Protecting Your Workforce and Ensuring Continuity

Authors:
Seth Garrison, Senior Manager (Email)
Rich McGillis, Senior Manager (Email)


Ensuring the availability of utility services is critical, especially now. Many utilities have business continuity plans, but few have contemplated the wide-reaching impacts of COVID-19. Here are some ways to protect your workforce and ensure continuity of services.

 

Get the facts frequently

Follow government guidelines and best practices for health and safety. The Centers for Disease Control and your state health department offer the most trusted advice. Given the rapidly evolving nature of this pandemic, check these sources frequently, such as first thing in the morning and again when you end work for the day.

Practice social distancing

We all know the importance of social distancing, keeping six feet away from other. Here’s how to make that happen at work.

  • Restrict all non-essential meetings with outside contractors and vendors
  • Implement work-from-home policies where feasible, and when it doesn’t compromise core service. If it is the first time your employees will be working from home, you’ll need to consider information security and risks. If your non-essential employees don’t have the technology to work from home, consider rotating them in and out of the office so that they can be far apart when working.

When working from home is not feasible for certain field jobs and those with essential on-site core functions, implement the following:

  • Stagger shifts, don’t let them overlap
  • Stagger locker room use and breaks to minimize contact
  • Ensure that teams have access to separate vehicles
  • Enable employees who work in teams to work apart safely by physically moving desks apart
  • Provide employees with personal protection and ways to disinfect surfaces and clean-up regularly
  • Cross-train staff now, to aid in redundancy in the event some contract the illness
  • Note that with limited or canceled training opportunities, some employees may not be able to earn required CEUs. Review which portions of your workforce require a certification with CEUs and create a plan to maintain them
  • If your state or county has ordered non-essential workers to stay home, provide your essential workers with documentation that they can carry with them that explains their status. The documentation should be on letterhead and include a contact person and a telephone number to call. The contact person should be familiar with the applicable emergency declarations.
  • To limit face-to-face interactions with customers, enable alternatives to in-person payments. Direct customers to drop boxes, telephone payments and/or internet options. Keep in mind some customers may not be able to pay online, so also consider how you can safely enable a drop-off payment.

Cancel or modify public meetings, including governing body meetings

Look through the upcoming agenda items and determine with your governing body whether public meetings can be cancelled or postponed. If that’s not feasible, some local governments and utilities are using virtual meetings and providing a way for the public to participate online or by telephone or through written comments. An important consideration here is your state’s noticing and public meeting laws. You may want to consult your attorney about your options.

Ensure your leave policies are adequate

Use CDC and state health department guidelines to put a process in place for extra sick leave, for employees exhibiting any illness, or known to have been in contact with someone testing positive for COVID-19, and has been directed to stay home for self-quarantine.

Consider how best to enable paid sick or time-off for sick employees and for employees who need to be caregivers. Consider that since many schools are closed, and some employees may not have viable or affordable childcare options, they may need extra flexibility. Determine what policies you can put in place to help balance an employee’s need to work and care for children.

  • Some utilities and local governments are encouraging employees to discuss these concerns with Human Resources to find a solution that best meets the needs of the employee and their employer
  • If you’ve allowed working from home in the past, your policies may need to be amended to allow for the presence of children
  • Be aware of federal legislation that may have an impact on your organization’s paid time-off policies

Offer employee support

This is an incredibly stressful time. Here are some things you can provide to employees to help relieve some of the stress and allow them to focus on their work.

  • Counseling services using an already established employee assistance program, or by contracting with a service to provide this by phone or online
  • Special check-cashing services or short-term loans that are paid back through payroll deduction
  • Monitoring federal and state legislation that can help employees and connecting them to resources
  • Subscriptions to meditation and wellness apps

Secure supply chains

Supplies of critical items like treatment chemicals may become more difficult to acquire. Talk with supplier, distributors and shippers about their supply chains and potential vulnerabilities. Make contingency plans for obtaining alternative supplies. Check with state and local authorities about how they may offer potential logistical support to ensure deliveries can be made maintain critical utility services.

Protect critical facilities

Additional security may be required at critical facilities, as resources run low and movement is restricted. There may also be a need to shelter employees at critical facilities to ensure continued operation. Ensure facilities have proper security and sheltering resources to protect your employees and these assets.

Limit non-essential activities

Put off any non-critical activities like some preventative maintenance and landscaping, etc. until things return to normal. Reroute staff to perform only critical activities that ensure continuity of service.

Communicate with the public and authorities

Stay in close contact with the public, stakeholders and authorities to let them know what your utility is doing to maintain services. Public communications may include details about conservation measures, protecting sewer from wipes, or alerting the utility about unauthorized uses of water. Reach out to local authorities to let them know what help you need to maintain service. This may include authorizations for workers to travel between sites, logistical help, key supplies or additional personnel resources.