With the easing of restrictions on certain businesses and the slow re-opening of local, regional and state economies, employers must prepare to resume operations in a safe manner. Thus far, those segments of business that have been permitted to open are having to comply with stringent standards, or face the penalty of closure and possible claims by employees and others. To be successful, employers should take care to develop a comprehensive Return to Work action plan.
Many employers are developing a plan that includes several important considerations:
- Do we need a Pandemic Response Team?
- When do we return to work, what will that look like, and who will be included?
- What measures must be taken to keep the work environment virus-free?
- How do we protect employees and others in the workplace?
- How have our business priorities changed, if at all?
Do we need a Pandemic Response Team?
Depending on the size of your enterprise, you may want to develop a team of people responsible for clear and consistent communication upon a return to work. This team may also consider prevention, risk assessment protocols and enforcement of important company policies. Title 8 of the California Code of Regulations section 3203 requires every employer to develop a written an Injury and Illness Prevention Program that protects employees from workplace hazards.
When do we return to work, what will that look like, and who will be included?
When will you return to work? This decision must be guided by local, regional and state directives and recommendations, industry guidance and client concerns. Employers may also have specific requirements based upon their composition of employees, company culture, and type of business.
What measures must be taken to keep the work environment virus-free?
Safety and sanitary measures must be clearly identified and explained for universal compliance. Employers should consider physical office modifications to further social distancing, the reduced use of common areas, and the impact of workplace visitors and others. We have proposed measures for many types of businesses to reduce exposure and maintain productivity, including updates to employee handbooks, and inclusion of new company policies.
How do we protect employees and others in the workplace?
Employers will need to develop protocols to ensure social distancing, continued disinfecting of the workplace, and employee screening. What measures will employers take to prevent workplace exposure to the virus, and what can a company do to check those coming to the workplace? Employee safety training is one of the best ways to ensure that all health and safety precautions will be followed. In advance of a re-opening, you should consider having Hunt Ortmann create or assist with an effective Return to Work action plan for employees, including remote online training on pandemic- related company policy.
How have our business priorities changed, if at all?
This question should be considered when crafting a Return to Work action plan. Health and safety are now immediate priorities for all employers. Company leadership should consider how business will change following the opening of the economy, and what can be done to foster success within each employee- from entry level positions to management. Consideration must be given to the impact of the virus on the mental well-being of employees, vendors, clients and other workplace visitors.
Corporate culture may be forever changed. Telecommuting and technology have revolutionized business operations in the face of the pandemic. Companies will be subject to employee-centric rules and regulations enacted to enable public policy. Employers will need to be more flexible and accommodating to maintain productivity and retain valuable employees. JoLynn M. Scharrer heads Hunt Ortmann’s Employment Law Group, and has been recently devoted to advising clients on a variety of issues related to the impact of COVID-19 on employers and employees. Hunt Ortmann stands ready to assist with the development of a Return to Work action plan, the drafting of communications and company policies on issues related to employee benefits and pandemic response, and employee training in advance of return to work directives. Ms. Scharrer can be reached at Scharrer@huntortmann.com.