The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the country on a profound level. Physically, socially and economically, we’ll be dealing with the fallout for years to come.
In May of this year, the White House produced its roadmap for the re-opening of the country and the easing of the COVID-19 restrictions, These measures have started to be implemented to various degrees across the country, with some states rolling them back to cope with rising virus cases.
As part of this, employers are also facing the prospect of developing workplace policies that protect both their staff and customers from unnecessary risk. When formulating these policies, employers will need to balance their legal and moral obligations.
The safety of your employees is of the utmost importance and COVID-19 is still going strong. HealthySpace offers services that can help ensure a smooth reopening.
Navigating OSHA, EEOC & ADA During COVID-19
Some laws protect the rights of workers regarding health and safety, equal opportunities, and disability discrimination.
OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970) was designed to give workers rights over their health and safety. Should a worker’s role bring them into contact with COVID-19, then there are minimum standards for the use of Personal Protective Equipment.
As COVID-19 is transmitted via the respiratory system, employers must find a way to protect their workers, which is appropriate and does not discriminate in any way in its application.
EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) & ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) give strong protections to workers with disabilities. Specifically, employers cannot conduct tests of investigations into their workers’ specific health conditions unless it is directly relevant to their job.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, these rules must be assessed concerning the advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
CDC Guidance on Return to Work Policies
Since the beginning of the pandemic, state and federal governments, and the Centers for Disease Control, have supplied employers with detailed guidance on how to minimize exposure and prevent the spread of COVID-19. This includes crafting a return to work policies for the safety of your employees.
Preventing the spread of COVID-19
Employers need to create an environment that takes into account the needs of workers who may exhibit symptoms. Workers who display symptoms should be separated from others and sent home. To ensure employees feel safe, employers should consider being flexible on sick-pay, sick leave, and accrued time off.
Employees who fear for their income or job are less likely to isolate and risk spreading infection through the workforce and the community.
Employees who have been given medical advice to isolate will become subject to federal and state law.
Adapting the Workplace
It is improbable that most workplaces will be able to continue unchanged. OSHA advice includes measures to stop employees from sharing desks and equipment where possible.
Workplaces should be rearranged to allow employees to remain six feet apart. Remote working and staggered start/finish times are also encouraged to decrease the total number of employees at the worksite and take the pressure off public transport.
Related: HealthySpace Services
Supporting Health and Well-being at Work
Guidance from the EEOC recommends COVID-19 testing of employees during the pre and post-hiring phases. Companies may wish to engage with specialist organizations such as HealthySpace, who can provide on-site testing for employees and testing for new employees before starting work.
Informing Employees of Potential Exposure
Should an employee be diagnosed with COVID-19, then other employees with frequent or close contact should be notified of a possible risk of exposure.
To do this effectively, contact tracing policies need to be implemented to identify employees they may have come in contact with and equipment used within the 48 hours before confirmed diagnosis. The worker should not be explicitly identified during this process.
Accommodation of Those with Increased Risk
Certain groups have a heightened risk of serious complications. These include older people, those with respiratory conditions, and those with conditions such as diabetes.
Understandably, these employees may feel reticent about returning to work. In this case, employers should seek to confirm with medical documentation and adopt a flexible approach when dealing with the employee.
Additionally, a worker who is not at high risk, but is a caregiver for someone who is, they may also be reluctant to return to work. Depending on the exact details, they may be entitled to protected time off and pay.
Related: About HealthySpace
Differing State Requirements
Employers will also have to take into consideration state directives that have been issued. These differ slightly by state but include general guidelines for opening alongside section specific guidelines.
Some states require screening before returning to work; others require the completion of a questionnaire. It’s essential to understand the specific regulations in your state when you formulate your return to work policy.
Build a ‘Return to Work’ Team
The creation of a successful return to work policy should consist of a multidisciplinary team to ensure that all aspects are covered. This team should include people from every level within the company, including leadership, management, HR, IT, operations, and employee representatives. Suitable outside advisors should also be involved. These will usually include legal counsel, health experts, and business continuity specialists.
Once the initial policy has been agreed, the group will need to regularly discuss the successes or failures of the plan, how it can be improved, and any additional regulations that may impact it.
COVID-19 and its effects are likely to be with us for a long time, and it’s reasonable to expect the employer/employee landscape to change too.
Related: HealthySpace Blog
It is a very confusing time for everyone right now, with much worry and confusion. Employers have to navigate a complicated path through various pieces of existing legislation and new government and state guidelines. All of this goes alongside the social and moral aspects of being a good employer and doing your best to accommodate the wide-ranging needs of employees.
To meet your obligations when formulating your return to work policy, it’s good practice to get legal counsel’s advice to ensure that you are wide-ranging and non-discriminatory to any workforce element.
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