NOTE: This post is the second in a five-part series, Re-opening the Workplace. To view the prior post, please click here.
Part II: Key Considerations to Re-Opening the Workplace
Now is the time for employers to put in place the necessary plans, processes and procedures to successfully re-open businesses. This process requires a step-by-step analysis of all aspects of your workplace. What are employers permitted to do under the state and local directives in place with regard to re-opening? Where do employees congregate? Where is social distancing impossible? What about the copy room? What about the restrooms? How do your employees safely enter and exit the building? These types of very basic questions will build the foundation of your plan to re-open your business. Employers should consider both regional and industry-specific requirements as well as state and local directives.
Employers should have developed the written procedures and protocols they will need before re-opening the workplace. Once a decision has been made to re-open the workplace, employers need to shift to implementation of those plans and procedures. However, beyond the black and white plans of re-opening, employers need to understand that employees will need reassurance that their employer is being attentive to these issues, particularly with regard to those employees who are concerned about returning to work.
Employers should plan for additional cleaning and disinfecting, including extra attention to employee common use areas and items handled by customers and clients. Personal items should be put away daily so that surfaces may be cleaned and disinfected. Employers should ensure that cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer are freely available to employees, along with customers, clients and visitors. Employers should also review procedures with any vendors who provide cleaning or disinfecting services, along with any other third-party vendors who may have access to various areas of the workplace.
Good Social Hygiene
Employers should post notices reminding customers, clients and employees to maintain social distancing; to wear a face covering where social distancing is not possible or unlikely to be effective; to avoid unnecessary touching of surfaces; and to wash hands properly and regularly.
Personal Protective Equipment
Employers need to consider whether to require, request or allow protective equipment in the workplace. In certain workplaces, wearing masks may need to be mandatory, and an employer should consider whether to provide face coverings or reimburse the employee for the cost of the same. Employers should consider how they will react if an employee desires to wear a personal face covering and what the requirements of such face coverings will be. In some workplaces, gloves may be necessary for certain duties, particularly those that require contact with clients and customers. Employers should consider what sorts of additional protective gear may be required or suggested for employees in various positions.
Employers should discuss whether and how to implement screening protocols for employees, clients and customers, or other workplace visitors. Employers should consider whether to require questionnaires to completed by persons entering the workplace, whether to conduct temperature screens or other symptom checks. Employers must prepare and train certain employees to conduct screening safely and correctly, and should follow all laws relating to the maintenance of any information collected through screening. Employers should be careful not to ask for information on written employee or third-party questionnaires that would be considered confidential medical information or a prohibited medical inquiry under the ADA. Employers will need to compensate non-exempt employees for the time required for screening or waiting to be screened.
Employers should begin to plan for physical workspace modifications to comply with required social distancing. Modifications may include separating desks and workstations, adding partitions, and alternating workstations. Further plans will be needed concerning coming in and out of the workplace, use of copy rooms, use of restrooms and temporarily closing or modifying conference rooms and break rooms, including how these spaces should be cleaned after each use and to what extent. Consider modifying high-touch surfaces, such as replacing doorknobs or handles with doors that can be easily pushed open or closed. Workplace managers should expect to require six-foot social distancing every day, throughout the entire workday, without exception.
Reducing Personal Interactions
Employers should analyze how they can limit in-person interactions and physical contact. Employers may need to hold fewer in-person meetings and increase the use of conference calls or video conferences, even if the workplace is open. Limit the size of in-person gatherings/social events (e.g., less than five people), and instruct employees not to use the workspaces or equipment of other employees. A crowd control plan that changes security processes and procedures, such as setting a maximum number of employees and members of the public on company premises, may be needed. Employers should consider areas where employees tend to gather, such as elevators or breakrooms and prepare guidance concerning their use. Ongoing restrictions regarding travel should be considered, including to client or customer meetings, conferences and events, including whether employees should be permitted to leave the workplace during the day once they have arrived at work. Employers should set staggered or spaced meal schedules and consider ways to reduce the number of employees present at the workplace at any one time. Food sharing should not be permitted. Setting staggered shifts (such as early shift and late shift), alternating teams, and/or continued telework will be effective ways to reduce personal interactions.
Safety Communication Plan
Employers should develop a safety communication plan for returning employees. These plans should explain all safety protocols and measures being taken. It should further explain what precautions employees should, and will be required to take. Finally, employees should know where to report any issues. Employees should be reminded of any benefits the company is making available and reference any employee assistance programs that may also be available. Employers may want to consider welcoming employees to any discussion regarding planning for safety obligations.
Employees should be well trained on social distancing policies and protocols, including where to go if there are questions or complaints. Certain individuals should be designated responsible contacts for overseeing and ensuring implementation of any and all changes, including examining current protocols and developing revisions as circumstances may warrant. Management may need additional training to understand their responsibility for enforcing these policies at the local level where orders and guidance may differ. To be certain, employers should consider tracking compliance and consistently disciplining employees for failure to follow protocols.
NOTE: We expect to see numerous changes nationwide, and in local and regional orders and guidance as prior workplace restrictions begin to be lifted and new restrictions are issued governing workplace re-openings. We will continue to monitor developments, and update our advice and information accordingly.
We welcome you to review our upcoming blog posts – this is the second in a series of five – to obtain more detailed advice and guidance on many of the issues concerning COVID-19 and its effect on your business, and to contact Jennifer Weaver, Will Cherry or your Manning Fulton relationship attorney for assistance.
If you would like to have future installments of Re-opening the Workplace sent directly to your inbox in and through our weekly COVID-19 Newsletter, simply click here and ask to be added to our COVID-19 distribution list.