Question of the Day: Return to Work Best Practices

May 13, 2020

By Teresa M. Thompson

Question

What steps can we take proactively to prepare to return employees to the workplace?

Answer

For the last two months, many employers have been in a reactive mode just trying to keep up with changing legislation, state stay-at-home orders and necessary cost saving measures. However, employers have the opportunity now to be more proactive as they prepare to return employees to the workplace. We have outlined here a few “first” steps you can take now to prepare your workplace and employees for a return to work.

Create a preparedness plan

Whether your state requires a written preparedness plan or not, taking the time to create a plan for return to work now will help for a smoother transition back into the workplace. The plan should address the following:

  • Safety of employees – including social distancing, employee hygiene and disinfecting protocols;
  • Sick leave and sick reporting protocols – including specific instructions on when employees must stay home if sick;
  • Use of personal protective equipment (PPE) – including what PPE your company will provide to employees and how those PPE should be used;
  • Health screenings – including who will be screened, what type of screening you will use, where/when that screening will take place and who will conduct the screening;
  • How you will handle receipt of confidential health information from employees – including how to store and protect that information;
  • Customer/visitor controls – including what health screening and PPE will be required of customers or visitors; and
  • How you will respond in the event of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 exposure in the workplace.

Revise and supplement your policies and procedures

We all know that revising and supplementing employee policies can be a tedious and time-consuming process. However, taking the time to revise and supplement those policies now, before employees return to the workplace, will help address employee questions, assuage employee fears of returning and provide a consistent method of managing issues as employees return to work.

You should consider reviewing and revising the following policies:

Employee hygiene, disinfecting and cleaning policies. Employees should be provided with specific instructions and requirements for these critical safety measures in the workplace. This will help mitigate risk in the workplace and also meet required safety standards under CDC, OSHA and state department of health guidelines.

Sick leave policies. In the past, staying home sick was often viewed as an attendance or performance issue. Policies should make clear that employees are expected to stay home if sick and that they will not be retaliated against for doing so. Sick leave policies may also address what paid sick leave options are available to the employee if they are required to stay home (whether under the FFCRA, local/state paid sick leave laws, your own paid sick leave or PTO accruals, or unemployment compensation).

PPE policies and protocols. You will likely need to create this policy so that employees understand what PPE must be used and how they will be used in the workplace. When creating this policy, make sure to check with current CDC, OSHA and local health department recommendations and requirements for your business or industry.

Guest and visitor policies. You should create a policy which outlines how you handle visits to your workplace by customers, clients or vendors. This includes hygiene and PPE requirements for anyone entering the workplace.

Accommodation policies. Review your reasonable accommodation policies so that you and your managers can properly address requests for accommodations by employees, such as requests to continue to work remotely due to underlying health conditions which place the employee at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

COVID-19 exposure response policy. Prepare your incident response plan now for when you have a confirmed COVID-19 case in your workplace.

Complaint procedures and policies. Update your complaint procedures to provide employees a process for reporting safety violations, or failure to follow PPE or other hygiene requirements both in your workplace and when visiting customer sites. Employees should understand they will not be retaliated against for submitting such complaints.

These recommendations are some first steps you can take to create your return to work plan. Look for future posts and webinars for additional ways to improve your plan.

If you need assistance with these first steps, contact your Fredrikson & Byron Employment & Labor attorney.


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