As state restrictions are coming up on their expiration dates, employers and employees are starting to ask what a return to work will look like. It’s a question that requires an answer that balances the issues of keeping the workforce safe and healthy and resuming business operations. Employers should keep a close eye on state and local updates regarding restrictions and guidelines.
The first thing to remember is that the COVID-19 virus is not gone, nor are there currently effective treatments for those who contract it. A mass reentry into the office could put your employees at a higher risk of exposure. Additionally, in the coming weeks, antibody tests will be flooding the market, most of which will not have FDA testing, so the reliability and validity of the antibody tests will be questionable.
So, when creating a plan for when stay at home restrictions begin to relax, there are a few things to consider.
- Can the majority of your workforce continue to stay at home and work? If there’s no need for actual office time, consider allowing or requiring employees to continue working from home. Include travel for meetings or conferences in this consideration.
- What is the childcare or school situation in your area? Many districts have announced that schools will remain closed for the remainder of the school year, which creates a significant portion of the working population that has to stay at home.
- Can you follow CDC guidelines for both health screening and workplace safety? The interim guidance is still valid. It includes steps to reduce transmission among employees, proper distancing and hygiene practices, how to maintain a healthy work environment, and use of face coverings.
- Consider legal issues. The EEOC released guidance on legal compliance during the pandemic. Under OSHA, employers are required to provide a safe working environment; which may include extra distancing measures or additional handwashing stations. Employers that already require personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure a safe workplace may run into shortages and won’t be able to bring those workers back.
- Consider employees with underlying conditions where work at home might be considered a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) while there is still no vaccine or treatment for the virus.
The next weeks and months will be a tightrope walk for employers and employees. While everyone is anxious to find out what normal will be, we also need to protect ourselves and our communities. Employers Council is here to help. Please call or email us with your return to work questions. Also, keep an eye on our Coronavirus Resources page, as we will be adding sample forms and letters, additional resources, and guidance over the coming days and weeks.