As returns to work increase, how prepared are employers to manage and monitor COVID-19 health risks and vaccination status among their workers?

The continued successful rollout of the vaccination programme seems to support the view that we are now on an inexorable path towards a ‘return to normality.’  

At present, advice to work from home wherever possible remains in force. It will stay in place until a scheduled review before Step Four of the roadmap out of lockdown, no earlier than 21st June.  

However, the return to work of their staff has already accelerated for many employers.  

Workforce COVID risks rise with returns to work 

Step Two of the roadmap out of lockdown in England on 12th April meant the re-opening of many businesses. Non-essential retail, personal care, leisure, events, and other firms opened at last. A reopening of public buildings on the same date returned a further swathe of public sector workers. Meanwhile, public transport capacity had to keep pace, bringing back more transportation and support staff to work. 

Whether they are opening up further now, or waiting for June, employers must maintain an accurate, organisation-wide and up-to-date view of the COVID risks in their workforce.

It is key to meeting their duties of care to individual workers, sustain productivity, and avoid potential operational interruptions.      

Effective visibility of COVID risks requires three things

Risk assessments for individuals

All employers have a duty to protect workers from risk, so they must not only ensure that workplaces are COVID-secure for all, but for each person. Individual risk assessments are needed for anyone with a heightened clinical vulnerability to COVID-19, to avoid risks to their health, provide appropriate support or make essential work adjustments.  

Lateral flow test tracking

Minimising the chance of any individual worker coming into the workplace with COVID is a key to wider workforce safety. Government is encouraging the use of lateral flow testing, and as more and more employers employ this route, it is vital that they manage it properly.  They must keep careful track of the results and ensure that they make informed decisions:  

  • While positive LFT test results are quite reliable indicators that someone has COVID-19, they may wish to offer confirmatory PCR testing and should certainly ensure prompt engagement by managers, since the person must go immediately into self- isolation. 
  • Employers should never assume that a negative LFT test result means someone is free from infection – the tests are not able to confirm this. Those with negative tests may still be infected – so employers must continue to follow public health advice and strive for COVID-secure workplaces with good social distancing.

Vaccination status monitoring

 Although we are all kept well informed about the numbers vaccinated against COVID in the UK such high-level numbers do not inform any employer about the vaccination status of their own staff. This is critical information in assessing the exposure of the workforce, and the organisation itself, and may also be a factor in decisions about workplace deployments.  

Connecting the dots on employee health management 

A cohesive view of organisational and workforce risk from COVID is now a management essential.  

Only with a real-time view of information can leaders and line managers make fully informed workforce management, resource planning and day to day operational decisions.  

Connecting employee health related data and business processes will be increasingly vital to support managers, who face a host of new challenges because of the pandemic.  

For example, higher numbers of absences may persist, and may peak again among unvaccinated groups. Causes of absence are more complex than ever and require careful tracking. Previously infected people could have health impacts or long-COVID symptoms. Not everyone will be happy, or feel safe, to return – and some may be unhappy at their treatment during the pandemic. 

Solid policies and effective processes must connect not just data about the health of individual employees, but also integrate it with systems such as absence management that can provide early warning signals about health. They must inform and empower managers to engage with their staff effectively around health, as well as connect the HR, occupational health and other professionals that support or engage with employees.  

Simply stringing systems together isn’t smart  

Learn what Empactis can do

The standard software that most organisations use to manage HR activities, hold personnel data, and connect into other business and finance IT systems, was not designed for any of this.  

Through the pandemic, companies may have cobbled together ‘just good enough’ approaches to track the COVID-specific complexities of absence. They may have developed spreadsheets to keep on top of testing; exporting and importing data in and out of business systems to create reports to inform executives or brief overstretched HR and Occupational Health teams. 

Such pro-tem solutions cannot suffice long term if organisations hope to return to pre-pandemic levels of production and operation. They need to introduce fit for purpose, dedicated systems that can work with existing enterprise IT to manage employee health around and far beyond COVID.   

Through the Health Manager module of its employee health management system, Empactis helps organisations to build a foundation for monitoring and managing COVID-19 workforce risk and vaccination status.  It helps them connect this critical data into fundamental HR and workforce processes, including absence and return to work management and employee relations case management. Learn here how to manage staff Covid-19 risk and vaccination status with Empactis Health Manager.