Welcoming Employees Back Safely Amid COVID-19

By Lawrence J. Goren, MD

Perhaps more than any other economic sector, the hospitality industry hinges on interpersonal communication and interactions between employees and guests to create meaningful experiences. Whether it’s a bartender, valet or housekeeper, many hospitality workers will have difficulty maintaining the recommended six feet of social distance from customers while performing their jobs. As travel, dining and entertainment venues welcome guests back on site, organizations must ensure they have a thorough plan for keeping employees safe as they return to their livelihoods. The pandemic has placed a new emphasis on ensuring employees are not only safe on the job but healthy, too. Ensuring the health and safety of employees is not only vital for their wellbeing, it is essential for the health of the bottom lines of the hospitality businesses that are so vital to the economy.

The following guidelines are critical for hospitality businesses to consider as guests begin to return, especially in conjunction with what public health experts warn may be a “twindemic” with the onset of the annual flu season.

Set Clear Policies Based on Facts
The first step businesses can take in mitigating the spread of coronavirus is debunking any misconceptions and myths by sharing the facts about the virus and steps that can be taken to lessen the probability of contracting or spreading COVID-19. Sharing up-to-date, credible information can help employees understand the new realities of the COVID-19 era and comply with the guidance in place to prevent the spread of the virus.

Ultimately, this comes down to effective communication. Empower supervisors, human resources team members, facility managers, on-site medical professionals and others to clearly communicate the importance of health and safety practices. To ensure you reach employees in a way that is easily accessible for them, consider employing technology like mobile applications and text messages to disseminate information.

Update Your Sick Time Policy
Stressing the importance of staying home and accommodating employees who take sick time may be one of the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus. Create specific guidelines for what employees should do if they have potentially been exposed, including staying home until a test is taken and results are received, how long to stay out of work after symptoms subside, how long to stay out of work if the test is negative, etc. Understanding that testing can be difficult to navigate, employers can make resources available on testing locations and requirements. If a company has an onsite medical clinic, consider offering testing there for added convenience and safety.

Make Masks a Required Part of the Uniform
As travel and hospitality begin to take off again, related industries, including airlines, have put in place and enforced strict masking policies. And for good reason. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wearing a mask, especially indoors or in settings where physical distancing is a greater challenge, is one of the best tools to combat the virus. Wearing a mask should be no different than wearing gloves, a hairnet or other type of personal protective equipment that hospitality workers may already be accustomed to. As time goes on, it should become second nature for all team members. Employers should cite the CDC’s guidance when establishing a clear, straightforward policy requiring masks on site. Beyond requiring mask wearing while at work, employers should strongly encourage their employees to comply with this best practice in public settings outside of the workplace.

Remind Employees to Frequently and Thoroughly Wash Their Hands
Handwashing and personal hygiene are a long-standing, proven defense against contracting and spreading any viruses—and one of the most important—especially in a hospitality setting where contact is sometimes unavoidable. Employers can communicate the importance of this by posting reminders around their facility and installing more hand sanitizing stations and incorporating regular breaks throughout the day to facilitate handwashing.

Reconsider Spaces to Allow for Physical Distancing
Facility capacity and related rules vary by state, and while there may be no uniform guidance about how to create a space with space physical distance, there are steps employers can take to help their employees maintain distance. Companies can support distancing by spacing out shifts to reduce the number of employees present in an area at any given time. Further, depending on the setting, employers can create more space by rearranging common gathering places or create safer spaces by installing screens or barriers where possible.

Enact Symptom Screening Protocols
Headache, body ache, fatigue, loss of smell, fever and diarrhea are among the most common symptoms of COVID-19, and they can often be tracked with screening. Implementing a no-contact symptom check and temperature screening daily for employees entering your facility helps eliminate the likelihood of anyone with mild symptoms entering the workplace, and it serves as a useful screener for employees to be aware of potential symptoms. Catching symptoms early can be the difference in being able to continue to maintain operations or having to shut down again.

These basic steps go a long way, but, like any change, they can result in disruption. An on-site occupational medical team can help streamline the implementation of your wellness program and increase its effectiveness. Even during “normal” times, an on-site medical team can reduce the burden on HR or other professionals charged with facilitating employee health and wellness, helping safeguard your employees, their families and your business.

Lawrence J. Goren, MD, is the founder and medical director at Onsite Innovations. For more than 30 years, he has been a leader in occupational healthcare and has provided tailored workers’ compensation management programs for firms ranging from 50 employees to 10,000 employees. 

This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.