Human Resource managers are conducting contact investigations.
Workers are demanding answers they sometimes can’t get.
And bosses are doing their best to enforce social distancing and other health precautions as COVID-19 makes its way into workplaces across New Hampshire.
While there are no hard and fast rules, several companies said they look to guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and prevention for how to operate during the pandemic.
The guidelines include topics as varied as flexible sick leave policies, alternate supply chains, and fresh air in the workplace.
“Where telework is not possible, we continue to take steps to limit exposure, to include enhanced cleaning, limiting in-person meetings, and other forms of social distancing, and will continue to evaluate what additional steps may be needed,” said Shelley Walcott, a spokesman for BAE Systems, one of the largest employers in the state.
BAE fits into the hundreds of categories that Gov. Chris Sununu has designated as essential industries that can remain in operation, including utilities, public safety, food processors and manufacturing companies.
Exposure at work
When people come together to work, the potential for exposure exists.
“That’s a very real concern. You’re hearing about it in supermarkets, delivery workers as more and more people test positive,” said Charla Stevens, a lawyer in the employment practice group at McLane Middleton.
Her firm is fielding many calls from clients about what to do in the case of exposure and how an employee can access benefits.
Her advice: Provide as much information to employees as legally possible and tell any employee who fears exposure to consult with a doctor.
Two weeks ago, workers at the UPS Gateway operation at the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport were told that an employee on the 74-worker evening shift had tested positive for COVID-19, said Daniel Lombardo, an employee there.
He said management would not say who the worker was, in what part of the operation the person worked, or when the person was last at work.
The Health Department had been contacted, Lombardo recounted, and the managers told workers they were fine. If workers wanted, they could go home without pay, he said, recounting the conversation.
“Them saying we have no cause for concern gives me absolutely no comfort,” said Lombardo, who is 58, asthmatic and cares for his elderly parents.
He also questioned sanitary practices, especially of the equipment that UPS workers use to move the containers where packages are stored.
A UPS spokesman said people who come in close contact with an infected worker are notified and told to watch for symptoms. If their doctor tells them to quarantine, they are eligible for paid time off, said Matthew O’Connor, a spokesman for UPS.
“We clean and sanitize the work area in question before employees are allowed to return to the work area. We do not specifically identify the employee due to personal privacy concerns,” he said.
Stevens said it is important for personnel managers to ask as many questions of a COVID-positive employee as they can.
When did the worker believe he got infected and what days did he show up at work? What co-workers did he make contact with? What locations did he work, not just a desk or work station, but restrooms and break rooms.
“If he went to shipping and receiving (briefly), you’d be entitled to know,” Stevens said.
That information should be provided to any co-workers who possibly came into contact with the person.
“It’s fair for the employee to have some information that they can take to the medical provider and get some medical advice,” Stevens said.
Employers should not disclose the identity of the worker, Stevens said. But nothing stops an infected worker from telling co-workers, and in a small operation workers will be able to figure out who the person is.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which President Trump signed into law March 18, mandates two weeks of pay for people quarantined by health officials or their doctor, as well as two weeks of pay to care for someone under quarantine.
It applies to employers of fewer than 500 people. Larger companies — BAE, for example — often say they follow CDC guidelines.
Last month, the CDC recommended flexible sick leave policies and non-punitive emergency sick leave policies. It even said employers should not require a positive COVID-19 test result or doctor’s note to validate sick leave.
“Healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely manner,” the CDC said.
The state of New Hampshire, which has a workforce of more than 13,000, on Friday issued new workplace protocols to cover issues such as possible exposure.
“The general principle is to make sure anyone who might reasonably have come in contact with an affected employee will be fully informed,” wrote Charles Arlinghaus, commissioner of administrative services for New Hampshire, in an email.
“Because of confidentiality requirements, the name of the person is not revealed but as much information as possible about assignments and movements is revealed.”