April 14, 2020
Authored by: Hope Goldstein and Sara O'Keefe
As we approach the one month anniversary of the first “stay-at-home” orders, many are asking when we can get back to work and what will it look like when we do? In response, companies are beginning to consider the logistics of returning employees to the workplace. Just as the “stay-at-home” orders vary widely from state to state, any regulatory return to work orders issued by the states, or any guidance issued by any federal agencies, will likely vary widely as well. Employers with multiple locations may again find themselves juggling different requirements in different facilities, with no single approach fitting an entire multi-location business.
Though “stay-at-home” states have not yet issued guidance on how or when they will allow non-essential businesses to begin operating again, such a return could commence at any time. In order to assist companies with preparing in the absence of regulatory guidance, we have developed the following suggestions for employers’ consideration as they plan to return employees to the workplace and seek to be positioned to do so, when permissible, as efficiently and quickly as possible:
- Be prepared to comply with the CDC’s Guidelines in effect at the time of a return to work. For current example, employers should ensure they have sufficient handwashing stations and supplies, tissue disposal options and appropriate postings regarding sanitation and hygiene.
- Consider improved infection control/sanitization practices for high-touch areas such as equipment, machinery, restrooms and breakrooms, and sanitization materials for workers and visitors.
- It is likely that in every state some form of social distancing related restrictions will remain. Whether those will be recommended (rather than required) and how specific they will be is still unknown. Social distancing, under the CDC’s current guidelines, means avoiding large gatherings and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible. In addition to conference rooms and work areas, companies should evaluate non-working areas as well, such as breakrooms and lunchrooms. Social distancing strategies may include:
- Implementing flexible worksites as employees return (e.g., telework)
- Implementing flexible work hours to decrease the number of employees present at one time (e.g., staggered shifts)
- Increasing physical space between employees in work and non-work spaces
- Increasing physical space between employees and customers (e.g., drive through, partitions)
- Implementing flexible meeting and travel options (e.g., postpone non-essential meetings or events, continue using teleconferencing) and ensuring systems are sufficient to meet data security and data privacy requirements
- Downsizing operations as appropriate
- Delivering services remotely (e.g. phone, video, or web)
- Delivering products through curbside pick-up or delivery
- Consider the potential logistics challenges associated with trying to return everyone to the workplace at the same time. For larger employers, returning employees in phases may be more manageable, while also allowing for increased social distancing with a smaller workforce present at one time.
- Review sick and other leave policies to address potential absence issues related to COVID-19.
- Make sure policies are updated to include any changes in federal, state or local pandemic related sick leave requirements, where applicable.
- Ensure all required notices are posted, where applicable.
- If returning employees are known to have been exposed to COVID-19, consult and institute the CDC’s most recent guidance (e.g., currently related to use of facemasks in the workplace).
- When the return to work occurs, if COVID-19 remains classified as a pandemic, employers may want to consider implementing a protocol in order to limit individuals’ entry into the workplace and reduce spread of the virus to protect the safety, health, and well-being of employees (e.g., questionnaire, temperature taking).
Like so many other COVID-19 issues, this is an evolving area, and governors/local legislators may revise or extend their stay-at-home orders and incorporate return provisions over time. Similarly, the CDC, OSHA and other federal legislators may amend or issue further guidance regarding the workplace. We have seen numerous revisions to orders and guidance as the pandemic has evolved, and we anticipate more changes to come.
BCLP is actively tracking new developments regarding COVID-19 shutdown orders, and associated guidance, including return to work related provisions. Please consult your Employment & Labor Team Member if you have COVID-19 related or other questions.