As business owners, first we responded to the Coronavirus crisis. Then we tried to keep our businesses running and employees employed. Now, as some states are beginning to lift their shelter in place orders, we are navigating our way back to business.
Certain non-essential sectors of the economy either have been, or soon will be, permitted to open for business. As we slowly reopen these businesses, employers must figure out how to make their workplaces safe for employees (and visitors, if any are allowed) in the age of COVID-19. This will most likely include developing new policies and procedures—some mandated by our local, state, and federal governments, and others implemented to ease the minds of employees who have been sheltering for many weeks.
These are some actions employers should take or at least keep in mind as they begin to restart business:
Prepare for employees’ return
- Update employee handbook to clarify new health screening requirements; PPE policies; remote working policies; review policies and practices compliance with new FFCRA leave policies, Americans with Disabilities Act, and Fair Labor Standards Act; and consider updating paid leave policies.
- Prepare for conducting health pre-screenings or self-screenings of employees. This will likely be required by local and county governments.
- Communicate expectations, metrics, and new policies to employees who may have suffered illness or loss, or now have to return to work with no child care given school and daycare closures.
- Consider staggering days on which employees work on-site v. remotely (if available) to reduce the number of employees at the workplace on any given day.
- Ask employees to disinfect their own workspace before they start work (telephone, computer keyboard, door handles).
- Do not share equipment, if possible. Otherwise, provide disinfecting procedures between use.
- Develop a visitor policy, or if the business is public facing, develop procedures for how to serve the public while observing social distancing.
In conjunction with preparing for employees’ return, employers must also prepare the physical work environment.
- Determine the exposure risk level for the business and consider the OSHA Guidance on Preparing the Workplace for Covid-19.
- Depending on the exposure risk of the business, disinfecting the space by a professional sanitization company may be advised. Even if it is unlikely there was work-related exposure, and the business has been closed for the last 8 weeks, this provides a peace of mind for employees who may be reticent to return to work.
- Provide personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, sanitizer, and disinfectant for each employee and visitor, in addition to handwashing stations, soap, and water. Develop policies on how/when masks must be worn. Those may soon be overtaken by local and county government rules, which are likely to mandate masks at places of business and enclosed spaces.
- Provide more space between workspaces and plexiglass barriers for areas with person-to-person contact if needed.
- Limit the number of people permitted in common areas (kitchen, break room, etc.).
These are some of the tangible actions employers can take to prepare for employees’ return to work. Given the uncertainty of this time, be prepared for employees to be apprehensive as they reengage with the workforce. The best advice is to stay agile and be willing to adapt to the circumstances. If your organization needs a review of its practices and policies please contact me to discuss how we can assist you.