Covid-19 Testing and Background Screening Are Now Essential for Safe Workplaces

January 15th, 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically changed our entire lives, from work to education, recreation and more. What started out as a business continuity challenge – ensuring an organization can continue to operate safely, often requiring considerable changes to operations to either stay open or re-open – has evolved. For jobs that require on-site attendance, temporary accommodations are beginning to look like more permanent solutions. It seems like some changes may last even after a vaccine is widely available.

The safety and well-being of employees and the community are the driving forces. Ultimately, a key focus for companies remains how they hire people who meet the standards they set and maintain safe environments, wherever those may be.

Testing Helps Keep Your Workplace Open and Safe

Organizations are doing everything they can to protect their employees, customers and communities from the spread of the virus. In addition, companies seek to avoid a Covid-19 incident that may cause a shutdown, which can be devastating. The stakes are particularly high in environments where social distancing and other precautions are either challenging or almost impossible.

By now, we are all accustomed to high-level screenings that occur in a range of settings, where foreheads are scanned for temperature and some basic questions about symptoms and potential exposure are asked. Some companies have made considerable investments in training or hiring staff and purchasing equipment.

It is possible, or even likely, to have the virus and display no significant symptoms. A more sophisticated, science-based approach is testing individuals for the active virus, leveraging polymerase chain reaction (PCR), to identify presence of Covid-19 at that specific time. This can provide a meaningful restoration of control, giving companies necessary information to manage and reduce the risk of outbreak. With recent advancements in non-invasive saliva-based testing, highly reliable test results can be achieved quickly to identify potential risk.

Establishing a Population “Bubble”

There have been some highly publicized instances where a large group of individuals, such as professional sports leagues, has undergone Covid-19 testing, with a negative test result required for entry into a contained environment. We’ve seen this as one method to attempt to keep the virus out of the population, while continuing to test so any positive cases can be quickly isolated to reduce threat to the rest of the group. A clearly defined and controlled bubble requires all who enter to test negative, with consistent negative tests over time to remain inside.

Certain jurisdictions have established strict testing and other requirements for entry as the only way to avoid a lengthy and potentially unrealistic quarantine period, creating their own protected environments. This can be most effective where there are limited points of entry, as has been seen in Alaska, Hawaii and other select states. These types of locations provide a realistic way to enforce testing and quarantine standards. Other places have enacted similar requirements, but those with more varied and open access (often through a vast network of well-traveled roads and highways) can yield lower compliance. In these cases, abiding by regulations is largely left to the individual traveler. As was done for professional sports, some companies have established their own bubbles, either to help abide by local regulations or to establish a higher standard in and around their own jobsites.

A Case Study in Creating a Bubble

Production and exploration within oil and gas tends to be in remote locations that feature strictly controlled access points. An effective way to keep Covid-19 and its devastating effects out is through proactively testing all who will be accessing the controlled environment shortly before entry. Sterling has worked with one of the largest privately-owned oil and natural gas producers in the U.S., featuring employees and contractors rotating in and out of the North Slope of Alaska every two weeks. State mandate requires all who enter to show proof of a qualifying negative Covid-19 test.

Working with this client, Sterling established a process where test kits are delivered to employees’ homes four days prior to scheduled travel to Alaska. This allowed sufficient time to collect the saliva sample, return it to the lab, have the sample analyzed, and to report results to both the individual and company – all before stepping into an airport for the journey to the worksite. In this case, testing has become one more routine item for the pre-trip checklist. Following a cycle away from Alaska, employees follow the same process in advance of their next work shift. To decrease the likelihood of contracting the virus while outside the bubble and to more easily enable re-entry, individuals practice strict social distancing, masking and commonly used hygiene procedures.

The Enhanced Role of Identity Verification and Background Screening

As you bring new workers onboard, you are adding to your company culture and introducing new people to your existing employee base, and potentially to that of your customers, partners and your community as well. In short, new team members can impact the people around you and your brand and reputation. A consistent, high-quality background check remains a critical step in creating a safe, secure workplace that includes only those individuals who meet the standards you set.

An effective background screening program begins with identity verification from the first interaction with a candidate for a job. Government issued identification is scanned and validated for authenticity. Using a smart phone, a match can be established between the candidate and the information presented.

From there, criminal records can be checked, employment and education can be verified, and drug tests can be administered, among other items. In consultation with Sterling, clients can select pre-defined background screening packages designed for specific types of jobs, unique screening solutions for specific needs or some combination. This is a best practice for all employees, with particular value for remote locations or instances where extended time periods are involved. Investing in consistent, high-quality background checks every 12 to 24 months can provide critical information about your workforce to help reduce risk.

Methods for providing a safe working environment will continue to change over time. Managing through uncertainty and staying one step ahead of any threats is key. An end-to-end Covid-19 testing plan, which helps reduce risks associated with an outbreak, combined with an identity verification and background screening program, helps protect people and make the tangible statement that safety is a top priority and critical part of company culture.

Sterling is not a law firm. This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.

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