Direction for Employers Opening Facilities During COVID-19
17 Jun 2020
After intense reaction to COVID-19, employers across the country are beginning to reopen their business or consider doing so. One of the most significant questions arising is how to resume operations while protecting employees and customers. Simply opening the doors or restarting manufacturing equipment is not enough. Every business should act now to adapt their operations through new policies and expectations to protect against workplace exposure. Thankfully, significant resources exist for employers to thoughtfully lead the process of opening their businesses again.
Understanding each business's ability to reopen will generally be driven by state and local governments. The U.S Chamber of Commerce website provides updates on the status of each state. Current guidance for businesses and employers on what parameters should be met to reopen from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) can be found here.
Create a Safe Workplace Prior to Opening
A business should prepare the workplace to be a safe environment prior to opening. To do so, a proactive attitude toward developing an acceptable methodology to enhance workplace safety is essential. The establishment of a COVID-19 Response Team at your business will improve the ability to not only prepare a safe work environment prior to opening, but maintain ongoing safe conditions. Assigning responsibilities for an overall leader, hygiene, communication, procedural and employee support functions are several possible roles. The Response Team Leader can manage the team while ensuring those involved have the resources needed.
A Hygiene Leader would be responsible for cleaning and disinfecting the work environment. Sanitizing the physical business location is critical to limiting the spread of the virus. Personnel, materials and supplies will be necessary to maintain the safe workplace environment. The Hygiene Leader can develop a schedule for specific employees to clean and disinfect workplace areas, while ensuring the necessary PPE, such as face masks, face shields, gloves and other protective apparel, are easily available to those employees. Supplies of soap, hand sanitizer of at least 60% alcohol and disposable towelling should be placed throughout the workplace. Special attention should be placed on the areas and items most consistently used and visited, such as computers, electronics, workstations, restrooms and entrances/exits. The EPA has criteria for disinfectants that are appropriate for combating COVID-19. Air filters in HVAC systems should be changed out or replaced with those more adapted to reducing risk from the virus. Extensive directions for preparing safe workplaces can be found at the U.S. Department of Labor, OSHA or the CDC.
Maintaining a Safe Workplace After Opening
In order to open, many businesses are being required by their state governments to create a COVID-19 response plan, including how they plan to maintain a safe workplace environment, educating employees and informing customers and clients. A Procedural Leader would be responsible for creating training materials for expectations regarding social distancing, PPE usage and employee hygiene while documenting that plan. Significant changes will be required to the physical workplace environment, employee scheduling and customer interface. Arranging desks and activity stations, adapting task requirements to minimize worker contact and implementing non-contact methods to deal with customers all are necessary. The CDC has ample information on how individuals can protect themselves here.
Communication within the business and to external customers is critical to keeping a safe work environment and continuing operations. A Communication Leader would be responsible for communicating new protocol for workplace changes, social distancing, hygiene and cleaning to internal and external persons. Posting signage throughout the workplace and at customer interfaces is critical to notify individuals of new requirements. The CDC offers signs and posters in a wide range of languages here.
Providing consistent updates to keep employees knowledgeable of what is expected of them is critical. Many employees may be unsure if they should stay home from work if they develop COVID-19 symptoms and any repercussions if they do so. Employers should encourage those at high risk, those persons above age 60 and with pre-existing medical conditions, to stay home and work-from-home if possible. And employers should require those who are sick to stay home. The Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act(FFCRA) requires certain employers to provide employees with expanded family and medical leave for COVID-19 reasons. Visit the U.S. Department of Labor website for the pertinent information.
Reaction to an Operating Workplace
As a business becomes operational, employees will face a number of variables that will cause new questions to arise frequently. An Employee Resource Leader would manage protocols to react to events as they unfold. This position would also be the contact point to assist employees with possible exposures or have a confirmed positive test for the virus. Guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division can assist employers if an employee must leave work because they are sick or to care for a family member for COVID-19 reasons. The CDC provides back-to-work direction on when employees could first consider returning to the workplace.
In general, business owners and employees are equally eager to get back to work. A comprehensive, thoughtful plan and a dedicated team can help maintain a safe workplace environment to protect employees and customers while keeping a business operational.