Many states around the country are starting the process of gradually reopening after shutting down due to the coronavirus. As it’s likely the coronavirus will be with us for some time, there are still risks for businesses and their employees.
While businesses are encouraged to continue letting employees work from home whenever possible, there are employees that can’t do that. Employers are looking at legal issues and health and safety issues that come with reopening during an ongoing pandemic.
If an employee contracted coronavirus while at work, what would that mean for the employer?
The short answer is that we really don’t know.
Businesses aren’t necessarily obligated to follow the same safety guidelines as health care providers, and if an employee seeks damages because they become sick to get something like worker’s compensation, they would have to prove they contracted the virus at work, which is no easy feat.
Even though there may be limited legal ramifications for businesses whose employees get sick at work, or are scared of contracting coronavirus, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t care about the health and safety of your employees and your workplace.
For David Rowland, Head of Marketing at Engage EHS, “When it comes to managing unusual, unanticipated events, such as the potential spread of COVID-19, the key is planning.
The following are some of the things businesses should know if they’re planning a partial or full reopening.
Creating a Plan
The best thing to do is create a concrete plan based on scientific recommendations not just in terms of epidemiology in general but also your specific state and community guidelines.
Start thinking about the role of each of your employees, and how many other employees, customers, and vendors they might come in contact with.
If you have employees who by the nature of their position, have to be close to others, then you should think about providing them personal protective equipment.
You can also request that your customers wear face coverings.
As part of your plan, create guidelines for employees to monitor any symptoms they may have, and create written protocols highlighting common symptoms of covid-19 and how to recognize them.
For example, symptoms that might be less obvious can include loss of taste and smell.
Talk to your employees about the plan too.
Ask them what they will feel comfortable with and what they won’t. If you’re thinking about monitoring temperatures, make sure you get input from your employees before implementing this.
Infection Control Protocols
You want a safe and healthy workplace, and that means that you also think about infection control on your end as an employer and business owner.
Check with your local health department as well as following CDC guidelines specific to your industry.
You might, for example, mark places on the floor that let customers and employees know the appropriate distance to stand from one another, and you might also provide general infection control training to employees as they return to work.
This can include teaching them how to wear a face-covering the right way and how to interact with customers from six feet away.
Your HR team might also need training as far as recognizing signs of infection and how to properly deal with sending an employee home.
You should have a cleaning and sanitizing protocol in place that works for your business. Not every business is the same, and if you have a business that customers don’t walk into often, for example, you might do a deep cleaning less often than a business with a lot of foot traffic.
Communicate Clearly and Often
Finally, your employees are probably feeling a lot of stress right now.
They may be feeling financial stress and stress over their health and safety.
To ease some of the fears, make sure that you’re communicating openly, honestly, and doing so often.
If something is set to change, make sure your employees are the first to know. Give your employees a specific route to come to you if they’re facing an issue, or they have a concern.
You need to communicate not only your plans for reopening business and how that might look now, but you also need to communicate to your employees how important it is that they don’t come to work when they’re sick.
Let them know what your sick leave policies are and if you need to change them in any way right now, do so. It may be tough to offer things like paid sick leave if you’re a small business, but that can be less expensive than having an employee who’s sick coming to work.