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COVID and Cincinnati Business: What We've Learned and What You Should Do

Updated: May 25, 2023

Wondering how to deal with Coronavirus at work? Don’t stress. Here’s what we recommend to Ohio businesses.

I'm writing this on the 4th of July, and things are looking a lot different than last year.

Our family spent 2019 with some dear friends, walked to a community festival, walked in a parade, and took part in a watermelon seed spitting contest.

We were a group with 8 kids who probably didn’t wash their hands the entire day, shared snacks, and who knows... maybe even licked each other.

It all leaves me a little reminiscent of germier days.

Today looks a lot different. It’s almost 11:00 AM and I’m still in my PJs, working from home and fielding questions about COVID-19 in the workplace.

These conversations have been popping up from the beginning of the pandemic. And now my inbox is peaking along with the confirmed cases.

Most of the questions come from small employers who want to do the right thing but don’t know exactly how.

So, I reached out (yes, on the 4th of July – I’m a jerk) to my smart friend, Stephanie Flannery who is the Occupational Safety & Health Manager at Bilstein, an Ohio business known for their suspension systems and commitment to safety.

Stephanie is one of the best and brightest in the field. (Plus, she used to write for The Brewery Buzz, Sam Adam’s employee newsletter that I published back in the day.)

We put our heads together and thought we'd share what we came up with as we work with this COVID-19 issue.

Bring on the Masks

As employers, we have a moral and legal responsibility to keep our employees safe.

Masks and handwashing remain the simplest and most effective prevention methods.

But how do you enforce mandatory mask-wearing?

If you’ve worked in manufacturing, you know the lengths it takes to ensure that people wear safety goggles. Yep, they are a pain but this is a legal requirement.

Stephanie requires her colleagues to, “keep masks on at all times, with very few exceptions (at designated tables while eating, in private office with door closed). If they want to remove masks to talk on the phone, go outside and sit at a table, staying 6 feet or more away from other.”

Cincinnati has doubled down on mask-wearing by requiring them in public starting on 7/9. Yesterday, Gov. DeWine followed suit by requiring them in Hamilton County in any indoor spaces. But don’t be a butthead (excuse my language, we’ve been watching Back to the Future during quarantine): if an employee has allergies, sensory issues, or religious objections, talk with them to find an alternate solution such as a face shield.

The Ohio Bureau of Workers Comp (BWC) sent out 2 million masks to anyone covered by BWC. You should have a big ole’ bag of masks in your office. If you can still allow working from home (and at least a couple of my clients still are), that is ideal.

What should you do if an employee has tested positive for COVID-19?

Let’s say you’ve done all you could regarding prevention and enforcing rules in the workplace, but you still get a call that one of your employees is showing symptoms or has tested positive for COVID-19.

What do you do?

  1. If they THINK they have COVID, send them home and to be tested (see the process below). Stephanie suggests sending anyone who they were in close contact with home as well. Essentially, act as if they have been tested positive to reduce the likelihood of spreading.

  2. If they do test positive, tell the employee to stay home and to come back once they have a negative COVID test.

  3. Communicate to your workforce that they may have been exposed while keeping the details of who as confidential as possible (this is required by ADA). Here is a great template.

  4. Stephanie suggests calling your city health commissioner. They will get involved, help with contact tracing, determine how “long” the employee has been contagious and help determine who should be quarantined for how long. In her experience, some employees were only quarantined for a few days and others weren’t required to test at all. They will also give you some recommendations on additional things you can do to reduce the likelihood of transmission.

  5. Immediately clean the area and equipment. Keep people out for at least 72 hours for the area to quarantine.

We recommend paying people their normal wages for the time spent away from work due to potential work exposure.

How do people get tested for COVID-19 in Ohio?

I wish there was a big bus that could roll in and test your workforce but for now, that’s not on option.

The state has gone through great strides to make it easier for us.

“Testing can now be done without a doctor’s order. Many places, like hospitals (Mercy Fairfield) and pharmacies are offering drive through testing. Many do not cost anything, some take insurance, some don’t require appointments, and you often don’t even need to have symptoms,” says Stephanie.

And here are some other options.

What about testing to prevent an outbreak?

Should we have employees take the test just in case now that it is more accessible?

Should we have our employees tested before visiting customers?

“A lot of testing is good, but the unfortunate part is that I can get a test today, and have a negative result, but then right after I get the result, I can get exposed and contract the virus. It would give me a false sense of security, and I could be shedding the virus to others for days before I have symptoms."

Stephanie went on to say that, at this point, the best approach is to only recommend testing to employees that show symptoms (the list is REALLY long now), and/or have been in direct contact with someone who has tested positive.

What should you tell customers?

“We would definitely include customers. #1, it’s the right thing to do, and #2, the health commissioner would require that, and yes, they would help with that when they step in,” says Stephanie.

We really are all in this together. Last year at Disrupt HR, I discussed “Competitive Collaboration” and here is our chance to band together against a common enemy – nope, not your crazy aunt on social media – but a virus that is threatening our community and world.

Learn as much as you can. Adjust. Be better. Pass it on.

Thanks, Stephanie for sharing your knowledge!

* Colleen, the founder of A Slice of HR, assists growing businesses in recruiting and retaining amazing talent. Her 15+ year HR portfolio started in a small startup brewery called Samuel Adams which helped lead the disruption of an entire industry. Her practice is in Cincinnati Ohio with a special focus on Family/Closely Held Businesses, Construction, Union-Shops, Manufacturing, Ad Agencies, and Non-for Profits. She enjoys tackle football, Pokémon Go, Marvel Movies, and everything else that comes with being Mom to three boys. Her HR expertise has been featured in CareerBuilder, Spark Hire, FitSmallBusiness, Undercover Recruiter, Bento for Business, Money Magazine, SHRM, and Disrupt HR. Nothing in this article or website should be substituted for legal or medical advice.

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