Transitioning Back to the Office- COVID-19 Health & Safety

June 17, 2020

Companies across the U.S. are preparing for the transition back into the office, and for many, that return may already be underway. While there’s no standard formula for navigating beyond the curve of COVID-19, one fact remains clear – workplace health and safety are focal points in every company’s path to recovery.

For many businesses, re-opening operations means adjusting to a new normal – existing safety policies must be expanded and action plans distributed (and absorbed) across a workforce. New health policies must also be reviewed with a fine-toothed-comb to ensure compliance with federal, state and local guidelines.

That said, we’d like to focus this week on general workplace safety considerations to help make your return to the office a little smoother.

Making the Workplace Safe | Ensuring everyone is on the same page and actively taking ownership of new health practices not-only requires training, but cultural shifts across your business. One of the most necessary norms to reinforce revolves around personal hygiene. Consider establishing written policies around face masks and handwashing habits. Will masks be required in your facilities? Do employees know the proper frequency for handwashing? These are questions to ponder as your company establishes important health and safety precedents.

Worried how these new health requisites might be received? Pointing to an authority figure as justification for new policies is shown to incentivize employee compliance. Consider using the CDC, county health officials, or even your CEO as a scapegoat. Don’t worry; no one will find themselves in hot water.

Observing more stringent cleaning practices and open space modifications goes a long way toward preventing COVID-19 spread. Do you have a plan for adjusting office space or meeting formats? Online platforms and changed seating arrangements are always great alternatives when in-person interaction can’t be avoided. Ensure frequently touched surfaces are cleaned regularly; place disinfecting wipes and cleaning products visibly in shared spaces. And you’ll definitely want to consider posting signage around your facility to remind staff and about surface hygiene. (We’re creatures of habit, so it’s easy to forget that touchpoints like doorstops, water faucets and pin pads can be breeding grounds for germs.) For public areas, marking floors with directional arrows, adjusting furniture and providing touchless pay systems  will stagger customer flow and create distance between visitors.

Managing Individual Health | In addition to prevention through workplace safety, one of the most impactful ways you can prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to monitor breakouts amongst your workforce population through employee health screenings. You should familiarize your company with COVID-19 symptoms and ask workers to self-assess before walking into the office. If your staff is charged with conducting screenings, be sure proper PPE is at your fingertips. Cough, shortness of breath, muscle pain and fever above 100.4 degrees are all indicators that an employee may need to say home. Although CDC guidelines advise individuals to remain quarantined until 72 hours have passed since recovery, sick staff members should speak with a healthcare provider to assess when it’s most appropriate to return to the office. And remember, conversations about symptoms should always be confidential and COVID-19 specific.

Navigating COVID-19 Diagnosis | So, it happens. An employee is diagnosed. What should you do next? First and foremost, don’t panic. You’ll simply need to initiate the process of notifying workers and limiting any additional spread. Members of your workforce should be informed about their potential exposure, but never share the names of persons who were sick. This might feel a bit awkward, as many employees will likely inquire in hopes of gauging their own risk. But discretion is key to avoid any issue with violating health privacy laws. Above all, it shows respect and care for the diagnosed employee (and we care about their wellbeing a lot!)

Following a diagnosis, you can expect a very natural line of questioning to come next. Do exposed employees need to be quarantined? The broad answer is probably not. Unless workers experienced close contact for a prolonged period of time – loosely outlined by the CDC as 15 minutes without social distancing or PPE – then no additional precautions are necessary. Was the employee asymptomatic? Are workers standing in close quarters in a factory line? Or are they in an adjacent cubicle with limited contact? These are questions you’ll have to ask at your own discretion.

You’ll definitely want to close areas directly utilized by infected employees for at least 24 hours and conduct a thorough cleaning. For a full list of guidelines for disinfecting, see the CDC standards here.

Sick Leave Policies and EPSL | As you develop your COVID-19 office plan, you’ll want to revisit your company’s sick leave policies. One disclaimer to note, these are unprecedented times. While your sick leave policies should be enforced as adequately as attendance standards, the pandemic landscape may call for a bit of grace. Study your company’s ideals and culture around absences. Is there any room for attitude shifts? You might consider training managers to adopt a sense of responsibility for sick employees. If attendance incentives exist for individuals or teams, you might suspend them for a time. All in all, it will be critical to ensure your existing sick leave policies are reasonable and ensure employees aren’t prompted to come to work sick to avoid being penalized. Allowing your workforce to recover at home will reduce risk and help your team feel more secure.

As a final tip, be sure to familiarize yourself with state and local paid sick leave laws (like Emergency Paid Sick Leave/EPSL). Acquaint yourself with how these laws integrate with your ongoing leave policies, or even how coverage has adjusted or expanded by COVID-19.

As always, the SourcePointe team is available for consult if you need assistance balancing health concerns with office returns. Contact us today to set up a meeting where we can explore your needs!

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