#childsafety | Employers, staff still navigating COVID protocols | Local News

SHERIDAN — As Sheridan continues to see new cases of COVID-19, nearly seven months after the first reported case in Wyoming occurred in March, employers and their staff have found themselves navigating protocols regarding quarantines and missed time at work.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention experts recommend anyone who has been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 quarantine. 

Close contact includes remaining within 6 feet of someone with COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more; providing care for someone with the virus; having direct physical contact with the person; sharing eating or drinking utensils; or if the infected individual sneezed or coughed and you got respiratory droplets on you.

Oftentimes, individuals needing to quarantine are notified of the close contact by contact tracers through Sheridan County Public Health. 

As schools and child care facilities have seen cases among students and staff, though, some parents have found it necessary to stay home with a quarantined child.

Children’s Center Inc. temporarily closed the week of Sept. 28 due to a COVID-19 positive case.

Last week, the Children’s Center in Sheridan closed due to cases of COVID-19.

According to Jennifer Graves, spokesperson for the Sheridan County Incident Management Team, Sheridan County Public Health had not asked or recommended any child care facilities close. 

“I don’t want to speculate on why these facilities closed, but we’ve seen businesses in the past electively close their doors to conduct deep cleaning and/or to give time for their employees to all test for COVID-19,” Graves said via email Friday. “The businesses can then reopen with additional reassurance they are following all the safety precautions available to them.”

When child care facilities close, though, parents find themselves needing to take time away from work, even if neither they nor their child has been told to quarantine.

This can create frustrations for employers who are unsure of how to navigate questions that arise when parents must stay home. 

Stacia Skretteberg, human resource consultant with Peak Consulting in Sheridan, said it’s important for employers to understand the requirements set forth by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and expanded family and medical leave, but not all requests for flexibility will require paid leave.    

“Our advice to clients depends on each specific situation, but overall we recommend looking at the actual duties and responsibilities of the job,” Skretteberg said. 

For example, she said, employers should consider the possibility of a staff member working remotely or changing work hours to be more conducive to the employee’s scheduling needs due to child care.

“Prior to COVID, our ideas about work schedules and reporting to the office were set in the way we’ve always done it,” Skretteberg said. “What we’ve seen since the middle of March is employers being creative with how to continue operations in new ways. When an employee needs flexibility, it’s important to talk with them about the challenges they’re facing and work with them on possible solutions.  

“This should be an interactive process between the employer and the employee,” she continued. “It should be based on the duties of the job, the needs of the business and the issues the employee is facing. It’s important to be open to how it could work rather than relying on previous policies prior to COVID.”

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act went into effect April 1 and is set to expire Dec. 31. It includes an expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act, allowing leave for eligible employees who can’t work because their minor child’s school of child care is closed due to COVID-19. 

For smaller businesses, it also includes 80 hours of paid sick leave for eligible employees who are unable to work due to COVID-19. 

Heather Doke, HR director for the city of Sheridan, echoed Skretteberg’s sentiments, encouraging employers to be flexible.

“This pandemic is something neither employers nor employees have ever had to deal with before, so all of us are scrambling to do the best we can,” Doke said via email Monday morning. “The short answer is that the best practice for employers right now is to do what they can to be flexible with employees.

“Organizations that can be flexible and creative in supporting their employees will foster a positive, productive culture and be able to retain top talent,” she continued. “That will look different for every employer and in some cases, every employee. For some it means working from home, for some it means working different hours, and for others it may mean taking time off to take care of children who are doing school from home or can’t go to day care.”

Doke also pointed to the rules outlined in the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act as providing some relief for employees and guidance for employers on how to handle time away from the office. 

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