With or Without COVID-19: Healthy Construction Workplace Behavior Supports Positive Outcomes 

Our Career Coaches converse with people from the construction industry on a daily basis—from college age to retirement age, and from management to administrative and accounting roles. Companies are challenged to demonstrate compassion about circumstances related COVID-19, which is real, and to establish realistic parameters for dealing with these illnesses, because they have businesses to run.

With no mandates currently in place for employee sick pay, yet tax credits are available to employers if they choose to extend this pay, the case-by-case scenarios are like high-stakes gambling when it comes to labor costs and availability to get the work done. Sometimes, a single COVID-19 case can quickly become many more when an employer chooses to relieve an employee’s burden with pay as others may choose to test an employer with equivalent paid time off. It can also become more when people are afraid they will not be paid because, unfortunately, so many workers live paycheck to paycheck and thus is why they come to work when possibly contagious.

Most of you can probably think of a colleague with a heightened focus on cleanliness, who often keeps their distance from people with illness and habitually wipes/sanitizes their workspace—even before the COVID-19 scare began. In addition, you likely know those loyal, dutiful types of people who suck it up and come in to work no matter their ailment, even if it was obvious they should be home in bed recovering (and not spreading their sickness to others on the job site or at the office).

Here are some suggestions for coping with a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 illness:

Individuals (e.g., shareholders, employees or visitors)

If you feel illness coming on in the form of extreme fatigue, body aches, headache, cold symptoms or a fever, I encourage you to work out coverage for you to stay away from others in the workplace for at least 24 hours, to be safe. Your body is trying to tell you something, COVID-19 or not.

You can go for a COVID-19 test the same day, or if the symptoms worsen, go get tested before you go back to work. Regardless of testing positive or not, if you are contagious or not on your game, stay home. Between 2017 and 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic, there were approximately 95,200 estimated deaths in America from influenza alone, according to findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This goes to show there are many other illnesses that can cause significant harm and even death.

Rapid molecular testing to diagnose an active COVID-19 infection is now available without having to schedule an appointment. It is done with a nasal swab and provides results in 15 minutes. There is also a rapid antibody test that can be done via a finger stick that also gives results in 15 minutes. In addition, Abbott and other companies have released home tests with 15-minute results.

Based on your insurance benefits, out-of-pocket costs may occur for these types of tests. For many professionals, this is a worthwhile investment to ensure the well-being of themselves and others. This knowledge allows them to plan better for their recovery, their financials, and the best situation for their projects and/or employer.

Most of you know the standard recommendations for preventing germs from spreading. Soap and water are your best friends, and use hand sanitizers when running water is not around. Growing up, I am sure you remember hearing teachers and parents asking you not to drink or eat from where someone else put their mouth (e.g., sharing water thermoses at school). This applies to the workplace, too.

Get to know your own body. In my case, I know if I get a headache and I am hydrated and have eaten, then my body is likely in duress. I know if I am fatigued and have been sleeping well, my body is speaking to me, telling me that my immune system is down.

Boosting your immune system can help to prevent illness, and there are several examples shown in the chart below. It is important to keep in mind that people with weakened immune systems are always at a higher risk for health complications.

diagram of how to boost immune system: eat more veggies, drink more water, avoid alcohol and smoking, avoid stress, take vitamins, wash hands, exercise, and sleep more.If you can’t get in the proper daily amount of fruits and veggies, there are now capsule supplements you can take, like Balance of Nature. Ask your doctor about probiotics and prebiotics for gut health, too. A recommended brand might be Xymogen; this product’s website gives you helpful information to compare its benefits with other brands.

Employers and Company Leaders

Company owners, executive leaders and other management staff can eliminate any thought of mistrust by implementing smart, uniform policies in advance. Work with your supervisors to have a backup plan in place to cover the responsibilities of every employee, no matter how short-staffed you are. Employees could suddenly depart due to any number of unforeseen circumstances, such as a car accident, unexpected surgery or family emergency.

Make it OK for employees to stay home if they experience illness symptoms. Sometimes our bodies are telling us we need to slow down for a day to be stronger for the rest of the week, and for the benefit of the team. Construction is hard-charging, and someone who has a symptom is either sick or more susceptible to getting sick. Granting a single day off for recuperation could prevent the employee—and possibly others they interact with—from being out for an extended period of time. We all know the saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Employers can require a negative COVID-19 test to be submitted within 24 hours for any employee who was out last-minute due to illness. This sets the baseline for a count on COVID-19. Specify that it must be either the rapid molecular or rapid antibody test to eliminate those who say their results are not back yet. Additionally, you can help employees by providing a list of locations where they can either get a rapid test or purchase an at-home test kit.

If you offer group health insurance, let employees know in advance what the out-of-pocket cost may be. If your company is willing to pay for these tests, you could also let your staff know how to get reimbursed, and how many times is allowed for reimbursement. An employer, though not responsible for what employees choose to do for their individual health, is responsible for making the best choice for the overall company, which should include suspension or termination of health and well-being offenders, if it means protecting others. Construction is a team sport.

Lastly, know the facts and don’t implement fear. I was at a public event where a speaker made the comment that COVID-19 cases are up. Immediately, the voice inside of me said, “I wish he would have added that although the cases are up, the deaths from the overall cases are down and we are thankful for that.” Also, while cases were up two weeks ago, they are currently down more than half of what they were at the height of the pandemic. What’s more, early medical research shows that people with confirmed COVID-19 cases have a 97%-99.75% chance of survival, according to the latest update to WebMD’s Coronavirus Recovery web page.

Take a look at this article from Construction Dive, which might help your company find the right balance with vaccine mandates.

Nobody wants to be sick or hospitalized, and for sure no one wants to lose a loved one or a work associate to death. Establishing parameters for communicating and navigating a COVID-19 incident will set the tone for employees to be honest and safe about their personal health situations, instead of ignoring warning signs or concealing information that could jeopardize not just their safety, but also the safety of others in the workplace.

To Yours and Your Team’s Best Health,

Suzanne Breistol


1 Comment
  • Steve Fales

    These are certainly new and complex issues. Thank you for providing insights as to how to handle them.

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