As many states move into advanced stages of reopening following COVID-19 closures, employees expect clear policies for maintaining a safe workplace; likewise, employers want to ensure they can effectively keep their workforce healthy. However, major challenges loom for employers seeking to bring back their workforce, including reopening multiple work sites in different states, determining which employees have come in contact with infected individuals, and staying up-to-date on changing government regulations.
In a recent webinar hosted by Castlight Health, former President and CEO of the Business Group on Health Brian Marcotte outlined the top ways employers are managing workforce health amidst the rapidly evolving COVID-19 environment:
As the clearest way to identify infected individuals, employers understand that robust testing is a basic requirement for reopening and that testing requirements and testing access protocols must be specific to their workforce’s needs. Some large employers are offering on-site tests, while some are directing employees to use at-home testing kits. Testing strategies have high variability across employers, as it changes to meet their unique needs. For employers who are directing employees to testing sites, Castlight’s free Test Site Finder offers the nation’s most comprehensive COVID-19 test site directory.
Symptom attestation is top of mind for employers, with 97 percent of employers recently surveyed requiring employees to self-report symptoms. Asking employees experiencing symptoms to stay home from work can prevent disease spread, but employers also need to consider next steps. For example, employers may want to direct symptomatic employees to a test or physician appointment. Employers will need to maintain confidentiality with this PHI and ensure they are compliant with regulations, which vary frequently and by location. While symptom attestation is foundational and necessary for most employers, it alone isn’t sufficient to keep the workforce safe and well.
Employers are implementing contact tracing, the practice of mapping out other individuals an infected person has been in contact with. At least 44 states and DC have been expanding the contact tracing workforce, underscoring its public health value. Once again, protocols vary by workforce needs. Some employers are manually recording contact through employee self-reporting, which offers a low barrier to entry, but isn’t scalable for large employers and is very susceptible to human error. Other contact tracing methods include Bluetooth phone tracking and GPS tracking. Bluetooth offers data privacy and is highly scalable, but has its limitations as well, such as differentiating between face-to-face contact and safe proximity that is protected by barriers. GPS tracking, which is the most accurate and comprehensive option, shows not only who a person contacted but where they have been. However, privacy has been raised as a potential concern for GPS tracking. In choosing a method, employers must consider employee training, scalability, and length of time employees will be required to report—especially as we increasingly find that COVID-19 is likely to impact workforces well into 2021.
61 percent of recently surveyed large employers are already implementing daily temperature checks. Some large employers have installed thermal cameras, which are able to quickly scan multiple employees’ temperatures from several feet away. Because of their high cost, smaller employers may choose non-contact thermometers that scan one person at a time. Employers must understand that temperature readings aren’t infallible and shouldn’t be the only precaution implemented. Still, thermal scanning is a valuable method for employers to demonstrate that action is being taken to keep employees safe and healthy.
Behavioral health support
Employers are recognizing the need for emotional support. In a recent survey, large employers cited employee anxiety as the number one challenge for reopening. During COVID-19, many are feeling mentally negatively impacted, which also affects physical health. One study found that 63 percent of workers reported increased anxiety, depression, or both, and 1 in 4 reported binge drinking at least once in the past week. Employers must break down barriers to care and actively assume everyone is experiencing behavioral health impact. This means that in addition to physical health check-ins, it’s important to screen for emotional impact and then guide to appropriate resources.
Which solution is right? Best practice is a holistic approach requiring multiple solutions—there is no single approach. When either building or buying a tool to help you manage these various pieces, it is important that it is: flexible and scalable, factors in local requirements, maintains data security, delivers an integrated care experience including behavioral health, and is built to evolve overtime.