Ready to Resume Office?

The COVID-19 pandemic has rattled businesses and people the world over.

According to John Hopkins University, the U.S. has reported over 1,851,500 confirmed cases of infection and a death toll of over 107,000 so far. Horrifying statistics!1

This grim scenario prompted states to impose stringent social distancing policies and businesses to switch to remote working model to contain the spread of the coronavirus. However, the worst hit seems to be the non-essential businesses. The economic impact of COVID-19 on the U.S. economy is undeniable. 

Crisis is a Dangerous Opportunity

With cases beginning to level off and state orders to lift the lock downs, the businesses have now begun to reopen. And as we all prep up to go back to work, the big question is – are we really ready for it? Has this pandemic added to the ergophobia many employees already suffer from?

Many small businesses are clueless about the way to unlock and restart their operations in what might be premature to call it the “post-COVID era.” People would need to be handled differently as life is most unlikely to be the same ever again.

Employers will need to devise detailed plans to be more humane and compassionate toward their workforce. Businesses that are going to embrace more humanitarian over performance-focused approaches are more likely to adapt to the new work conditions as states loosen the restrictions.

So, what should a US employer be focusing on as it attempts to strike a much-required balance between maintaining a safer workplace and bringing people back for in-person operations?

Opening Up America Again: A Playbook

After months of coronavirus shelter-in-place measures put into place by state governments, all 50 states have started to lift lockdowns, either fully or partially. And with jobless claims totaling 30.3 million in the last one and a half month, millions of Americans are eager to get back in the workforce.

But resumption of economy and opening of offices, while the country continues to face the risk of a second wave of COVID-19 infections, present many legal and practical challenges. Hence, due care needs to be taken as the country scales back restrictions and gradually returns to daily life.

President Trump has unveiled a three-phased approach based on the advice of public health experts.  These guidelines will help in reopening the economy, getting people back to work, while safeguarding individuals’ lives.2

  •  Criteria: The data-based criteria each state must satisfy for a phased opening.
  •   Preparedness: Level of readiness of each state to face the challenges ahead.
  •   Phase Guidelines: Responsibilities of individuals and employers in each phase.

 Employers: Common Guidelines for All Phases

Formulate and implement policies (in accordance with Federal, State and Local regulation) related to:

  • Social distancing
  • Sanitation
  • Temperature screening
  • Sanitization of high-traffic areas
  • Business travel
  • Track and monitor workforce. Any symptomatic employee must not be permitted to come to work until declared fit by a medical practitioner
  • Implement procedures of contact tracing if an employee tests positive for COVID-19

PHASE 1

  • Encourage telework (or remote work), whenever possible and feasible with business operations.
  • Plan a phased return to work.
  • Implement stringent social distancing protocols.
  •  Close common areas designed for personnel congregation.
  • Reduce non-essential travel.
  • Adhere to CDC guidelines regarding isolation after travel.
  • Arrange for special accommodations for employees belonging to a vulnerable population.

PHASE 2

  • Continue to promote employees to telework, whenever possible and feasible with business operations.
  • Close common areas designed for personnel congregation.
  • Arrange for special accommodations for employees belonging to a vulnerable population.

PHASE 3:

  •  Allow for unrestricted staffing of worksites.

An Extra Checklist for You to Make Return to Work Safe

 

 #1 Safer Work Environment

  • Work with not more than 30% of employees at a time.
  • Implement a strict no-contact rule with no-handshakes & no-hugs.
  • Separate workstations.
  • Reconfigure floor plans with 6-foot distances
  • Replace latch-based door knobs or handles with that can be easily pushed open or closed.
  • Hold fewer in-person meetings
  • Encourage more video conferences with partners, employees and customers.
  • Instructing employees not to use other employees’ workspaces or machines.
  •  Evaluate whether they will require personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • No vendors, courier partners or outsiders to be allowed inside the office.

#2 Cleaner Work Environment

  • Arrange for touchless entry and exit of employees.
  • Install a thermal temperature scanner in the office.
  • Sanitize your workspace with CDC recommended cleaners at least twice a day.
  • Implement a “no-sharing” rule for objects like stationery, computers, etc.
  • Create hand-sanitizing stations
  •  Implement equipment cleaning rules.
  • Encourage the face mask rule.
  • Evaluate whether gloves are necessary.
  • Encourage all office employees to regularly wash their hands on touching any surfaces.
  • Take a break every 20 minutes off the screen to reduce the urge to rub eyes.
  • Discourage sharing of food, water or cutlery items.
  • Spread awareness about practising respiratory hygiene while coughing, sneezing, etc.

#3 Trainings

  • Review and revise current pandemic response plans.
  • Spread more awareness among employees, partners, and customers about the symptoms and preparedness.

 #4 Amended Leave Policies

  • Implement the paid leaves provided by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
  • If an employee’s doctor has advised the employee to self-quarantine and the employee is unable to work or telework because of the self-quarantine, s/he is entitled to paid sick leave.
  •  Employees cannot use paid sick leave for non-coronavirus illnesses or injuries

Stay Safe, Stay Healthy!

Do you have questions or concerns about your job, leaves, or the workplace in these unprecedented times? Please drop us a line here.

References

  1. https://bit.ly/JohnHopkinsUniv
  2. https://bit.ly/openingUS