As businesses begin to re-open their offices, the White House provided guided phases for businesses to follow to ensure safe re-opening. While state government and public health agency guidelines must also be followed, these phases are simply to help businesses transition into the new “normal” as they navigate employees returning to work and the many hurdles they may face.
Phase 1 consists of only essential employees returning to the office. However, it is encouraged for employees who are able to work remote to maintain a work-from-home arrangement. Vulnerable populations, such as elderly and individuals with underlying health conditions, should be provided appropriate accommodations. Non-essential business travel should be limited or restricted until further instruction from public health and government agencies.
As the situation progresses and although remote work should still be encouraged, allowing more employees to return is permitted in Phase 2. Common areas should remain closed and physical distancing and proper sanitation should be practiced. Non-essential business travel should still remain limited and vulnerable populations still provided adequate accommodations.
Essentially, Phase 3 is when businesses may resume with lifted restrictions on the number of work-site employees allowed. However, it is still highly recommended that protective measures be practiced, such as physical distancing, sanitation, providing accommodations for vulnerable employees, and other necessary precautions to protect your staff.
Best Practices for Modifying the Workplace
- Employers should promote healthy hygiene practices, such as proper handwashing, covering mouth when sneezing or coughing, and staying home when sick.
- Encourage remote work arrangements for those who are able to do so.
- Stagger start times to minimize exposure and practice physical distancing.
- Establish daily employee health checks, such as temperature readings, ensuring sanitation and supplies are stocked, monitor absenteeism, and develop crisis response plans in case an employee shows symptoms or a positive COVID-19 test.
Policies and Procedures
- Clean and disinfect per CDC guidelines. For example, cleaning and disinfecting common areas, such as kitchens, bathrooms, and desk areas.
- Implementing workplace monitoring policies and procedures, such as checking temperatures before allowing employees to enter the office building, requiring sick employees to be sent home, and a response team to address any individual(s) in contact with a positive COVID-19 or suspected COVID-19 employee.
- Communication strategies are critical in these crisis situations. It is important for your communications strategy to include templates for responding to:
- An employee sent home for suspected or confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19
- A local health emergency occurs
- Public health emergencies (such as COVID-19)
- What the company is doing to protect and help employees transition safely back to the office
Many businesses who were able shifted to remote work arrangements. Because of the urgency to protect employees, businesses that transitioned to remote work arrangements did not have any policies or procedures in place. Remote work policies should include, but are not limited to:
- FLSA compliance for hourly staff
- Company equipment and office supplies management and regulations
- Workers’ compensation reporting guidelines
- Dependent care policies (i.e., employees should not be providing dependent care during work hours)
- Communication strategies and procedures
Employers may require temperature and other medical recordkeeping regarding COVID-19, but all laws regarding medical and disability information are still applicable and employers must remain compliant. Medical information related to COVID-19 that is shared with the employer should be kept in a separate file and stored in a secure area. Only authorized individuals and for business purposes should be granted access to such files.
Business Continuity Plans
While COVID-19 likely caught many businesses off-guard, it is the perfect time to revise or develop a business continuity plan. Here are some key components of a successful business continuity plan:
- Identify the scope of the plan – what are the demands of different departments?
- Identify key business areas – what factors contribute to the survival and success of your business?
- Identify critical functions – what critical functions allow your business to continue?
- Determine acceptable downtime – how long can your business be closed before it negatively impacts your business?
- Create a plan to maintain operations – given your response to the above questions, develop a detailed plan incorporating all the critical functions and designating appropriate point persons responsible for each function.
QBS and its partners hosted a webinar to address return to work questions businesses may have. We have also provided our clients best practices and return to work frameworks to assist them during this global health crisis. To access these resources, visit our COVID-19 Business Resources Page.
We recognize that this is a trying time for individuals and businesses alike, so if you’re looking for better ways to navigate return to work policies and procedures, please contact QBS. Our seasoned HR specialists are ready to assist you with developing effective, safe return to work and business continuity plans.