It’s not over.
We all knew that, though some of us — including me — were hoping for a least a bit of a respite during the spring and summer months.
No such luck. Indeed, after two years of avoiding the illness, we recently had a “visit” of COVID to our house; thankfully, the one family member who got it had fairly mild symptoms.
This latest wave is a bit stealthier because of the widespread use of at-home tests and modest increases in hospitalizations. In other words, while we’re seeing a lot of people with infections, it’s not translating to the same numbers of severe illnesses that we saw with prior waves.
So what’s an employer to do now?
As I’ve talked with clients over the last few weeks, a few themes have emerged:
- Employers are managing this wave more like regular outbreaks of flu and other seasonal illnesses with a twist. Employers do not seem to be using widespread contact tracing (though some still are) and are not requiring vaccinated workers from quarantining upon exposure. But the twist is that employers are still requiring employees to stay home for at least five days. Some employees may choose to work during this time period as well.
- In Connecticut, employers are letting, or in some cases requiring, employees to use regular PTO for any COVID illnesses. Employees may be eligible for paid sick leave or paid family medical leave so employers should be mindful of the interplay of these two laws. In other jurisdictions, such as New York City, employers may be required to offer employees paid COVID leave.
- Employers have relaxed mask mandates but some have reinstituted them in light of the high rate of transmission.
- Employers are also still being mindful of “superspreader” events. That doesn’t mean that employers have stopped employees from gathering or stopped conference going. But employers that I’ve talked to in general just seem to be taking a wait-and-see approach with upcoming events.
- Mandatory vaccination policies aren’t going away….yet. Those employers that have required mandatory vaccinations continue to deal with requests for exemptions but I’m not hearing about employers instituting new vaccination policies. Rather, employers again seem to be taking a wait-and-see approach on whether to lift these requirements and aren’t going to great lengths to publicize their policy. Again, there are exceptions, to be sure, but generally, employers seem to think that they’ve gotten the most out of such policies and any further actions here may lead to diminished returns.
Obviously, with this latest wave, we’re also seeing vaccinated employees get infected — seemingly more than in the past. That has lead to increased absenteeism and challenges for certain employers in shift coverage. Hopefully, we are nearing another peak on this wave so we can get a respite.
But this latest wave is a reminder that while we may be done with the pandemic, the pandemic isn’t quite done with us.