As the holiday season approaches and COVID-19 cases rise, employers face additional concerns in preventing the spread of the virus in the workplace. Many employees are suffering from pandemic fatigue and feeling the stress of isolation and the holidays are a time when most will want to get together with family and friends. Holiday gatherings, shopping and other activities all increase the risk of exposure to the virus and put employers in a difficult position.
Keeping an open line of communication with employees is key in minimizing risk. To address the risk of potential gatherings, employers should encourage employees to follow public health guidance as much as possible.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued detailed guidance “Holiday Celebrations and Small Gatherings,” (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays.html) which sets forth specific guidelines and recommendations to reduce the spread of COVID-19 during the holiday season. Employers may wish to advise employees about this holiday guidance and encourage employees to comply with the recommendations.
For those who do choose to attend in-person gatherings during the holiday season, the CDC sets forth several considerations, such as: limiting the number of attendees; social distancing; outdoor versus indoor gatherings; the use of face masks; increased ventilation; cleanliness, disinfection, and hygiene standards; limiting contact with commonly touched surfaces or shared items; and asking guests to avoid contact with people outside of their households for 14 days before the gathering.
Employers may want to distribute the CDC guidance to their employees and communicate expectations and risks during the holiday season. In addition, businesses should ensure that health-screening processes accurately cover the risk of exposure following holiday activities, and that there are policies to ensure the immediate reporting of potential exposure to COVID-19, quarantine/testing procedures, and the return-to-work protocol following exposure.
Importantly, employers should be supportive and acknowledge that this is a difficult time for everyone. Emphasis on the self-care of employees will be beneficial for maintaining workplace morale and success in getting your organization through to the other side of the pandemic.