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What to Consider Before Employees Return to Work

Although the current pandemic and the resulting economic situation remains fluid, discussions on how cities will gradually re-open businesses in the weeks and months to come have begun.

While there are no clear answers to what the new normal will look like, it is important that employers keep in mind a number of guidelines to decrease the risk of infection at work.

Social Distancing in the Workplace

Many workplaces contain areas where employees spend their workdays less than six feet from others.

Since redesigning the entire workplace is not possible for most employers, alternatives can include:

  • Continuing remote work for employees who are able and equipped to do so
  • Staggering work times, breaks and days in the office to ensure employees who have workstations within six feet of others are not in the office at the same time
  • Alternating employees working in the office and working remotely to have fewer people in the office on any given day

Workplace Hygiene

In addition to the ramped-up cleaning that all employers should deploy on a daily basis, employers should remind employees to wash their hands thoroughly and often. Other precautions include not using other employee’s phones, computers or other work tools and placing sanitizers by common work areas, like copy machines, kitchens and break rooms, washrooms and entryways.

Employees should also be reminded to stay home if they do not feel well or fear they have been exposed to COVID-19.

Employer Provided PPE

Although OSHA has long required that employers must provide employees with personal protection equipment (PPE) in order to prevent injury or illness from work related conditions, COVID-19 has raised new questions about what PPE is.

Traditionally it was hard hats and safety vests, but those clearly will not prevent the spread of disease. Employers whose employees come in contact with the public may consider providing those employees with personal face masks or face coverings, gloves and sanitizers.

Some jurisdictions, including Illinois, New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. already mandate that employers provide face coverings (although not face masks) to employees with public contact as part of their role.

Employers should also not object if employees wish to wear those PPE devices, even if they are not in a jurisdiction which requires it or an occupation which is considered above minimum risk for exposure.

COVID-19 employment related questions are very nuanced, and updated guidance is being issued on a regular basis. It is important for employers to stay ahead of their expanded obligations.

Deborah Jo Soehlig advises clients on many aspects of running their businesses, including addressing employment questions. dsoehlig@fischelkahn.com

May 4, 2020 | Business Law |