Fit to be Screened
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Traditionally, the term “Fit-for-Work” (or, as it’s known to our English cousins across The Pond, “Fit-for-Duty”) referred to the form signed by an employee’s doctor following their return from a work-related injury or illness, signifying that they were “cleared” to resume their previous assigned tasks, or some possibly modified version of them. This typically absolved the employer from any liability, and became both the medical and legal basis for the employee’s return to work.

Nowadays many employers, primarily through their supervisors, crew leaders, and forepersons, have to make daily determinations whether employees presenting themselves at the worksite are not only physically able to perform their jobs, but also can they do so at minimal risk to others. This includes observing and inquiring about employees’ physical well-being, availability of protective equipment, possible impairments (which aren’t limited to illegal drugs or alcohol; properly prescribed medications carry their own cautionary concerns and liabilities), and even their current mental state, which could negatively impact their ability to perform their tasks in a focused, mindful, and safe manner.

Now, enter COVID-19, stage left.

What was once a basic question of whether an employee is “fit-for-work”, has now become a more complicated determination of “Fit-for-Worksite”. Simple, almost casual medical symptoms such as a cough, or low-grade fever, which in the past were universally ignored (unless the employee absented themselves from work) are now potential grounds for denying admittance to the work location itself. These steps have become necessary as employers have a legal and ethical obligation to put protective measures in place to defend employees not only from possible work hazards, but also from one another. None of this is particularly surprising or revelatory. Providing employees a safe, secure environment in which they can perform that which they were hired to do is at the heart of the accepted universal workplace compact.

But who’s going to defend the employer?

Many law firms and legal publications are reporting a large, ever-increasing number of lawsuits filed against employers by current or former employees, all related somehow to the COVID-19 Pandemic. This includes claims regarding Whistleblower Retaliation, Improper Termination, Discrimination, Unsafe Working Conditions, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)/Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) violations, and many other related and unrelated issues. This is above and beyond the massive number of OSHA and State Agency complaints filed by employees regarding some of the above. Undoubtedly, these waters are not only uncharted, but also quite turbulent.

Two, related steps come to mind: The first is to continually screen employees arriving to work for any symptoms or potential exposure to COVID-19, and adhere to a policy which ensures minimal collateral damage (read: infections) to co-workers. The second step has to do with documentation: from the moment of screening, all interactions and communications must be fully recorded and memorialized. This includes the screening data intake, the determination (“Fit/Unfit”), the process resolution (sending the employee home, or to a healthcare provider), and any and all subsequent communications. This documentation is vital on three counts: one, it helps maintain an empirical record of the encounter with an employee; two, by conducting it across the board, it demonstrates the fairness of the screening process itself; and third, it facilitates the generation of quantitative reports which will help analyze trends and evidence proper, consistent implementation of policies and procedures.

Naturally, it’s very costly and cumbersome to conduct such a process manually, using paper. Compatica, the Workplace Incident Recording application, has recently introduced a “Fit-for-Work” employee screening feature that facilitates rapid, accurate, and comprehensive intakes, delivers immediate, targeted notifications, creates indelible records of screenings and determinations, and documents a fair, equitable, and consistent process. 

Of the many generic and industry-specific tasks we need to undertake in these new, discombobulated times, Workplace Employee Screening may be not only the easiest and most cost-effective defense mechanism, but possibly also the most impactful. Visit www.compatica.com to find out more about our innovative workplace recording solutions.

Bob and Tom, for the win…
Posted on by Adee FeinsteinLeave a comment on Bob and Tom, for the win…

In his 2001 song “Mississippi”, Grammy, Oscar, Golden Globe, Pulitzer and Nobel winner Bob Dylan informs us “You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way”. I’ve been pondering the relevance of this pronouncement in the context of our current times, and came to the conclusion that, as always, Bob knew exactly what he was talking about.

The Coronavirus outbreak and ensuing COVID-19 pandemic have not only altered many aspects of our daily lives for the duration, but have also created a “New Normal” to which we’re all going to need to get used to. It’s entirely possible that the handshake will disappear; face-mask violations, once the sole dominion of Football officials on the gridiron, are now cited at grocery stores throughout the land; and the massive proliferation of home delivery services is certainly here to stay.

