Public health threats and a grieved economy have put us all in somewhat of a vise grip. Planning for the future is imperative for the workplace. Back to work issues can create formidable challenges.
Workers and clients may feel nervous and unprepared, and some may have high-risk health conditions to increase the concerns. The magnitude of these problems can be explosive if just one employee test positive for Covid-19. Managing the ups and downs, the opening up, and locking down your workplace can be challenging. As a small business, I had some valuable lessons come early that helped me navigate the Coronavirus Crisis.
Step 1 – Cloud-Based Office
In 2019 our company suffered when the building next to ours took a direct hit by a tornado. Luckily, we had moved to a cloud base office the year before. Phones, computers, and systems were literally in the cloud, and employees went home, sat at their computers, plugged in our internet-based phones, and kept answering calls and managing orders.
Step 2 – Communicate & Document Policies
A procedure is only useful if it is clearly communicated and documented. Posting rules as with signage, making PPE and sanitizers available.
Defining contact and having rules such as limit handshaking, closed meeting spaces, hugging, or any physical contact that is not necessary for the job. This includes not sharing pens, notebooks, markers, file folders, and more.
Reorganizing the floor plan to maintain social distancing. Staggering workplaces, customers, and visitors. Adjusting desk, walls, and partitions require addressing. How are break rooms, lounges, and other areas cleaned, used, and operated? How many workers can be in the break room, copy room, or other tight space at one time? Do you close them or limit access and clean between uses? If so, this requires monitoring. Do workers take their breaks at the desk instead of the break room? Do you post signs reminding them to wash up before returning? I think the answer to this is, we must consider each workplace, how it operates, and what is best for the workers.
Changing up the schedules of workers may be a good option for distancing. Consider who can work at home and who needs to be onsite? Could you realistically be virtual moving forward? Try using tape on the floor to designate distancing rules and start outside to limit capacities.
Public health is everyone’s responsibility. Doing everything possible to remind and ensure your workers gently, clients and vendors must come from a place of care. Respectful and clear communications that are easy to follow must be the standard operating procedure.
Hand sanitizer stations (at least 60% alcohol) where do they provide the best access? Do you have temperature procedures? As a school, we use the number 99.5; if their temp is at or above, employees are not allowed entry and must come on a day they feel well and temperature free.
Communal equipment cleaning rules are required equipment such as copy machines, industry-specific tools, and machinery. Where is this equipment, and what are the procedures for cleaning? You must indicate in writing to workers how and when this is to be performed. Here is another potential area requiring monitoring. One other thing to consider is how much of the workers’ time will all these added steps take, and how will it impact performance?
Personal Protective Equipment
What personal protective equipment (PPE) is required to do the job? Where do they get it, how do they wear it, and when shall it be used? Mask, gloves, and other PPE may be required.
Companies must state the requirement for wearing a face mask. What are the federal, state, and local guidelines, and how do these impact your workplace? Not only should they be written into the employee handbook, but how are you going to communicate and enforce this policy? The purchase of PPE certainly impacts the budget, and how long can people reasonably wear masks? Are there any consequences for employees who break the rule? What is a medical reason?
Step 3 – Opening Back Up
Emails and messaging on websites to workers and clients need to be clear and concise. Not only are you indicating that your opening, but what is motivating you do open and when are employees expected to return to work. How have your operations changed to make clients feel safe? Whom do they call if they have questions?
COVID Testing Procedures
While Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act rules prohibit employers from asking employees about their health, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated its guidance on the Americans with Disabilities Act and the coronavirus, stating that employers have the right to screen employees for Covid-19. Other mandatory medical tests must be job-related and consistent with business needs.
- Example #1 – An employee with flu-like symptoms was not positive for Covid-19; have they fully recovered? What is the definition of fully recovered? At least three days have passed since recovery and no fever for a minimum of 72 hours (this is without the use of fever-reducing medications) or respiratory symptoms have improved, and seven days have passed since the beginning of any symptoms.
- Example #2 – Employee with confirmed Covid-19, but no signs of illness. You can allow these employees to return to work only under all of the following conditions.
- After, at least seven days have passed since the date of the first positive test.
- They have not become ill, and for 3 additional days after the end of isolation
- A negative test for Covid-19.
- Example #3 – Employees with weakened immune systems. The CDC recommends more rigorous recommendation and should be determined on a case by case basis.
Requiring staff to return to the workplace vs. remaining at home
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, employers must provide employees paid sick leave or expanded family medical leave if they can’t work because they have COVID-19 symptoms, are quarantined, or have to care for a child when schools or daycares are closed.
Unless an employee has been in contact with a staff member while they were infected, employers may not disclose test results (positive or negative).
Employers may not prohibit staff members from traveling for personal reasons, but they may require workers to undergo self-isolation before returning to work if traveling to areas of concern.
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