At Square Roots, we are a people-centered company with a culture of safety.
Now more than two years in, we’ve become accustomed to the ebb and flow of infection rates and deaths, government guidance, and the ups and downs of navigating a global pandemic as a company whose core business is growing food. At this point, COVID-19 safety has become another ever-present element of safety — along with food safety, and general worker safety — that is incorporated into our day to day business operations.
Throughout the pandemic, Square Roots has been committed to meeting — and exceeding — all safety guidelines set by federal, state, and local governments where we work. Our policies are coordinated by a centralized Safety Team, in close consultation with our local farm teams.
The policies are regularly reviewed and updated and we have now adopted the CDC community risk levels framework as a primary indicator of which COVID safety policies we activate and when. We have been proactive in sharing these policies widely with our team members and work collaboratively with teams to implement policies in ways that are effective and sustainable.
At times, we’ve communicated to the team via daily briefings, weekly Q&A’s, trainings and retrainings, and team members at Square Roots can access these policies at any time on the company’s internal dashboard so everyone can understand which COVID-19 policies apply to them and feel safe and supported at work. We’ve also contracted with external consultants to advise us in the absence of government guidance, and our approaches to COVID safety are highlighted as best practices by the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute in their report, “Protecting Those Who Feed Us; How Empowers, Government and Workers’ Organizations Can Protect the Health, Safety and Economic Security of Food Workers During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond.”
We often get asked by other companies what we’ve done that’s worked, so we’re sharing a few highlights of the policies we’ve implemented:
- “Stay at home.” Anytime an employee reports illness, or exposures necessitating quarantines, this has been paid time, separate from their regular PTO or sick time, and was stressed to employees as one of the best ways they could care for themselves and their teams. This is considered a best practice because it incentivizes employees to communicate honestly and stay home when sick without losing pay, or fear of retaliation or loss of their jobs, which ultimately helps prevent spread of illness at work.
- Clear communication around policies and exposures or illness on teams. We strive to provide as much information as possible to teams when there have been incidences of illness on campus. Too often, workers have felt in the dark on the spread of COVID at their workplace. Our goal has been to avoid this feeling and ensure employees have as much information as possible.
- Vaccine requirement, inclusive of a booster requirement. Taking a cue from universities, and because evidence emerged that 2 shots were not sufficient to prevent illness once Omicron became a dominant variant, we made the decision to require booster shots for all employees. This wasn’t an easy decision to make, but it has helped us prevent spread.
- Masks. We’ve provided high quality medical-grade masks on campus since they first became available to the general public. These are required for those located in ‘high risk’ areas but provided to all employees who may choose to wear them. These masks are the most effective against COVID-19 infection.
- Testing. Before our team was fully vaccinated we provided weekly PCR testing. Now that our team is fully vaccinated and boosted, we provide at-home tests and reimburse for tests taken in the community.
- Medical benefits. Square Roots provides 100% paid medical benefits to all full time employees, and during COVID-19, we prioritized coverage providing low-co pays on mental health services to make sure our employees are cared for physically and mentally.
Across the company, our teams have shown an incredible capacity to care for themselves and each other through the pandemic, and our outcomes reflect that. By following the science, empowering our employees to engage with policymaking and an emphasis on people-safety, we’ve weathered the pandemic so far and are set up well for whatever comes next.
If you’d like to discuss how these strategies might get implemented at your organization, please feel free to reach out.
Ashley Rafalow, MPH
Director of Impact