By far the biggest societal impact has been the rapid adoption of technological solutions to compensate for disallowed face-to-face interaction: all educational providers, from K-12 through Graduate Schools, after-school tutoring services and music instructors, have shifted over to online classes. Businesses and public-service entities (such as Local and Federal Government agencies) alike have sent employees to work from home, deploying Virtual Private Networks, Voice Over IP telephony, and a massive quantity of computer notebooks. The slightly dated, much-maligned Apple iPad has emerged as the one indispensable device with which one can manage all their remote interactions. This Passover, millions of families conducted extended Seder meals, connecting to their loved ones via Zoom teleconferencing (one of our friends had twelve families in their Seder connecting-up this way). Finally, an alternative to traveling to one’s In-Laws…

As we begin to emerge from our shelter-in-place and stay-at-home existences, and start the process of returning to our places of employment, we may find that, along with the handshake and morning stand-up meetings, another thing may have disappeared from our workplaces: Paper. For hundreds of years, paper has been the preferred method of collecting and distributing information; no more. People are simply going out of their way to avoid touching documents handled by others, and even paper money is getting short-shrifted these days, with many businesses opting to no longer accept the USA’s venerable “Legal Tender”. If your HR director won’t hold Benjamins in her hand, how do you think she’ll feel about processing an Injury Report, which had been serially filled-out by six of your co-workers, one of which was bleeding at the time?

Truth be told, most businesses already have long ago implemented various technologies for contact-free communications and interaction with the outside world: emails are a routine part of customer and supplier relationships, as are online order forms, electronic billing and payment systems, bid submittal portals and digital document signatures all represent methods which have not only greatly improved operating efficiencies, but also keep microbes, germs, and (non-electronic) viruses at bay. I expect to see an even greater reliance on these (and other) mechanisms, especially in Business-to-Consumer interactions.

But what about our Workplace interactions and paper flow?

Most organizations still rely on in-house designed paper forms to convey information from remote job sites back to the head office. This is true of distribution companies who leave a few blank accident forms in the trucks’ glove compartment, the contractors who keep a stack of incident reports in the construction trailer, or the city landscapers that tear up the park office looking for that elusive safety inspection form. If that sounds familiar, don’t feel bad about it, you’re in good company: most organizations tend to make significant investments in “outwards facing” data communication technology, with a lessened focus on internal paperflow, certainly when it comes to more sporadic exception reporting regarding injuries, utility strikes, property damage or safety near-misses. Unfortunately, the shift away from direct human contact and multi-user paper forms puts pressure on those responsible for such reporting to source, onboard, and deploy technologies which allow the documentation, collection, and dissemination of workplace incidents in a seamless, real time manner, without running the risk of recording avoidance or reporting lag because employees are no longer comfortable “moving paper”.

The good news is that handheld devices have become so ubiquitous in our society that their scope of usage and user familiarity are virtually universal. As such, implementing Workplace Incident Recording and Reporting applications such as Compatica is done rapidly, painlessly, and with no friction or task delays. Deploying electronic solutions takes away the need to fill out and “flow” paper from the worksite, removing health-risks and delivering improved accuracy,  immediacy, and ease-of-use to a complex, frustrating process.

Thomas Watson Jr., son of the founder of IBM (and, in his own right, its second president) famously opined that “A paperless office is as feasible as a paperless bathroom.” Well, truth be told, Tom never had the opportunity to use an iPhone or a tablet (let alone experience firsthand the Great Bathroom Tissue Shortage of 2020) but he knew better than most to heed Dylan’s stark warning from way back in 1964: “You’d better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a-changin’”.

Describe, Document, Defend: Why Workplace Illness and Symptom Recording is Vital
Posted on by Adee FeinsteinLeave a comment on Describe, Document, Defend: Why Workplace Illness and Symptom Recording is Vital

It’s both astonishing and exhilarating how our country comes together at times of National crisis, shouldering the collective burden and collaborating towards a speedy resolution and return to better times. We’ve experienced this in times of war, natural and economic disasters, and now with the COVID-19 Pandemic. However, what is a unique American creation is that during times such as these, as the nation moves forward in lock-step, voices of dissent and constructive criticism are not only tolerated, they are expected and welcomed by many, as a showcase of our societal diversity. This blog post certainly falls under the “constructive criticism” label.

