The latest update of the Antigua & Barbuda Dashboard shows that as at 20th February 2021 there were sixteen new cases of COVID-19, bringing the tally of confirmed cases to six hundred and fourteen with three hundred and seventy-eight active cases and fourteen deaths. This is an increase in confirmed cases of one hundred and sixty-two per cent and a one hundred per cent increase in the number of deaths since this month started!
Since then we have seen two adjustments in the curfew start time, our students have returned to virtual learning and some organizations have reinitiated work from home activities all in an effort to curb the spread of the disease. But is this enough? Human Resource Professionals of Antigua and Barbuda (HRPAB) continues to advocate for a national pause of fourteen days followed by widespread testing. Prime Minister Gaston Browne is quoted as saying that a national lockdown would hurt more than it will help based on the fragile state of the current economy. As HR practitioners, we recognize that way beyond the detrimental impact to the economy, there are social and emotional trauma that could be brought to bear on our small society if the rate of community spread and the death toll are to increase any further.
So what do we do in the meantime? We acknowledge that some employees are still trying to balance work productivity with assisting their children with virtual classes. There is still some anxiety and many are fearful of leaving their homes. In the absence of a national pause, HRPAB advocates for a three-pronged approach: the establishment of intensive scheduled organizational sanitization programmes, the practising of widespread testing within the workplace and the implementation of an in-house vaccination education campaign. These necessary actions are already underway in many local industry leading companies.
With respect to an intensive cleaning programme, HRPAB recommends the use of electrostatic spraying which is approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) as well as local health authorities as being a safe, non-toxic method of applying broad-spectrum virucidal that have proven effective against the COVID-19 virus. More than one local vendor offers this service that quickly cleans large areas at a per square foot cost to businesses.
Establishing a testing policy for the workplace requires careful planning and consultation. As with all well-implemented policies, consultation with key stakeholders namely the employees and their representatives is key. A testing programme must consider the following factors:
- Organizational structure and layout of the work space. There may be some employees who due to their lack of interaction will not need testing as opposed to others with significant daily interactions.
- Frequency of testing. Even the most willing employees may become test-fatigued if the testing is to occur more regularly than fortnightly.
- Cost of testing and who will pay for it. There are several providers offering the Rapid Antigen COVID-19 test at costs ranging from one hundred and thirty dollars to two hundred and seventy dollars per test. As group medical policies do not cover the cost of routine testing, either the company or the employee will have to pay.
- Disclosure of information. HRPAB recommends that as much confidentiality as possible be preserved, except where the public safety of the organization dictates otherwise. Disclosure of positive results may only be required for departmental heads to plan coverage to prevent disruption of operations, and for notifications that are necessary to facilitate contact tracing.
- Retention of information. A confidential database should be established for the testing data, to keep track of testing due dates and length of quarantine where necessary.
One of the main obstacles to widespread testing in the workplace has been the employee’s right not to be tested. But can testing be effective if the entire employee body does not participate? The framers of our Labour Code did not anticipate a pandemic such as this so it does not provide clear guidance, neither are there any precedents set which we can follow. Companies must therefore consult with their employees and/or their representatives in these matters to find that balance between one employee’s right to privacy and comfort, and another’s right to feel safe in the workplace.
In our next article we will discuss establishing an in-house vaccination education programme.
The Human Resource Professionals of Antigua and Barbuda (HRPAB) is a registered non-profit, professional association dedicated to the advancement of the HR profession for national development. We began informally from 2009 and legally registered in 2011. HRPAB’s growing membership represents private and public organizations as well as independent consultants specializing in one or more areas of human resource management and development. Membership is offered for three categories: professional, non-professional, and honorary. You may contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook and Instagram @HRPro268