As businesses plan for returning employees to work in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, many are rightly concerned with setting high standards of safety and assuaging employee fears. While transitioning employees back into the workplace comes with limited legal risk, plenty is at stake in terms of trust between employers and employees, if the transition is not managed sensitively.

With so much on the line, we want to help employers navigate this difficult and unprecedented situation as effectively as possible. Below are our developing guidelines on how to do exactly that.

Keeping employees safe during and after Covid-19

Staying up-to-date with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and public health guidelines is key to making sure your employees are safe and feel safe at work. Keep in mind that guidance will continue to evolve and should be checked frequently as the situation progresses.

Creating and maintaining healthy business operations is critical to employee health and safety. The CDC recommends naming a workplace coordinator responsible for Covid-19 issues and adopting a flexible sick leave policy. If you don’t offer sick leave, you may consider an “emergency sick leave” policy, allowing any employee who feels sick or displays symptoms of Covid-19 to remain home.

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) advises that Covid-19 tests may be conducted by employers and can be made mandatory for employees whose jobs are “related and consistent with business necessity.” It is within an employer’s right to choose who is allowed on-site based on the results of those tests.

JDP offers back to work programs and testing which can be specifically tailored to meet the unique requirements across industries and within differing work environments.

Keeping offices clean to prevent transmission of Covid-19

Keeping your office clean will play a critical role in maintaining a healthy, safe environment for employees. According to a study published by The Lancet Microbe, Covid-19 can last up to seven days on common office surfaces such as wood or plastic, even in optimal conditions. In an effort to mitigate these risks, air circulation within your office space should be increased and all surfaces should be cleaned regularly.

One way to aid in workplace cleanliness is to allow your employees access to disinfecting wipes and cleaning products so that they may wipe down any surface before contact, including their own workspace and any door handles. In addition, create new office guidelines that involve minimizing contact – with clients and coworkers alike – and make hand washing a priority.

According to the EEOC, it is within your right to require your employees to “wear protective gear (for example, masks and gloves) and observe infection control practices,” to further reduce the risk of transmission. Consider supplying employees with resources to make this possible, such as gloves and masks.

Be flexible and patient in bringing employees back from quarantine

It will take time for life to return to normal after Covid-19. Once you’ve determined it’s time for your employees to return, you’ll need to be flexible and creative in transitioning your workplace back to a sense of normalcy.

Being flexible about your employees’ work needs will not only benefit them directly, it will create a foundation of trust within the organization. Many of your employees may have adjusted to unforeseen challenges at home, such as homeschooling their children or working different hours throughout the week. They will look to you for help as they begin transitions back into the workplace. Keep an open mind regarding scheduling, as employees readjust to normal. And, of course, many organizations are already considering longer term arrangements for remote work, where applicable.

As some new social distancing standards may remain beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, you may find that your office will need to look and function differently than before. Along with reconsidering the number of employees allowed inside at one time, you’ll need to take a look at how they’re positioned within the confines of the office. Desks, conference rooms, and other communal areas will need to be reconsidered and weighed against social distancing best practices.

Creating barriers and maintaining personal space will likely be a challenge for those with open office environments. Consider rearranging desks and cubicles in order to make it easy for employees to maintain a safe distance from others.

Get your employees involved and remain patient

In so many ways, your employees know what’s most important to them when returning to work. Ask for suggestions they have to make it an easy transition while maintaining their safety.

Overall, remain patient. Getting back to normal post-Covid-19 will take time and require flexibility from everyone, both at home and at the office.

Five ways to keep your employees safe during and after Covid-19

  • Stay up-to-date with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and public health guidelines. Doing so will help guide your decision making and help your employees feel safe and confident in returning to work.
  • Keep the office clean. As Covid-19 can last up to a week on common office surfaces, it’s critical to keep them as clean as possible. Increasing air circulation, offering cleaning supplies, and placing importance on hand washing can help in fighting exposure.
  • Reconsider your sick policy. Allow any employee that feels under the weather to work from home while symptoms persist. If you do not currently offer a sick policy, implement an “emergency sick leave” which allows employees to stay home.
  • Urge employees to maintain social distancing. This can be done through a combination of staggering schedules, creating barriers within the office and reevaluating communal areas such as kitchens and conference rooms.
  • Be flexible. In bringing employees back to work, keep in mind that they will have adjusted to unforeseen challenges and new work styles. Ask them what assistance they need from you in order to return safely and efficiently.