By Ken Cooper
In January 2020, Western Growers Insurance Services formally launched the Connected Worker Program, which monitors body mechanics in order to improve safety practices, develop injury prevention methods, and reinforce awareness of safety and a positive safety culture.
Both businesses and the regulatory community are adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the connected worker platform is uniquely designed to address key changes in the workplace. For example, in its guidance from March 19, 2020, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:
• Relaxed their guidelines around an employer’s ability to take/record employee body temperatures;
• Reiterated the CDC’s guidelines that employees who become ill with symptoms of COVID-19 should leave the workplace; and
• Reinforced that the ADA does not interfere with employers following this guidance.
In response to these guidelines, and in the interest of protecting their employees from COVID-19, many employers have started to obtain and record employee body temperatures either at the beginning of a shift or at specific intervals during the workday.
The Connected Worker Program now allows employers to record and track body temperature, age, and any other documented pre-existing conditions of individual employees to both understand their risk(s) and to provide data for the employers. The reporting and communication tools also allow employers to quickly identify issues and communicate directly with workers about risks and behaviors.
Our new program is among the many resources we are continually developing for our members to help them navigate these uncertain times. We recently hosted a webinar with WG’s Legal and Science & Tech divisions that answered FAQs on workers’ compensation as it relates to employer obligations and challenges of COVID-19 claims; employment practices liability insurance; food safety; and worker health and safety best practices.
Here are some key takeaways from the Worker Safety for Essential Businesses Webinar:
• Workers’ Compensation Claims: In the case of COVID-19, most workers claiming their exposure occurred at work will face a challenge to substantiate the workers’ compensation claim, which will be difficult to prove unless the worker has a documented case of being exposed to an infected person during the course and scope of their employment. Please note that this could change if more states follow the road taken by Illinois in implementing a rebuttable presumption, albeit temporary, that COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims will be compensable for first responders and employees in other essential operations.
• Ex-Mod Rate: It’s a possibility that your business’ Ex-Mod (or Experience Modification Rate) will not be affected by COVID-19 claims. However, there are preliminary discussions currently taking place about excluding COVID-19 claims from the mod calculation and the final decision by the Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau may be different.
• Employee Safety Plans: You should develop COVID-19 Hazard Assessment Checklists and written supplemental employee safety plans (such as your written safety program or Injury and Illness Prevention Plan (IIPP)) specific to COVID-19. Western Growers Insurance Services has templates for this and can help you tailor them to your organization, if needed.
• Employee Communication: Employee communication needs to be increased and transparent. This includes information on worker health and safety procedures; COVID-19 updates as they relate to your organization; and changes within your company. It should not be assumed that your employees are receiving information from any other source.
A recording of the full webinar is now available on the Western Growers COVID-19 Resources Page at https://www.wga.com/covid-19-resources-page. We also plan to host webinars regularly for the foreseeable future to answer any and all of your questions related to business insurance and the current COVID-19 pandemic as well as other topics germane to conducting your business operations.
Western Growers Insurance Services is here to assist you. We have a wealth of resources and services available to help you navigate your insurance needs during this tumultuous time. This includes guidance documents, worker safety templates, business insurance FAQs and expert advice—all tailored to the agriculture industry.
For questions or assistance, please reach out to me at (949) 413-8751 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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