While the US continues to grapple with controlling the COVID-19 pandemic, Mercer continues to work with employers in mitigating the impact of the coronavirus on employees and businesses. The last four months have been a time of rapid learning, exponential discovery and creative adjustment. We now know we can limit the spread by keeping physical distance, wearing cloth facemasks, washing hands, cleaning and disinfecting, and improving building airflow. But another strategy hasn’t received the attention it deserves: Contact tracing, which has been used for centuries to slow the spread of infectious disease. While contact tracing is the responsibility of public health officials in the U.S., they have been stretched too thin to manage the demand in many areas. Employers seeking ways to improve worksite safety should consider a contact tracing program – because we know it works.
Unfortunately, a lack of direction and guidance around how to conduct contact tracing at the workplace is hampering employer efforts. A quick Google search turns up a lot of information directed at state and local public health officials, which applies only loosely to an employer, and a lot of ads for proximity tracking devices and apps. The good news is that contact tracing for employers doesn’t need to be too complex. Breaking it down into its parts can help, and creating a workflow to illustrate the steps, as we have done, can go a long way in creating clarity. Here are the key questions from an employer’s perspective:
Employers would be wise to consult with legal counsel about any contact tracing strategy they choose, about applicable privacy laws, retention period for collected data, safeguarding the data, and potential anonymization techniques. Don’t forget to contact your local public health agency for support and guidance, and always review and understand local, state and national regulatory requirements.