Just as average citizens turn their eyes towards the Government (Local, State, Federal) for guidance on how to best act during this pandemic, operating under the correct assumption that our government is informed by the best and brightest scientists and health professionals in the country, US employers look to the Department of Labor, and specifically the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for direction as to how to best defend both our employees and our organizations against the immediate and longer-term impact of Coronavirus. So far, OSHA’s mid-term grade does not seem very promising.

As Coronavirus hit the US, OSHA made some peculiar announcements regarding the “recording” (in the OSHA sense of the word) COVID-19 infections, and deemed it “different” from the classic “cold and flu” non-recordable illnesses, making them “OSHA-recordable”, a virtual impossibility for an employer who has no ability to determine whether an employee is, indeed, infected. Then it relented, and issued guidelines by which only “infections which originated in the workplace” would be considered “recordable”. How an employer would presume to know how an employee got infected, and where, remains a mystery.

Moreover, OSHA currently only holds “High Risk Employers” such as health care entities, emergency responders or prisons to a COVID-19 record-keeping standard, completely ignoring other industries, such as meat packing, which have had some locations turn into proverbial regional “grounds zero” for infections. Meat-packing! The very industry that helped start the Federal government’s oversight of Workplace Health, dating back to Upton Sinclair’s 1906 exposé “The Jungle”, which most of us read back in high school. For most part, employers are left to their own devices in defining their own internal procedures and protocols regarding prevention of workplace contamination. Vague Department of Labor statements concerning “implementing good hygiene practices in their workplaces and otherwise mitigating Covid-19’s effects.” are not particularly helpful, as they don’t articulate the specific expectations for various, diverse industries. Retail is a great example: How should a store maintain social-distancing? What barriers should be installed? Which Personal Protective Equipment is required? How to manage shift changes? These (and hundreds of additional) questions require national guidelines, which should then lead to implementation assistance and funding. While the Federal government expects for many of these issues to be resolved at the local or state level, it’s painfully apparent that our local governments are simply not set up to evenly address these matters, even during less turbulent times. My sense is that OSHA has been caught with its pants down on this: the prospect of a regional or national pathogen outbreak is not a new one, and one would expect that, just like the Pentagon has somewhere a secret plan ready for the unlikely day when Canada attacks us, OSHA would have had drawn-up “rainy-day” plans for a widespread disease. Alas, that does not seem to be the case.

Much to my mother’s disappointment, I am not an attorney. But it doesn’t take one to recognize the immense employer liability exposure presented by this crisis. The lack of national workplace standards is creating a broad field-of-play for many litigants, with COVID-19 wrongful-death lawsuits already being filed against US employers. OSHA itself is hammered with thousands of employee workplace complaints regarding unsanitary work conditions and potential Coronavirus exposure. These new workplace health concerns, combined with the sizable portion of employees who are now working from home (and presenting entire new vistas of Worker’s Compensation complications), may very well end up transforming our workplaces and increasing perceived employee liability.

Which is why it has become more important than ever to accurately and rapidly document any and all workplace incidents, whether they pertain to employee illness or injury, or simply document a damage, safety concern, or near-miss. A crucial component of employers’ defense against predatory legal actions or the capricious actions of an unfocused regulator will always include precise, non-repudiable and indelible records of events, actor and witness statements, supporting pictures and documents, organized in a clear and credible fashion. This level of recordkeeping needs to become the standard practice for any and all workplace exception events, regardless of their ultimate disposition which, by definition, will always lie in the future, with yet-unknown outcomes.

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Compatica is designed expressly in support of this model: All workplace incidents and events are documented in real-time at their point of occurrence, via an intuitive, obvious-use Apple iOS or Google Android app. Data is communicated and securely stored in the Cloud, which authorized administrators and managers access to monitor incidents and manage the organizational response.