ReEmployAbility held a round table discussion June 30th, “Pulling out of the Pandemic, A Round Table Discussion with Workers’ Compensation Professionals” to review best practices for getting employees back to work while the country is managing the COVID-19 outbreak.

The round table discussion was moderated by Todd Loomis, National Sales Manager with ReEmployAbility. Panelists included Jeff Strege, Senior Director of Risk Management with Sysco, Stephanie Latona, Risk Manager with Kirkland’s, and Debra Livingston, CEO of ReEmployAbility.

Jeff has been with Sysco since 2016 and worked for top companies in the risk management field for over 30 years. Sysco is the global leader in selling, marketing, and distributing food products to restaurants, healthcare and educational facilities, lodging establishments and other customers who prepare meals away from home.

Stephanie has been working with Kirkland’s, which has retail stores across the country, for over eight years. Kirkland’s began seeing jurisdictional closures in early March and made the decision to close all locations on March 19th. Kirkland’s was able to reopen over 300 stores on April 9th for contactless curbside pickup.

Debra Livingston is the CEO of ReEmployAbility which places injured workers into offsite transitional work assignments. Her team is based in Florida and used their modified hurricane procedures to move their staff to remote work in early March. Throughout the pandemic, they continued to support the return-to-work programs of their clients and communicated closures and re-openings to participants in the Transition2Work program.

Audience members participating in the discussion answered a quick poll at the start of the presentation that revealed over 97% of them felt they were not as prepared as they could have been when COVID-19 hit. Our panelists agreed.

“When we went through our strengths and weaknesses and opportunities and threats last year, a pandemic was not a threat,” said Debra. “It didn’t even make the list!”

Since March, all the panelists’ companies have adapted to respond to COVID-19. Kirkland’s and Sysco both have instituted temperature checks before every shift for their associates, and Sysco drivers have safety protocols at every stop they make. They also both provide questionnaires and request that associates quarantine themselves if they think they’ve been in contact with the virus.

One of the big topics for the panelists was how their companies were handling employees who are diagnosed with COVID-19 from a risk standpoint.

Kirkland’s created a COVID-19 emergency team that investigates positive cases and works with stores to deep clean the location and report it to the local health department.

“District managers report to regional managers who in turn send that on to the COVID team and then we take action,” said Stephanie. “As far as reporting those cases to our TPA, we are only reporting positives and we are having our TPA go through a compensability determination…at this point we’ve had no true work comp claims, but statute of limitations, whether it be a year or three years, we may see more of those come down the road.”

Another topic was claims that were not related to COVID-19 like slips and falls that have been cleared by their physician to go back to work.

“We actually placed three individuals within the last week in the transitional return to work program,” said Stephanie. “Even with COVID-19, it’s not going to stop us from pressing forward with returning an individual to work when we know how important that is. I will say with the limited number of payroll hours that we’re using at our store locations, we may see more individuals that we will have to put into the transitional return to work program, which is fine. Either way, we’re paying them one way or the other. And as I said, it’s always better to have them at work. And if we can utilize them in the stores, we’re definitely going to press forward with continuing on with our return to work.”

All three panelists agreed that having a well-documented, comprehensive crisis management strategy was key to responding to sudden emergencies like COVID-19. They also agreed that communication and clear lines of communication were key to sharing information throughout the business.

“I think for us, it’s just been a lot more communication, more than we’ve ever done before,” said Debra. “And that’s one of the things we had to put in place right from the beginning, how we were going to communicate to injured workers, employers and our nonprofit organizations.”

The panel hopes the audience enjoyed the discussion and got some helpful information on how to manage their own return-to-work programs as communities reopen from the pandemic.

If you were unable to join us for the Round Table discussion, email Todd Loomis at for the access link and password.