At the 2022 WCRI Annual Conference, a panel discussed how the pandemic has changed the workplace. The speakers were:
- Denise Algire – Albertsons Companies
- Dan Allen – Construction Industry Service Corporation
- Craig Ross – Liberty Mutual
- Sebastian Negrusa – WCRI
Educational efforts around the vaccine have been successful in many industries, leading to high vaccination rates among employees. While some companies implemented vaccine mandates for a variety of reasons, most did not feel this was necessary.
The Department of Labor (DOL) has classified “long COVID” as a disability that requires accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Long COVID can present in a variety of conditions, most of which are not exclusive to a COVID side effect, making it difficult to discern from other illnesses. Over 200 different symptoms in 20 different body systems have been identified, with long-term symptoms being more common in employees who were hospitalized. Additionally, COVID patients who were hospitalized have shown a greater risk for long-term cardiac issues.
COVID Safety in the Workforce
Essential businesses had to find ways to keep operating during the worst part of the pandemic, utilizing measures like masking, social distancing (when possible), hand sanitizing, and anything that could protect their employees from contracting COVID. These measures were used to protect employees from one another and to prevent anyone in the general public.
As mask mandates are lifted and restrictions are lessened, employers may struggle to find the right approach. Some are choosing to allow their workers to continue to work remote full-time. Others have a hybrid model with employees, including time in the office and remote.
Data shows that workers are currently working longer hours, in large part because of inadequate staffing. There is concern that these extended hours will lead to fatigue, overexertion and increased injury rates and severity.
In an effort to increase staffing immediately, there are also concerns regarding the deemphasis of workforce training.
Employers looking to improve efficiency and operate in an environment with a smaller workforce need to be innovative in their efforts to automate tasks where possible.
With the number of employees working remotely and an inability to effectively control safety and ergonomics measures, there will be an increase in accidents for home-based workplaces. Monitoring these accidents will be important to developing case law regarding what constitutes an increased risk from a remote workplace.
Workplace Violence and Mental Health
Mental stressors associated with the pandemic have lead to an increase in workplace violence. In the service industry, employees face an increasingly violent and confrontational customer base, which can be decreased through de-escalation training.
In addition, suicide rates in certain industries, like construction or first responders, is increasing. Employers are placing more emphasis on mental health as part of their overall wellness programs.
Positive Lessons from the Pandemic
Risk management is more important than ever, garnering the attention of the C-suite. As a result, there is more of an emphasis on health, safety and employee wellness in the workplace than ever before. This has further encouraged sick employees to work from home rather than to put other employees in the office at risk, which has been critical amongst the pandemic.