Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Coronavirus Update 5-26-2020: When an employee isn’t social distancing outside of work

How did you spend your Memorial Day weekend? Mine was way more mundane than years past. I watched my nephew receive his high school diploma and pre-record his valedictory address in an individual, family-only ceremony. We walked the dogs a bunch. We went to Lowes, masks on faces (the first store in which I've been inside other than a grocery store in over two months). I BBQed for my wife and kids. 

Other people chose less COVID-appropriate holiday weekend activities.

Scenes like this one were repeated all over the country. Will you be surprised when COVID-19 cells spring up in two weeks linked to these mass gatherings? Because they will, and I won't be.

Here's my question. What do you do if you see one of your employees in one of these social-gathering viral videos? Do you welcome him or her back into the workplace today with open arms? 

I wouldn't. Indeed, I'd screen employees for risky behaviors during the holiday weekend or otherwise. Ohio already requires all businesses, as a condition to reopening, to "conduct daily health assessments by employers and employees (self-evaluation) to determine if 'fit for duty.'" With the country reopen and summer upon us, I'd recommend adding two questions to this self-assessment

  • Did you take part in a social gathering in which you were within 6 feet of others? Being within 6 feet of others who do increases your chances of getting infected and infecting others.
  • If you attended a social gathering, was everyone around you wearing a mask or facial covering? Others within six feet of you not wearing masks increases your chances of becoming infected.

I would also place any employee who violated social distancing rules outside of work (whether the information is volunteered on a self-assessment or discovered through a viral video) on a mandatory two-week unpaid leave of absence and require a quarantine as a condition of continued employment. (According to NBC News, the Kansas City health director has called for self-quarantine of all Lake of the Ozarks partiers.)

If an employee returns after being at one of these weekend parties and then tests positive, there is a really good chance that you will have to shut down your entire business (or at least a sizable part of it). Is this a risk you want to take? I wouldn't, which is why I'd ask the questions and place anyone on an unpaid quarantine leave who answers "yes" or who I otherwise discover violated social distancing rules (such as if I see them on a viral video or photo.

We all have a social responsibility to help stop the spread of coronavirus. If an employee fails to play his or her part and chooses to act irresponsibly, I am not going to lose any sleep by sending them home for two weeks to protect the rest of my employees and their families, and my business and its continuing operations.