffing coordinator Paolo Esguerra said extra steps are being done to ensure the safety of employees and employers. Before placing an employee in a new workplace, Integrity will do a pre-screening to make sure they haven’t been exposed and aren’t showing symptoms of the virus.

The business will then do a post health survey to make sure they’re healthy enough to continue working.

As the coronavirus changes the workplace landscape, some employers are slow to hire on more individuals partially because of health concerns.

“It’s slower than expected with these phases,” Esguerra said. “I think a lot of businesses are preparing themselves for a higher volume of customers because everyone has been quarantining for so long…But from a business standpoint of having essential workers on the front lines, you want to be cautious.”

Esguerra said the pandemic has helped open the door for important conversations about health and safety to happen between employees and employers.

Before starting at a new company, employees are encouraged to learn about the sick leave and workers compensation and employers more than ever are looking at how to improve health in the workplace.

Employees and businesses also are having discussions about the proper personal protective equipment that would be supplied and about health conditions that would make someone more susceptible to the virus.

“With the volume of people coming back being slow, businesses are easing their workers into returning,” he said. “There’s a high volume of people wanting to go out and spend money, but businesses are still trying to take it slow.”