In late April, The Alliance hosted their first Employer Town Hall. The e-conference roundtable was intended to provide a place for employers to share solutions and discuss the impact that COVID-19 has had on business operations. 

In addition to a panel of leaders from The Alliance on the call, we hosted two employer-presenters to lead the discussion and help facilitate conversation: Jim Sheeran, Sr. Director, Total Rewards at Molson Coors Beverage Company and Diana Clark, Benefits Manager at Promega Corporation. 

Both of our presenter’s organizations have initiated a COVID-19 task force, and in order to remain flexible and respond to changes quickly, Jim said meetings occur daily. “Our task force meets every morning, and every day at 4:00pm we have a leadership meeting which provides quick input from HR. We have an immediate feedback loop with union leaders which frames how we work as a task force.” 

Adapting to the “New Normal” 

Our presenters shared what tactics their businesses use to screen and test employees for COVID-19 and how they changed workstations, and even shifts in some cases.

For example, Diana said Promega’s normal operations occur in two shifts during a 5-day work week, and now they’re operating as a 3-shift, 7-day work week employer. This has been helpful in keeping production up-and-running while reducing the number of employees working to create the necessary separation that the CDC requires. She also said that taking simple measures like using painter’s tape to display separation requirements is successful in keeping coworkers safely spaced apart. 

Diana explained how they double-checked their benefit plan to ensure that telehealth was offered to their employees: “Physician visits were excluded in a telehealth setting due to the wording in our contract, so we reached out to the TPA to update the communication.” 

Molson Coors Beverage Company is a multi-national corporation who is well-equipped to deal with challenging operational situations, yet due to unprecedented conditions, Jim explained they’re reacting and trying new things like everybody else. 

“We put in temperature checks that were no-touch, but they didn’t work well because we didn’t take into account the heat from the employee’s environment,” he added, “People call in sick to our hotline for work. If someone called in Monday and Tuesday because they weren’t feeling well but came in on Wednesday and called in sick again on Thursday, we should’ve flagged them as high-risk patients and not had them come to work.” 

Diana said her team has initiated random exposure drills to help educate managers how be prepared. “We can run them through what a situation would look like if a specific employee were to get sick and how severe it would be in terms of potentially infecting other people. The drills help point out to managers the importance of following company procedures. “ 

Unintended Consequences 

Whether you want healthy employees to come to work or don’t want high-risk individuals showing up for their shift, Jim said incentivizing employees works, and it’s important to carefully think through incentives in order to not pay employees too much or too little. His organization gave a substantial pay-bump to their front-line workers and offered a “high-risk leave of absence” to employees.  

Catching COVID-19 

Diana offered several useful learnings through her experience over the past two months:  

  • Figure out what symptoms require separation from other people 
  • Screening for coughing, fever, and shortness of breath has been successful in catching a few cases. 
  • Know newer symptoms 
  • COVID-19 can manifest itself as the flu, a sinus infection, or with headaches and body aches. 
  • Develop an assessment and update it frequently. 
  • Promega uses their Human Resource Business Partner team to help triage patients; they have a chief medical officer, an RN, and six other officials who clearly communicate to symptomatic patients to not go to work and call their manager instead. 

Overall, Diana said their biggest goal is to keep people off campus if they are symptomatic. With the aid of their Medical Director, they’ve developed a protocol to call affected employees and ask them a series of questions to further determine their risk level. “We really stay in contact with our employee population. We’ve compiled a symptom checker that can be accessed through the patient’s computer or phone, and depending on how they answer, they’re either cleared for work or HR reaches out to them with next steps.” 

Avoiding Furloughs 

Navigating furloughs was also part of the discussion, and Promega has been creative in shifting job responsibilities to eliminate the need to furlough. For example, they have a large staff of cafeteria workers who are now contributing to the manufacturing/operations side of the business. “It’s been amazing to see people step up. They want to help and be utilized,” Diana said. 

Keeping Employees Safe (And Sane) 

As far as supporting remote workforces, she offered a few tips: “Our physical therapists are now doing tele-consults, helping people with lower back pain, setting up their home workstations, etc.”

Knowing its importance, both organizations offer mental health resources through telehealth. “We have an emotional-social mental health team that helps boost our Employee Assistance Program (counseling,) which helps spot people with addiction and depression. Creating check-ins and virtual lunches have been critical for our remote employees,” said Diana.

Communication is Key 

Both Jim and Diana also agreed that it’s not enough to ensure your employees are safe – they need to feel safe, too. By communicating protocols, posting flyers, and making constant announcements and reminders, employees will be more at ease about coming into work. Here are some ideas:

  • Use painters tape to direct employees to stay six feet apart
  • Use visual cues like signs to help facilitate proper safety, like washing your hands often and properly, coughing into a tissue, and wiping down frequently touched areas
  • Implement special visitation rules that include a screening and questionnaire 

Jim and Diana agreed that things are changing quickly, and employers need to be willing to adapt to those changes; both of their companies follow all CDC guidelines and are continually watching for new state-specific mandates. 

Stay tuned for our next Employer Town Hall, subscribe to our newsletter to stay up-to-date on upcoming learning opportunities, and watch for details on our upcoming webinar series about Direct Primary Care and how it can help your business.