As contractors and business owners are well aware, there is an ever growing amount of information related to the responsibility to protect employees whether your organization is directly performing COVID-19 cleaning services or are working in environments of potential indirect exposure. Ed Cross, The Restoration Lawyer, has been advocating for restorers since 1997 and has created a free Customer Health Questionnaire to assist contractors in clarifying the existing conditions as well as the responsibility of the customer to be a transparent partner in the mitigation and repair process.
In the process of gauging risks and formulating scopes of work, restoration contractors will benefit from information about the health conditions of the occupants of the structures where they will be working. This is not only true for COVID-19 disinfection work, but for mold and sewage remediation and other services. It includes questions about mold allergies, respiratory problems and chemical sensitivities, so it is a worthwhile tool for most jobs. COVID-19 provides a great backdrop for employers to emphasize the importance of being proactive to their employees. The process for proactive pre-work assessment includes:
- Visual observations of the workspace;
- Interviews with owners and occupants;
- Collection of available data; and
- Documentation of all of the above.
The Questionnaire helps contractors to collect sites-specific information in a structured way. Many liability insurance carriers are expecting restoration contractors to obtain medical information from their customers, and to seek a warranty in the service contract that the information provided was accurate.
One way to present this form to the client would be to discuss the contractor’s commitment to employee safety as well as carrier compliance in the unique COVID-19 era. It may be an initially feel a bit awkward, but some helpful conversation starters may include:
- “We need to know the conditions here to properly inform and protect our workers.”
- “Our insurance company wants us to collect some basic health information about the health and condition of the occupants.”
- “We plan to use certain chemicals and we need something in our file to confirm we have checked whether anyone has a known chemical sensitivity.”
The Questionnaire is not limited to COVID-19. It is useful for water damage, mold remediation and several aspects of property restoration services because it serves three key purposes:
- Discovering indicators of COVID-19 as is required in many areas;
- Determining if any occupant is prone to be susceptible to mold-related illness;
- Revealing potential sensitivities to chemicals that are commonly utilized in the restoration or disinfection process.
However, contractors should be vigilant and not presume that customers will be entirely truthful in providing answers to the questions. Contractors and their employees should be on the lookout for signs that occupants have respiratory problems or other illnesses referenced in the Questionnaire. Customers may exercise their right to privacy and decline to answer the questions in the Questionnaire. Contractors should respect that decision while considering whether the refusal is a red flag and whether to decline the job.
HIV is sometimes considered a “disability” that creates legal rights. The law related to COVID-19 is in its infancy, and before rejecting a job contractors should keep in mind that COVID-19 could be considered a disability, and consult with an ADA specialist, particularly when turning down work for “public accommodations.” Although the HIPAA privacy do not apply to contractors’ relationships with their customers, contractors should nonetheless treat these Questionnaires as highly confidential, just as they would want their own information protected. There are potentially severe financial and legal ramifications for the negligent or intentional disclosure of a person’s medical information.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recently added six new symptoms to its existing list for COVID-19. The user of the Questionnaire will need to stay current with ongoing updates from the CDC and include them as they are released. Ed Cross may, from time to time, send updates to the Questionnaire, so contractors will want to ensure that EdCross@EdCross.com is in their approved senders email list.
Unique times such as this pandemic cause us to reflect and adjust our processes moving forward. Contractors will also want to review their service contracts to include statements from the customer affirming the accuracy of the medical information provided. Ed Cross has shared on many platforms and prior industry discussions the need for contractors to update their contract language. In addition to this free Questionnaire, he also offers Standardized Coronavirus Service Contracts for many states to helps contractors who are providing cleaning and disinfection services.