A successful business reopening must include a carefully thought out plan that complies with relevant federal, state and local guidelines, prioritizes health and safety, and communicates a clear and consistent message to employees, customers and the community. Before employees return to the workplace, business owners should have already updated relevant employment policies, assessed their physical environment and implemented precautionary measures to prepare for the “new normal.” Preparation and communication are the keys to a successful business reopening, especially since some employees and their family members may be sick, may have childcare or other family care issues due to school closures, etc. and/or may be more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 due to an underlying health issue. Considering a staggered return with fewer employees and providing employees with flexible work arrangements, such as teleworking are just some considerations for employers as they safely navigate a return to the workplace.
1.Employment Policies and Handbooks. Before returning to work, employers should review their Employment Policies and Handbook and make modifications that are in keeping with new regulations and practicalities. Among the policies that may need to be revised are sick leave and family leave. Implementing or continuing flexible work policies such as teleworking should also be considered. New regulations reflecting the likelihood of the impact of COVID-19 on families will necessitate changes in a business’s policies. The CDC has issued recommended Guidelines for Employers on how they should identify sick employees and encourage them to remain at home and maintain proper health and hygiene in the workplace to reduce the transmission of the virus.
2.Scheduling Employees in the Office. Employers will need to determine who is available to work. The workforce is likely to have challenges. Some employees may be ill or have family members for whom they are caring. Others have children or other family members for whose care they are responsible. There are also employees, who for underlying health factors, may be at a significantly higher risk for COVID-19 than others or may face other challenges such as commuting on public transportation. Workplace accommodations such as continued teleworking and staggered shifts may be solutions to meeting employee and regulatory requirements.
3.Screening. Some employers are considering pre-screening in the form of questionnaires and temperature taking before employees and visitors are allowed to enter the workplace. These interventions come with privacy issues and strict protocols to protect employees. Employers will need to ensure compliance with regulatory guidelines from the CDC, OSHA and the EEOC when implementing screening measures. If employers are considering testing, they will also need to ensure reliability and compliance with FDA regulations.
4.Maintaining a Healthy Work Environment. In addition to flexible work arrangements, employers will also need to assess the physical layout of the workplace to ensure that social distancing can be achieved. Employers will need to consider removing certain furniture, closing or limiting access to meeting rooms and cafeterias, creating one-way hallways and installing barriers such as plexiglass protectors. Employers will also need to consider whether facemasks or other PPE will be required, develop clear policies and protocols to ensure that proper hygiene and cleanliness is maintained and perform enhanced sanitization as needed. If some employees refuse to wear PPE, maintain social distancing or take part in the businesses’ other protective measures, they are subject to the same outcomes as if they were derelict in their duties and responsibilities as spelled out in the Employee Handbook.
5.Bringing Back Employees. For some employees who have been furloughed or laid-off, unemployment benefits have been significant. For them, bringing them back to work on less than a full-time basis may be detrimental, which should be considered when deciding the first phase of the return to work.
(Source: Warshaw Burstein, LLP)