Ensuring health and safety when we return to work
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JOHN WHYTE: Welcome everyone. I’m Dr John Whyte, the Chief Medical Officer of WebMD, and you’re watching “Coronavirus in Context”. Well, we’re starting to see a lot more reopening, and some companies are saying, you know what, employees can go back to work, or maybe they’ll be hybrid. So I would like to unpack: what should employers do? What should employees ask for? How to deal with this over the next few months?
I am therefore accompanied by an expert, Dr. Robert Quigley. He is the senior vice president and global medical director of International SOS. Doctor Quigley, thank you for taking the time today.
ROBERT QUIGLEY: It’s with pleasure. Nice to see you.
JOHN WHYTE: Well, let’s get right to the point. Where are we in terms of reopening businesses? What do you think will happen in the next few weeks?
ROBERT QUIGLEY: Well that’s not something that’s going to happen over the next few weeks. It will be something that will take several months. And it depends on the area we’re talking about and the industry we’re talking about. So if we talk nationally in the continental United States, I think you’re going to see a quick return to work over the next six months or so. If we look in other cross-border jurisdictions it will be much slower.
JOHN WHYTE: Of course.
ROBERT QUIGLEY: And again, we have to look at what industries, sectors are we talking about. So for example, if you are in the energy mining and infrastructure business, your workforce is on the ground, in isolated areas, very different policies and procedures need to be put in place. artwork. On the other hand, if you are in the financial industry and your employees work in an office, they have their own challenges.
And make no mistake, a lot of other things that we don’t always think about are things like: are we too used to working from home? Do we even want to go back to work? Are there any laws that might prevent us from coming back? We must be sensitive to many of the rules and regulations that prevail only in our internal United States; forget if you have global assets it opens a whole new box of worms.
JOHN WHYTE: Well, let’s stay in the States. And let’s talk about some of the challenges employers might face in bringing employees back for those who can actually be performed in work environments and not in the healthcare industry, where you typically have to be around and see patients. But first I want to ask you: do you expect there to be a mandatory COVID vaccination? We see it back in the colleges. Several colleges have announced that if students want to return, they must be vaccinated. Are we going to see this in the private or public sector?
ROBERT QUIGLEY: I think we could see it in the private sector, no doubt about that. Are we going to see it in the public sector? Unlikely. By the time you start to require back-to-work vaccinations in the country – and there is precedent around this that goes back to smallpox. And there was a very famous case that I’m sure you and your audience are familiar with; I believe it was Jacobson v. Massachusetts.
And this was all about a person who didn’t want, for personal reasons I think he and a member of his family didn’t want to get the smallpox vaccine, and it was mandatory. And I think in the end there was a financial penalty of $ 5 or something. So there is a precedent. It was referred to the Supreme Court. They made the decision.
In today’s world, I believe private companies have a right to demand this in the spirit of public health and safety, in the spirit of protecting other employees. But there are other issues that we need to take into account. There may be cultural reasons, personal reasons, health reasons why people cannot or do not want to be vaccinated. So it’s a real slippery slope, and I think we have to be very careful when we start talking about this issue.
JOHN WHYTE: What’s the biggest challenge for employers to reopen?
ROBERT QUIGLEY: I think a lot of employers worry about never going back to what they would consider “normal”. And once again, the normal is different depending on the sector. And I think there has been, as I mentioned a few moments ago, an element of, “I’m comfortable working from home. I am able to do whatever I used to do in the office. I like it better here for various reasons. “
And many businesses find that they need this face-to-face interaction, especially if there’s an operational element to what they’re doing. And again, it’ll be a real eye-opener for businesses when they start to gradually come back. And that’s how it’s going to work, it’s going to be pushed back starting with the real essential workers or the critical workers – we have to be careful with our choice of words – come back to the office, respecting all the new rules and regulations, that will prevail for a while, social distancing, the mask …
JOHN WHYTE: Well, I was going to ask you, are we going to review the masks in the office this fall?
ROBERT QUIGLEY: I think what we’re going to see is we’re going to see what the CDC imposes. And the CDC is very, very above that. They are very risk averse. And they will expect people to continue to comply with the tools we have and know it works.
We know social distancing works. Whether we go from 6ft to 3ft remains to be seen, as they have in some jurisdictions. Masks, we know, work. Hygiene policies are working. Projections at the gates are working.
So I think we’ll see a lot more of them as we transition. And the landscape is so fluid right now, what I’m talking about now could be different in a month. And so we have to stay on top of that. But I’m really confident that many of the CDC’s recommendations will dictate what companies do, regardless of industry.
JOHN WHYTE: What should employees be wondering or thinking about when they decide to return to work in the office?
ROBERT QUIGLEY: Well, that’s the million dollar question. Some of them don’t want to go back to work, and some of them look for all the reasons not to go back to work. On the other end of that spectrum, people reach out and say, ‘When can I come back? I can’t stand this job from home for a second longer. “And then there’s everyone in between.
I think a lot of people are going to be concerned about, “What are you doing, Mr. or Miss Company, to take care of my health and safety?” What did you do to let me know that if I return to work I will be protected? Whether it’s your policies and procedures, your vaccine mandates, the measures you’ve put in place, I need to know.
And that’s why communication in these uncertain times is so critical, and I tell all of my clients. Speak, speak, speak. Use your Internet. Use your explosive emails. Use whatever vehicles you have available to let employees know how safe they will be when they return and how safe they will be, what have you done to protect their health and safety.
JOHN WHYTE: It will be a moving target, in some ways. Dr Quigley, I want to thank you for taking the time today to share your ideas with us and really help us safely reopen employers and employees.
ROBERT QUIGLEY: It’s with pleasure. It is a pleasure to speak with you.
JOHN WHYTE: And if you have any questions about COVID, drop us a line. You can email me at [email protected], as well as post on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
This interview originally appeared on WebMD April 30, 2021