Two women are speaking to each other over a video call during a remote job interview.
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How to assess a potential employer’s health and safety policies remotely

22 Oct 2020

What health and safety policies do you need to look out for in a new employer in the Covid era? And how can you ask about these in a job interview?

Whether they plan to return to the office or not, all companies must now rethink their health and safety measures in light of Covid-19. Not only is this important for existing employees, but prospective new recruits who may be interested in a company’s policies.

Candace Nicolls, senior vice-president of people and workplace at online staffing platform Snagajob, believes the ability to question and showcase a company’s protocols will become key skills in this new era of work.

Asking the right questions

According to Nicolls, it could be harder to learn about a potential employer’s safety precautions and policies in a remote interview. This could also be made more difficult by companies being “passive” rather than proactive about sharing their efforts.

“When you walk into a building, you’re able to see the precautions that are in place,” she says. “When you’re interviewing remotely – especially if the interviewer is in a location other than the office – you aren’t able to pick up any visual cues around precautions.”

Navigating this as a job candidate requires asking the right questions, she adds. Of course, many businesses have moved their operations online because of Covid-19 restrictions. But for those that still have workplaces open, Nicolls outlines some “universal precautions” to keep in mind.

For example, is there enough room for proper social distancing? If not, is there an option to work remotely? What mask requirements are in place? What sanitation measures exist, especially in common areas such as kitchens and bathrooms? Are there temperature checks, or requirements for gloves, goggles and other workplace PPE?

“I suggest asking about safety procedures in place directly, so you can make an informed decision about an employer based on your risk tolerance,” Nicolls says. “If there are certain precautions you’re in need of because of pre-existing conditions from you or a family member, now is the time to ask.

“You don’t need to go into specifics about your own situation, but you need to ensure accommodations for your safety can be made, if necessary.”

Answering candidate queries

How can hiring teams prepare for candidate questions? Again, the best approach is to be proactive, Nicolls says. “Any employer who’s actively hiring should be prepared to address these questions. Employee safety should always be a priority for organisations, but it’s certainly more important than ever.”

If the team can’t communicate company policies before the interview takes place, then honesty is the best policy. Nicolls advises that interviewers answer questions “as honestly and thoroughly as possible”.

“If someone asks about a precaution not implemented, let them know why,” she says. “Or if it’s something that’s not yet been considered, tell them that too and, if possible, that it will be explored.”

Candace Nicolls is sitting in a colourful room and smiling into the camera.

Candace Nicolls. Image: Snagajob

The hallmarks of a health and safety policy

Speaking to earlier this year, occupational physician Prof John Gallagher outlined some of the key things safety policies should include.

As laid out in the Government’s Return to Work Safely Protocol, all employers in Ireland must create a Covid-19 response plan, ensure appropriate hygiene facilities and encourage “good respiratory hygiene and etiquette”. Bins have to be emptied regularly, canteen use will need to be staggered and contact logs must be kept.

However, employers also have a responsibility to cater to employees’ mental wellbeing and working remotely shouldn’t hamper this. Online gym sessions and social gatherings – such as virtual happy hours and jam sessions – as well as access to wellness podcasts are some of the ways businesses in Ireland have been adapting.

So, don’t shy away from asking your interviewer about the measures they have in place for both mental and physical wellbeing.

“The safety of employees and their families has come to the forefront of considerations for everyone this year,” Nicolls says. “Now more than ever, employers and employees need to have open and direct conversations so there are no surprises around on someone’s first day.”

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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