Liz Uzzo, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer,...

Liz Uzzo, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, poses for a photo at her Melville-based H2M architects + engineers. H2M has instituted transparent workplace barriers in an effort to prepare the workplace for the delta variant. Credit: JOHNNY MILANO

Many employers already started opening the valve and bringing more employees back to the office since most statewide COVID restrictions were lifted in June.

Some have even relaxed certain safety precautions such as daily health screening questionnaires.

But as the delta variant continues to spread, employers should proceed with caution into the Fall and not abandon their health and safety protocols, experts say.

"This isn’t a time to revert to your prior comfort zone," says John Coverdale, president of the Center for Workplace Solutions, a Bayport-based HR management consulting firm. "There’s uncertainty abound with the delta variant."

Some employers are bringing back certain safety measures that had been relaxed, like mask-wearing, he said.

"The reality is no one knows what’s going to happen in the next few weeks and the best thing to do is plan with agility," Coverdale says.

John Coverdale, President, The Center for Workplace Solutions, Inc.

John Coverdale, President, The Center for Workplace Solutions, Inc. Credit: The Center for Workplace Solutions, Inc.

He said employers should plan for different scenarios from least to worst case in the event conditions rapidly change.

Push vaccinations

He said they also should continue to encourage employees to get vaccinated. As delta heats up, more firms are even mandating it.

"We’ve seen some companies requiring vaccinations for on-site employees and guests since onset of the delta variant," says David Mahoney, a partner and chair of the labor and employment group at SilvermanAcampora LLP in Jericho.

Most recently, RXR, one of Long Island’s largest landlords, announced it would require employees to get vaccinated.

Alternately some firms are requiring regular testing for those who are unable or are unwilling to be vaccinated, Mahoney says.

But the majority of companies he’s found are still just encouraging vaccination rather than mandating it, Mahoney says.

Liz Uzzo, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Melville-based H2M architects + engineers, says more than a month ago, it started offering employees who get vaccinated a $250 incentive. She won’t have full data on how many employees have taken that incentive until it makes the payments in November.

She said employees returned to the office in June 2020, but at any given day the firm could have 20% of its workforce in a remote situation.

Don't get caught off-balance

She said the firm has a written contingency plan for COVID situations, and in the event of an outbreak they would respond accordingly with protocols such as having more employees work remotely.

She said they had stopped the daily health screening requirement a few weeks back, but made it clear to staff if they’re sick not to come to work. They also still have plastic dividers between work stations and constantly keep abreast of health data.

"We’re watching it daily," she says.

Rick Maher, chief executive of Turning Point HCM, a Mount Sinai-based HR outsourcing firm, says "right now there are so many variables, people’s heads are spinning."

He’s seen some companies that expected more employees back by September pushing those plans back to later this year and others in a holding pattern on how to proceed amid the delta variant.

Keep employees in loop

He advises employers to have a ready-to-execute COVID safety strategy that addresses such issues as testing and how to handle contract tracing, and to consider establishing a relationship with a medical provider akin to an adviser to your operations team, giving weekly updates on the threat level. Maher uses Heed Health with his clients for this purpose.

Additionally, Erin Lau, manager of human resource services for Insperity who works in both the Manhattan and Jericho offices of the Texas-based HR firm, says it’s "important to keep the lines of communication open with employees as businesses navigate this latest surge."

Erin Lau, manager of HR services, Insperity

Erin Lau, manager of HR services, Insperity Credit: Insperity, Inc.

"The health and safety of employees — both mental and physical — should be a top priority," she says.

Implementing office layout changes, including more space for social distancing and providing hygiene upgrades can mitigate any employee concerns, Lau says. Hand sanitizer, self-cleaning door handles and similar solutions can help workers feel safe and prevent a potential outbreak in the workplace. On-site COVID-19 testing may also be an option for some businesses, she says.

The bottom line it’s the employer’s responsibility to keep their workplaces safe.

"I would tell employers to take whatever reasonable steps they can to protect their workforce from this new threat," says Mahoney.

Fast Fact:

According to Alignable's August Recovery Poll, 76% of all small businesses fear that delta variant surges will hurt their recovery, stalling or even reversing the progress some have made over the past few months.

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