On April 16, 2020, the federal government issued guidelines on a three-phased approach to “Opening Up America Again,” based on the advice of public health experts. No, there isn’t a step-by-step playbook for reopening your business, but there are a number of considerations for a safe and responsible return to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. . Every business is different so it’s important to assess your unique workplace. Consider the dynamics of your employees and the activities that need to happen at the office versus at home.
1. Assess what is right for your organization and your workforce.
With “stay at home” restrictions easing employers will want to consider the best options for safely and responsibly returning their employees back to the office. This will be different for every organization based on its needs and the amount of work that can be conducted at home versus in the office. All employers are required to take the specific precautions as outlined by state and local governments.
2. Assess which employees are able to return to the office and when.
Consider asking all employees returning to the office to first fill out a questionnaire asking about COVID-19 symptoms. Based upon the employee’s responses, consider asking the employee not to return to work until circumstances change. You can also require that they provide a doctor’s note clearing them to return to work. Consider alternating the people in the office to reduce the potential spread.
3. Decide whether to require temperature & symptom checks and how frequently to conduct.
Given the current pandemic, the EEOC permits temperature and symptom checks of employees. Employers implementing such checks should do so thoughtfully and in compliance with all local laws. Ensure you have the equipment, personnel and protocols in place to implement such checks. Take signs of illness seriously and take action.
4. Coordinate with landlords and building management teams to ensure adequate cleaning.
Employers will want to have a discussion with their landlords and building management teams. You should ensure adequate cleaning and social distancing measures are taken in all common areas, including elevators and gyms. Discuss any special requests or specific concerns you may have. Expect that some landlords may want to explore the possibility of staggering work hours among tenants in the building.
5. Reconfigure workspaces.
Most governments are requiring employers to comply with social distancing regulations when the workplace opens. You will want to review floor plans now to think through how the workspace may need to be reconfigured. If possible ensure all workspaces are at least six feet apart. Also consider the common touchpoints in the facility. Determine how you can reduce the amount of times things like surfaces, folders, documents and doorknobs are touched.
6. Implement social distancing protocols.
The CDC defines social distancing as deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness. Employers should consider implementing additional social distancing rules. This can include include requiring employees to stay six feet apart at all times, unless closer contact is absolutely required for a particular job duty, discouraging employees from shaking hands, and prohibiting sharing headsets or other items.
7. Consider limiting in-person meetings and visitors to the workplace.
Many of us have been working remote for some time now and have become accustomed to videoconferences. While we ease back into work, encourage social distancing by continuing to conduct meetings through video and phone whenever possible. When employees do need to meet face to face, try to conduct meetings in open, well-ventilated areas or perhaps moving the meeting outdoors. Review options to limit visitors in the workplace and consider a screening process for non-employees that must enter the building.
8. Secure face coverings for your workforce and establish a policy.
Many states have issued guidance for wearing coverings at work and in public. In Rhode Island employers are responsible for providing a face covering at their own expense to employees. Review local guidelines and give yourself plenty of time to secure masks for your team. Expect delays and procure your items well in advance of your return. Even if it is not a requirement, this small gesture indicates your concern for your employees’ well-being. This may help ease their concerns with returning to work. Consider your internal policy for when employees should wear face coverings. Be sure to enforce this until the spread of COVID-19 has reasonably decreased based on guidance from the CDC.
9. Encourage proper hygiene & prevention measures.
When it comes to reducing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, it’s best to take a proactive approach. Consider a virtual meeting to review safety practices and reinforce best practices. Once back at the office the CDC also recommends hanging posters in the office and wash areas to encourage proper hand washing and cough covering.
10. Establish a response plan to ensure a quick response to COVID-19 diagnoses and exposures.
A good plan only works if your work team understands (and is comfortable with) the policy and process to report a COVID-19 diagnosis or exposure. This should be a regular topic of discussion and employees should be encouraged to report any potential symptoms or exposure. Determine a policy that works best for your organization. Consider flexible, non-punitive options for employees who need to take time out of the office. If you do have an employee who has a diagnosed or suspected case of COVID-19 it’s important to act quickly while still protecting the rights of your employee. The CDC recommends that employers inform employees of their potential exposure but should refrain from disclosing the name of the individual who has been infected.
In our current climate, guidelines and laws are changing rapidly. If you’re not quite sure how to address a certain situation, defer to the experts. As responsible employers we should take every reasonable measure to protect our employees and communities so we can safely return back to work.