The restrictions on movement and on workplace operation are beginning to ease across the country, including in Georgia. But getting back to the office is going to call for a lot more than just making the call for your employees to head back, it will take considerable planning, diligence, action and empathy on your part.
Here are just some of the considerations that will need to be addressed before your place of business opens back up again.
Decide Whether to Require Certifications or Doctors' Notes.
You may want to consider asking all employees returning to the office to fill out a questionnaire asking about COVID-19 symptoms, exposure to others with symptoms, travel or non-essential activities. You may also want to ask employees to certify that they are not in a high-risk category as identified by the CDC. However, consult with an attorney on this, to ensure that you will not be violating privacy and disability discrimination laws.
You should be aware of the fact however that while the EEOC permits requiring a doctor's note before employees return to work in this pandemic environment, both the EEOC and CDC have warned that healthcare professionals may be too busy to provide such documentation and thus employers may need to be flexible in terms of what they require.
Decide Whether to Require Temperature Checks, Symptom Checks, or Testing
As a method to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the EEOC permits temperature checks of employees. Symptom checks may also be permitted, or even required, in some jurisdictions.
Employers implementing such checks should implement them thoughtfully and in compliance with all local laws. Ensure you have the equipment, personnel and protocols in place to implement such checks and respond properly to any signs of illness.
You may also want to consider whether to offer, or require, employees to complete antibody testing or COVID-19 testing before they return to work but that is a difficult issue all around right now.
An employer's ability to offer or require such testing is unclear at present, and again, it's crucial to contact and consult with your attorneys if you are considering these measures, since there are anti-discrimination and privacy issues to consider. Similar issues will need to be addressed if a COVID-19 vaccine eventually becomes available.
Enhanced Cleaning Will Be a Must
After reopening, employers will need to look at their routine cleaning, particularly of frequently touched workspaces. The CDC has provided guidance on cleaning and disinfection procedures, including cleaning after a sick person enters the workplace. If you'll need professionals to come in and help, contact them now, as they will no doubt be very, very busy in the coming weeks.
Out in California, their Governor Newsom has already predicted that, when workplaces reopen, they will need to comply with social distancing requirements. This means you should start reviewing your office floor plans now to think through how the facility may need to be reconfigured so that, for example, all workspaces are at least six feet apart.
Implement Social Distancing Protocols
The CDC defines social distancing as deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness. Employers should consider implementing additional social distancing rules, such as requiring employees to stay apart if possible, unless closer contact is required for a particular job duty, discouraging employees from shaking hands, and prohibiting sharing headsets or other items.
Consider Limiting Meetings and Visitors to the Workplace
Even when you are all back in the office, conduct meetings by videoconference when possible and to limit in-person meetings to a certain maximum number of people. You should also reassess visitor policies to either limit visitors or ask visitors to fill out a questionnaire before entering the facility.
Should Employees Mask Up?
A recent trend among in some states and localities has been encouraging the use of non-medical face masks and coverings. Some localities are even requiring that people wear face coverings when in public.
Employers may consider either requiring or encouraging the use of such face coverings but if they do they should ensure they provide them for employees to use. You should also consult CDC guidelines on those who cannot be mandated to wear masks, such as those with known respiratory conditions like asthma.
Stock the Workplace with Hygiene Supplies
To allow them to maintain proper hygiene, it will be up to you, the employer, to provide employees with tissues, no-touch disposal receptacles and hand sanitizer. Placing these materials throughout the workplace and in conference rooms (and even placing posters next to these items) will help encourage good hygiene habits.
Be Prepared for Plans to Change
Officials have already warned that restrictions, once loosened, may need to be tightened again if it turns out relaxing the restrictions was premature.
You should be ready for this and build flexibility into your plans to provide for quick adjustments as needed. You should also communicate this possibility clearly to employees, whose cooperation and flexibility will be needed in coming months.
Listen to Employee Concerns
Employees may be hesitant to return to work even if all possible precautions are taken. Be prepared to respond to requests in a consistent way that addresses any legitimate concerns from the employee and ensures productivity can be maintained. Consider check-ins with employees to collect feedback and gauge concerns and try to help them as far as you can.