Companies are responsible for creating a healthy and safe environment for their employees and customers and the Bermuda Government has issued workplace guidance which provides best practices to achieve this. Employers play a key role in preventing and slowing the spread of COVID-19 in the community. This means:
- continuing to practice public health measures, such as social distancing, mask wearing and hand sanitising when conducting in-person business
- encouraging staff and customers to stay at home if they, or a member of their household, are feeling unwell
- communicating with staff about updated health and safety policies, COVID protocols and working practices
- educating staff on their COVID-related health benefits (e.g. testing, vaccines) and encouraging them to talk to their doctor and know their COVID-status before returning to the workplace
- allowing for a flexible work environment, where possible, and discussing employee needs and preferences for remote working
Employees have the right to know, right to participate, and the right to refuse dangerous working conditions. It is important for employees and management to have ongoing, open and honest conversations about workplace health and safety in the post-vaccine environment. Since COVID-19 constitutes a workplace hazard, employers can request that employees provide their general health and travel information as it relates to workplace health and safety as part of their screening protocols. This will ensure that symptomatic individuals are identified before coming into the workplace and potentially spreading infection.
However, an employee’s vaccination or COVID-19 status is confidential medical information and should be treated as such. Therefore, it should be voluntary for employees to disclose whether they have had the vaccine or not, but mandatory for employees working in-person, and have either tested positive for COVID-19, have developed new symptoms of infection or been in close contact with someone who has tested positive to have clear reporting procedures to help mitigate the safety risk in the work environment.
Employee and customer vaccination status
Employers should direct their staff to credible resources on COVID-19 vaccines, such as the Government of Bermuda, The Ministry of Health, or their primary care physician, which can help them make an informed choice about getting the vaccine. Employers, particularly those who work in high-risk industries such as healthcare, hospitality or emergency response, should consult bodies like the Bermuda Human Rights Commission and the Bermuda Employers’ Council if they require or encourage their staff to get vaccinated. This is to ensure a balancing between workplace safety with employee privacy considerations. Employers should be cautious to not ask for more personal information than is necessary and follow Government recommended screening protocols. For example, employers can ask their employees’ vaccination status, and a simple ‘yes’, in addition to the vaccine certificate, or ‘no’ answer from employees should be sufficient.
If employees or customers have travelled, they must be compliant with both the Government and the company’s travel and quarantine policies before they enter the workplace. The Government of Bermuda provides minimum guidance required for workplaces, but more stringent policies may be implemented based on a risk assessment.
A safe environment for all
Continuing public health measures in the workplace can ensure that there are uniform expectations for employees and customers engaging in in-person services regardless of their vaccination status. Practically, it may not always be possible to enforce different policies for vaccinated and un-vaccinated employees or customers. Practical measures may include:
- mask-wearing, social distancing, and hand sanitising in shared spaces for employees and customers
- staggering shifts
- allocating in-office days to employees and/or implementing more permanent hybrid or remote working options
- cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, such as handrails, doorknobs and customer service, reception and staff lounge areas
- avoiding using other employees’ work tools and equipment.
The situation is continuously evolving, and your employees should always be the first to know about any company updates and changes. Develop a plan before your employees return and prepare your managers so that they can effectively communicate this with all staff and customers. However, if you choose to re-open, the most important thing is that your employees feel and remain safe.
Finally, continue to monitor the latest information and advice for employers from the Bermuda Government.
To keep up to date on Argus policies and coverage information, and find answers to frequently asked questions, visit argus.bm/coronavirus