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7 tips about workplace COVID-19 communications and health and safety — Masks recommended for jobs with interpersonal contact in Helsinki region

We’ve put together instructions for workplaces about COVID-19 communications and occupational health and safety. An employer is responsible for its employees’ safety, including during the coronavirus pandemic. Remember: you cannot disclose people’s health information, for example, if an employee gets COVID-19.

The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (TTL) recommends designating contingency officers in workplaces. TTL recommends setting up a group in your workplace that is responsible for efforts to tackle COVID-19 infections and manage the changes caused by the pandemic.

TTL says, “The group coordinates readiness and employee communication, keeps the contingency plan up to date, and issues instructions, for example on working arrangements, protection, cleaning, illness and the effects of societal restrictions.”

Remember these things — Prepare work instructions for a COVID-19 situation

Write work instructions for the current situation for your staff, if you have not yet issued guidance in your workplace. This is worth doing not just for the sake of safety, but also of reputation management.

  • When the conditions in the workplace change because of a COVID-19 infection, you as an employer should update your risk assessment and assess the impact of the changes on your employees’ health and safety. TTL checklist: Checklist for assessing the likelihood of infection at the workplace
  • Hygiene and good ventilation are used to prevent the spread of the virus in workplaces.
  • Hygiene is particularly important in workplaces where people work very close to each other and use the same tools. The TTL website has cleaning guidelines: Cleaning guidelines for the prevention of COVID-19 infections
  • Instruct your employees not to come to work if sick and write clear instructions for what to do if an employee has potentially been exposed or suspects an infection.
  • Employees should work remotely if possible. Excessive contacts should be reduced, if possible. Consider staggering lunch, breaks and working hours by employee group.
  • As an employer, you are obliged to assess whether your employees have to wear masks at work. As a general rule, an employer cannot force employees to wear masks, except for when there is an occupational safety reason for wearing a mask. Employers can give employees the opportunity to wear masks and can recommend doing so.
  • As an employer, you can instruct your employees to think twice about trips inside Finland and attending external events.

Instruct employees who have COVID-19 symptoms to self-assess their symptoms using the Omaolo service or to call their health centre or occupational health service provider. If necessary, they will refer the employee for testing. Encourage your employees to download the Koronavilkku contact-tracing app.

TTL says, “When occupational health services identify and trace people with COVID-19, it can sometimes lead to employees being quarantined.”

Masks recommended for all workplaces in the Helsinki region — Employers can follow the recommendation and give employees the opportunity to wear masks

As an employer, you are obliged to assess whether your employees have to wear masks at work. Since 14 October in the Helsinki region, masks are recommended in all workplaces, particularly in situations where people meet each other in large numbers, such as meetings and break rooms. Masks are also recommended when physical distancing cannot be observed and safety measures cannot be taken.

Atte Rytkönen, a specialist at Suomen Yrittäjät, says that as a general rule employers cannot force employees to wear masks, unless there are occupational safety grounds.

“As a general rule, an employer cannot force employees to wear masks, except when there is an occupational safety reason for wearing a mask. If, for example, the work includes close contact with customers, or employees have to work closely in the same space, an employer can require that they wear masks to improve safety.”

Rytkönen continues, “In addition, employers can give employees the opportunity to wear masks, and can recommend and strongly encourage them to do so. And when an employer does recommend and strongly encourage employees to wear masks, they should provide them for employees at the workplace.”

Is an employer entitled or obliged to make an employee take a test for COVID-19?

An employer is not generally obliged to make an employee take a test for COVID-19. However, if the employee’s duties include close contact with people, there could be grounds for making him or her take a test. Testing could help guarantee both employees’ and customers’ safety in the workplace.

Who pays for the test?

“If an employer makes an employee take a test for COVID-19, the employer is obliged to pay for it, as with all occupational healthcare costs generally. An employer may pay for an employee’s COVID-19 test, if the nature of the work necessitates testing, even if the employer does not specifically make the employee take a test,” Rytkönen says.

If an employee gets COVID-19 — How to talk about it

If a company employee suspects he or she has caught the COVID-19 infection, the employer does not then necessarily have to demand a doctor’s note for short absences in this situation.

For example, an employer could decide, and inform employees, that employees can stay at home as soon as symptoms develop. They can then get in touch with their local hospital, occupational health service provider or the emergency department of their local health centre.

You cannot disclose people’s health information.

Karoliina Katila, a specialist at Suomen Yrittäjät, says, “An employer is not allowed to disclose employees’ health information. Information about a COVID-19 infection is health information. Only a limited group of people in the company can process health information. All that you can tell the person’s co-workers is that the person is off work, as long as there has been no exposure.”

“If, on the other hand, people may have been exposed, you should tell the employees affected about the potential exposure. A similar guideline would probably be issued once the contact tracing begins, but telling the employees they have been exposed is a good idea so people can avoid close contact.”

If there is a positive test result, the authorities begin contact tracing.

If a company’s employee tests positive for COVID-19 and has been working without knowing it, does the company have to close for some time?

A company is not obliged to shut down in this case. In this situation, everyone who was exposed to the person with COVID-19 on the premises should consider taking a test.

Katila says, “In addition, businesses should think about ways to protect employees’ and customers’ safety. This could mean various measures. For example, if employees work with customers, you can put up acrylic glass screens or offer employees masks.”

If there are grounds to suspect that someone exposed to coronavirus, such as a customer, has visited the premises, the process described above is followed. The company can find out about the exposure from the customer, or the authorities, who are obliged to tell the company if the company was mentioned during contact tracing.

Read more: Do I have to pay wages when my employee is waiting for the results of a COVID-19 test? Can an entrepreneur get sickness allowance? SY experts answer

Service sectors encouraged to be cautious

Work in the service sectors includes contacts with customers TTL guidelines state that if you are forced to work in close contact with customers, at a distance of under one metre, avoid talking to the customers or facing them.

Read more: TTL guidelines for avoiding coronavirus infections

 

Sources: yrittajat.fi/korona, hyvatyo.ttl.fi, Office of the Data Ombudsman

Image: Getty Images

Riikka Koskenranta

riikka.koskenranta (at) yrittajat.fi