Many Americans are preparing to go back to work in the wake of the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic. However, as Ohio and Kentucky governors, Mike DeWine and Andy Beshear, both respectively have noted, it will be anything but business as usual for millions of employers and their employees. If you are a business owner, your top priority in preparing to re-open requires having a plan in place to help your employees safely adjust to their new normal. If you are having trouble formulating a plan or knowing where to find help, there are several resources available to help provide guidance at this time.
Here are some of the top things to consider as you begin to establish plans for reopening a business to keep employees safe:
KNOW THE BASICS
According to CDC guidance released last month, there are three key questions you must answer before re-opening your business:
- Are you in a community no longer requiring significant mitigation;
- Will reopening be in compliance with all state and local orders; and
- Do you have protective measures in place for employees at higher risk?
Answering these questions is essential in preparing and should not be rushed. If the answer to any of the above questions is “no,” you may not be ready to re-open. Likewise, it may be wise to re-examine your current business model to review new challenges that may require additional costs and, if so, where adjustments can best be made.
Additionally, reopening your organization is not without legal risk if more employees or customers end up getting sick. Walmart and Carnival Corp. are among those already defending lawsuits by employees or customers.
Once these questions have been answered satisfactorily, you are ready to begin physically preparing your space for business.
PROVIDE A SAFE WORKSPACE
Many companies have managed to stay open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in some capacity by employing basic safety precautions such as social distancing and instating work from home policies to limit employees on site. OSHA has several recommendations businesses would be wise to implement as they re-open, including but not limited to:
- Encouraging the continuance of working from home for any employee that need not be on site;
- Displaying social distancing signage to remind employees and customers/clients to be 6 feet apart and limiting the number of people in a space at one time;
- Cleaning in accordance with CDC guidelines of personal hygiene and all shared areas and items;
- Installing physical barriers such as clear plastic sneeze guards at checkout counters or alternating shifts to reduce the number of employees on site at any one time; and
- Offering employees COVID-19 education/training on how to correctly use personal protective equipment (PPE) within their current duties.
In addition, consider alternative means to conduct business as the economy continues to slowly re-open. For example, some manufacturing facilities have shifted from producing typical products to PPE for healthcare workers. Retailers have moved much of their inventory online to bolster e-commerce (web orders), restaurants have shifted to carry out/curbside pick-up and delivery only, and many healthcare- and service-based industries have leveraged teleconferencing to conduct everything from client meetings to doctor’s visits. The safer employees and customers/clients feel, the more likely they are to remain loyal to the business.
PLAN FOR A WORST CASE SCENARIO
Many medical experts are predicting America will see some degree of a second wave of coronavirus outbreaks. Likewise, employees that have tested positive for the coronavirus have forced many businesses nationwide to temporarily close their doors. This can lead to a multitude of problems ranging from grocery shortages to potential costly legal actions, such as wrongful death lawsuits from contracting COVID-19 in the workplace.
The CDC has provided interim guidance to help employers respond to a COVID-19 outbreak. Three critical steps include:
- Asking employees to self-monitor and stay home in isolation if they are suspected or confirmed to be infected with COVID-19;
- Ensuring sick leave policies are flexible and do not require a healthcare provider’s note for employees with acute respiratory illness to validate their condition and/or return to work; and
- Developing emergency communication assessing your essential functions and how you will operate if absenteeism spikes.
As companies move quickly to re-open the economy, they must be aware of new COVID-19 related information from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and be mindful to ensure that new policies aimed at protecting employees remain compliant with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations. Violating these for the sake of business could potentially open employers up to a score of issues in the face of an already uncertain economy. Compliance and risk management is vital to protecting your office culture and business itself, especially as we move forward into a new reality.
Should you have the need for counsel on EEOC, HIPPA or other regulatory action as you prepare to re-open your business, contact the human resource experts at Erigo Employer Solutions today.