Recently I attended a webinar “Managing COVID-19: Key Labor & Employment Issues” presented by LexisNexis. The speakers were two attorneys from Locke Lord LLP specializing in employment law. They covered and touched upon some important considerations that you need to keep in mind when running a business in these strange times.

Many pharmacies are attempting to go back to “normal” and often ask me about COVID-related issues in the workplace. Because I do not practice employment law, I usually refer them to the OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, which recommends the steps employers can take to reduce workers’ risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2.

Another guidance I usually send to my clients is CDC’s “Guidance for Pharmacists and Pharmacy Technicians in Community Pharmacies during the COVID-19 Response.” In a nutshell, this guidance recommends pharmacy staff to wear face-masks, require customers to wear face coverings, provide hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol on counters for use by patients, install barrier protection at the patient contact area, clean surfaces often, discontinue the use of magazines/brochures (same recommendations apply to any other business).

Some pharmacy-specific provisions are:

  • Encourage prescribers to submit prescriptions via telephone or electronically and avoid handling paper prescriptions;
  • Limit patient contact: place medication on a counter instead of handing it directly to the patient, provide phone consultations, avoid handling insurance cards (instead, have the patient take a picture of the card for processing or read aloud the information that is needed), and limit physical contact as much as possible.
  • Consider offering home delivery, curbside pick-up, and drive-through services.

I would also add: do not accept returns or patient bottles for refills, encourage patients to call in refills to avoid extended waiting at the pharmacy, advise patients to have enough medication to limit exposure by coming to the pharmacy, and remove all customer seating.

Virtually all Boards (and many PBMs) have waived certain in-person requirements, such as physical signatures, and other procedures involving direct patient communication, in addition to allowing remote order entry (enabling your employees to work from home).

The webinar, however, focused on some less familiar recommendations, such as shift rotations, tenancy issues (how to work with the landlord to implement social distance in common-use areas, staggered entry time for the tenants, and cleaning common areas), testing of the employees and reporting (and record-keeping) requirements in case an employee tests positive.

Another common problematic area is hours and salary reduction. According to the speakers, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, salaried employees are entitled to full salary for weeks in which any work is performed. However, many employers are now switching their employees to a reduced compensation (e.g. 20% reduction in hours would result in a 20% reduction in salary). This could be problematic with salaried employees. Therefore, it might be necessary to convert salaried employees’ status to hourly work, paying for actual hours worked. If you are planning to implement such changes, consult your employment counsel.

While we are going into the next phase of the quarantine, continue following OSHA and CDC guidance, and if you are planning to implement new employment policies, do not forget to consult an employment attorney, who can help you navigate through these uncertain times.