Safety First: Employee Guidelines in the Time of Corona

safety first employee guidelines safe working environment coronavirus pandemic

Some states and cities are finally allowing businesses to reopen after months of closures due to the coronavirus. For employees and business owners alike, the ability to return to business as usual is a relief. Everyone needs to generate income! 

However, employers need to be careful about any practices which could expose their customers or employees to the danger of infection.

Here is a list of employee guidelines to follow so you do not need to add lawsuits to your list of financial worries post-COVID 19.


Social Distancing 

Even if your state or municipality has lifted all requirements for opening your business, you should still pay attention to recommendations by government agencies. Check out the websites for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

These guidelines are continually changing, so check frequently. 

One of the most important changes you will have to make is to impose social distancing. You must assess the physical layout of your workplace and create a plan that creates at least six feet between workers, customers, and visitors.

You can do this in many different ways, such as: 

  • Letting some employees work from home
  • Limiting physical interactions by moving to an online or phone system
  • Allowing only certain employees in the workplace at one time 
  • Increasing physical space between cubicles or work stations
  • Adding partitions or shields
  • Restricting visitors 
  • Closing common areas

Screening

You are allowed to measure your workers' temperatures when they enter the workplace. Just make sure you provide necessary protections for the person who administers these tests. There also may be privacy requirements imposed by your state on the maintenance and confidentiality of medical records, which includes the results of COVID-19 tests.

As the employer, you can also establish rules about sick people entering the workplace. You can tell workers experiencing symptoms, like sore throats and fevers, to go home. You can ask employees to stay home if they have traveled abroad to certain destinations considered high risk. You should tell employees to let you know if they do not feel well or if they live with someone who is sick.

You should communicate in as many ways as possible these rules. Send emails, post signs, and educate managers on how to communicate these guidelines to their teams. 


PPE and Cleanliness 

The CDC is recommending that people wear cloth face masks in public settings. Employers should try to provide masks and gloves to their employees and stock up on plentiful cleaning supplies, tissues, hand sanitizers, wipes, and other measures to keep surfaces and door handles clean. 

This is especially important for any workplace serving food or where customers, visitors, or delivery people may enter frequently.

You may need to examine your ventilation system to make sure that there is adequate air circulation for your employees. You may need to hire professional cleaners on a frequent basis. 

Implement policies that discourage the sharing of equipment and touching, even handshakes.  


What Do You Do When Employees Get Sick? 

A great deal is still unknown about this virus: Can people get sick more than once? How long can someone be contagious? What about people who are asymptomatic? 

It's best to appoint one person to be your overall COVID-19 coordinator. They can oversee communications abut workplace protocols and what to do if someone gets sick. This may save you from liability later.

If someone who works for you comes down with the coronavirus, you should ask them to supply you with a doctor's note before they come back to work. You do not want them to infect others. If they had contact with other employees prior to their diagnosis, you should contact them as well and request that they self-quarantine. 

Make sure you keep the identities of any infected or exposed employees confidential so you do not violate their rights to privacy. 

When someone comes back after suffering from COVID-19, they may need special accommodations. They may be unable to do physically demanding labor until they get back their strength. Look into options for workers comp light duty so they can earn their paycheck as they recover. 


Layoffs

Many businesses have suffered severe financial hardship from the COVID-19 pandemic. Unable to conduct their usual operations, they have no money coming in for payroll. Many companies are furloughing or laying off employees.

In the United States, most employment is considered "at will." That gives the employer wide leeway in hiring and termination decisions.

An employer can pretty much fire anyone, so long as his reasons are not illegal or discriminatory. 

If your business is losing money, you are entitled to cut down on your payroll. Usually, employees are a business's biggest expense.

However, be careful of exposing yourself to anti-discrimination charges. For example, if you let go of all of your employees over the age of 40, you may look like you are discriminating on the basis of age. Age is a protected category like race. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, the President signed a bill into law that expanded the availability of sick leave for workers. Parents caring for kids whose schools are closed get paid family leave to take care of them.

Small businesses with under 50 employees and many health care providers are exempt from this rule.

As the pandemic continues, many questions remain unknown about your obligations to sick workers. It is also unclear how much you may be held responsible if one of your employees gets sick. You may have liability even if you took precautions. 

It is also unclear if you can require someone to come back to work if they are scared they will get sick there.


Employee Guidelines to Work in the Pandemic: Still Evolving

As the nature of this illness becomes clear, it will have many business and legal ramifications. It's hard to remain compliant when the employee guidelines on the state and federal level continue to change, and in some cases differ from one another.

Keep educated on the evolving safety standards for dealing with employees during COVD-19. Watch the websites of the agencies in charge like the CDC more more safe employee guidelines. 

Keep checking back here for news on the coronavirus and other important issues about which you need to know. Visit the Healthcare and HR sections of our site right now for additional insights on employee guidelines and safe working environments.