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Creating a Safe and Healthy Workplace for Employees During and After COVID-19

By Angela A. Cronk, Esquire

Recently, the White House issued a set of federal guidelines for reopening the U.S. economy with a three-phase, state-by-state approach.  As a result, many employers are considering how to prepare their workplace and workforce for a return to work. This article discusses the actions that employers should consider in creating a safe environment for employees to return to work in the office.

 

SAFETY CONCERNS

Employers should implement mandatory reporting immediately, if not previously adopted, in an effort to help ensure the health and safety of all employees.  Advise employees that they must report the following to Human Resources or an identified individual:

  • Known exposure or possible exposure to someone who has been diagnosed with coronavirus;
  • Development of symptoms that are consistent with the coronavirus, flu, or acute respiratory illness;
  • Observation of others in the office who may be exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus, flu, or acute respiratory illness;
  • Travel outside of the United States within the last 45 days; and
  • Any upcoming international travel within the next three months or domestic travel to a location with a high infection rate.

Ensure employees are aware that they are not required and should not provide health or medical information to anyone outside of Human Resources. Remind employees that their information will remain confidential, and held in strict confidence. Advise employees that all non-essential travel is prohibited.  Consider requiring self-quarantine upon return, for any employees who must travel.

 

SELF-REPORTING

If an employee self-reports an illness, advise employees of the following CDC guidelines:

  • Do not come to work
  • Consult with a healthcare professional to determine if you qualify for at-home isolation
  • Stay inside, except when receiving approved medical care
  • Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home (stay in a separate room; use a separate bathroom, if possible)
  • Practice vigilant hygiene (wash hands frequently, clean all high-touch surfaces, etc.)
  • Contact Human Resources or the designated individual immediately

Self-reporting is not limited to employees only. Employees should also report family members who are ill or showing symptoms of the virus. Employees should be made aware that if a family member is sick that they should NOT come to work. They should notify Human Resources of the sick family member and directed to the CDC guidelines on how to limit their exposure.

Employers have the option of taking employee temperatures. This may not be necessary in most office situations, but may be necessary in warehouse situations or where an employer has concerns that workers will come into contact with goods that will be shared with the public.

 

SOCIAL DISTANCING

Employers will need to implement social distancing guidelines based on their office design.  If social distancing is not possible, an employer should consider staggered shifts or alternate days at work. Those policies may also help employees who have childcare concerns. Remember, telework does not need to end when the government permits employees to return to the office. Be flexible and communicate with employees. If necessary, consider having employees wear masks.

 

KEEPING THE WORKPLACE INFECTION FREE

According to OSHA, employers should prepare to implement basic infection preventative measures. Those measures include the following:

  • Promote frequent and thorough hand washing, by providing workers and visitors with a place to wash their hands;
  • If hand washing is not available, provide alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60% alcohol;
  • Encourage employees to stay home if they are sick;
  • Encourage respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes;
  • Post a schedule for sign-ups for eating areas or cafeterias; and
  • Consider closing the company gym until it can be safely opened.

OSHA also recommends advising employees to limit their use of personal cellphones while in the office. Most offices have a policy regarding personal phones, but according to OSHA, cellphones are often full of germs and therefore, should be touched as little as possible to halt the spread.

 

ADDRESSING CONCERNS IN COMMON AREAS

If the office work space is rented, the employer should immediately contact the property management company to obtain a list of specific requirements for tenants. It is important that property management companies are implementing and compliant with the regulations provided by the Center for Disease Controls (“CDC”) and OSHA.  Immediately address building compliance issues with the property management company.

Safety precautions to consider:

  • Review the local and state requirements for wearing masks in public places. If masks are required in public areas, receptionists and other employees in those common areas must wear masks at all times.
  • If masks are required, will the employer be providing those masks or have extra masks available if an employee forgets or loses their mask?
  • Will the property management company provide hand sanitizer or install no touch door hooks on the back of restroom doors?
    To protect employees, a sign should be posted outside of the office or on the doors of the building indicating that masks are required to enter the office.

As with all COVID19-related guidance, employers should continue to monitor the developments from federal, state and local officials as well as public health authorities.  Communicate with employees, clients and visitors so they know what to expect in the office. Follow infection control measures and consider options for social distancing.