Employees at IHP in Russellville voice safety concerns after an employee tests positive for COVID-19

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RUSSELLVILLE, Ala. — Innovative Hearth Products in Russellville has a nearly full parking lot as employees returned to work following a five-day closure. Chief Operating Officer Jason Pickering confirmed with WHNT News 19 that one employee tested positive for COVID-19.

The company said it closed the plant for five days to sanitize and clean the facility before beginning the reopening process on March 30. Assembly line workers returned to work April 1.

Employees reached out to WHNT News 19 and told us in order to return to work they were required to sign an agreement listing new expectations to help prevent the spread of the virus.

That list includes limiting mass entries and exits in and out of the facility, maintaining a six foot social distance, and taking 15 minutes to clean and sanitize each work station before and at the end of each shift.

“What we asked everybody is that they recognize that we’re going to follow the CDC guidelines. We want them to be able to make sure that they understand what that means from a personal hygiene standpoint,” said Pickering.

An employee said although a six-foot social distance is required, it’s not being done in some areas. “Everybody that works, we all crowd in a group,” they said. “They keep on saying six feet apart but nobody stays six feet apart. It’s putting families in jeopardy, people at home that have health problems. They could bring that back from work and give that to them.” Pickering said he understands the frustration and processes have begun to help maintain that social distance.

Unemployment pay was another concern employees raised. They wanted to know how they could be compensated for the days the plant was shut down. Pickering recommended reading through the Employee Paid Leave Rights in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

Pickering said during this difficult time, communication is key. “We absolutely will work with people and find a solution that works for them and works for the company and we’re able to get through this together; we’re all in in it together,” he said. “We’re not trying to be separate and we don’t need to act like we’re separate; we can figure it out.”

IHP released a statement regarding COVID-19 that aims to answer some questions employees might have concerning the virus. For any other questions, Pickering said employees may contact a supervisor or manager.