Traditionally, the term “Fit-for-Work” (or, as it’s known to our English cousins across The Pond, “Fit-for-Duty”) referred to the form signed by an employee’s doctor following their return from a work-related injury or illness, signifying that they were “cleared” to resume their previous assigned tasks, or some possibly modified version of them. This typically absolved the employer from any liability, and became both the medical and legal basis for the employee’s return to work.
Nowadays many employers, primarily through their supervisors, crew leaders, and forepersons, have to make daily determinations whether employees presenting themselves at the worksite are not only physically able to perform their jobs, but also can they do so at minimal risk to others. This includes observing and inquiring about employees’ physical well-being, availability of protective equipment, possible impairments (which aren’t limited to illegal drugs or alcohol; properly prescribed medications carry their own cautionary concerns and liabilities), and even their current mental state, which could negatively impact their ability to perform their tasks in a focused, mindful, and safe manner.
Now, enter COVID-19, stage left.
What was once a basic question of whether an employee is “fit-for-work”, has now become a more complicated determination of “Fit-for-Worksite”. Simple, almost casual medical symptoms such as a cough, or low-grade fever, which in the past were universally ignored (unless the employee absented themselves from work) are now potential grounds for denying admittance to the work location itself. These steps have become necessary as employers have a legal and ethical obligation to put protective measures in place to defend employees not only from possible work hazards, but also from one another. None of this is particularly surprising or revelatory. Providing employees a safe, secure environment in which they can perform that which they were hired to do is at the heart of the accepted universal workplace compact.
But who’s going to defend the employer?
Many law firms and legal publications are reporting a large, ever-increasing number of lawsuits filed against employers by current or former employees, all related somehow to the COVID-19 Pandemic. This includes claims regarding Whistleblower Retaliation, Improper Termination, Discrimination, Unsafe Working Conditions, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)/Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) violations, and many other related and unrelated issues. This is above and beyond the massive number of OSHA and State Agency complaints filed by employees regarding some of the above. Undoubtedly, these waters are not only uncharted, but also quite turbulent.
Two, related steps come to mind: The first is to continually screen employees arriving to work for any symptoms or potential exposure to COVID-19, and adhere to a policy which ensures minimal collateral damage (read: infections) to co-workers. The second step has to do with documentation: from the moment of screening, all interactions and communications must be fully recorded and memorialized. This includes the screening data intake, the determination (“Fit/Unfit”), the process resolution (sending the employee home, or to a healthcare provider), and any and all subsequent communications. This documentation is vital on three counts: one, it helps maintain an empirical record of the encounter with an employee; two, by conducting it across the board, it demonstrates the fairness of the screening process itself; and third, it facilitates the generation of quantitative reports which will help analyze trends and evidence proper, consistent implementation of policies and procedures.
Naturally, it’s very costly and cumbersome to conduct such a process manually, using paper. Compatica, the Workplace Incident Recording application, has recently introduced a “Fit-for-Work” employee screening feature that facilitates rapid, accurate, and comprehensive intakes, delivers immediate, targeted notifications, creates indelible records of screenings and determinations, and documents a fair, equitable, and consistent process.
Of the many generic and industry-specific tasks we need to undertake in these new, discombobulated times, Workplace Employee Screening may be not only the easiest and most cost-effective defense mechanism, but possibly also the most impactful. Visit www.compatica.com to find out more about our innovative workplace recording solutions.