Employer and HR considerations for re-opening after Covid-19 shutdowns

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As states loosen restrictions and look to re-open their economies, schools and businesses will return to a changed environment. Many routines that were previously taken for granted will need to be reevaluated. Similarly, organizations may recognize new efficiencies and tools that help navigate this changed environment and assist in managing employees.

Here are some considerations for employers and HR professionals as we all work toward re-opening our schools, businesses, and communities.


Communication


  • Guidelines for re-opening should be clearly communicated to all staff prior to their return.

  • Consider publishing a brief guide and sending out to all employees with a combination of the points highlighted in this post as well as information specific to your organization and workspace.

  • HR and Management teams should also be available to discuss return to work terms and considerations individually with employees, as some concerns may be of a confidential or protected nature.

Distancing


  • Establish a minimum 6-foot distance requirement between all employees.

  • Limit situations where physical contact or closeness of any kind can be made. This includes requiring spacing and patience while waiting to access a microwave, for example.

  • Prohibit any lingering or hovering over workspaces.

  • In areas where 6 feet cannot completely be maintained, consider installing dividers to uphold safety and minimize any risk of exposure.

  • Consider relocating certain employees or moving their workspaces to allow for more spacing between desks.

  • Establish distancing guidelines and headcount maximums for common spaces like cafeterias and meeting rooms.

  • Communicate the importance of personal responsibility in keeping co-workers safe by following all protocols when using any shared spaces.

Meetings


  • When possible, and depending on the type of business, consider restricting on-site or in-person meetings, either completely or to a maximum number of participants.

  • Meetings should take place in larger, open spaces where a minimum 6-foot distance between all parties can be maintained safely at all times (tools like Zoom, Google Meet, and others should significantly cut down on the need to conduct in-person meetings).

  • Many customer-facing businesses have been extremely successful in adapting to this changed environment (for example, restaurants increasing take-out service and curbside pick-up windows and protocols to safely serve customers).

Sanitation


  • Many "essential" businesses have remained operational throughout Covid-19 shutdowns, albeit with reduced hours, reduced staff, and/or modified operations. Therefore, preventative sanitation practices have become routine. Best practices include:

  • Handwashing and sanitizing practiced regularly and thoroughly; specifically before/after touching any shared surface in the workspace.

  • Requirements to routinely clean individual workstations and any shared surface area used or accessed by an individual.

  • The primary focus of any cleaning personnel should be on regularly cleaning and sanitizing all shared surfaces, and then individual workspaces and offices as needed.

  • Further guidance on Covid-19 sanitation standards can be found here from OSHA and here from the EPA.

Technology


  • Consider implementing  a hybrid remote/in office work agreement to minimize the number of employees on-site on a given work day. This is a flexible option for certain organizations that is further detailed in an excellent article from the Harvard Business Review on managing newly remote workers.

  • Consider deploying or further leveraging technology solutions through your Payroll / HR vendor. Many employers that were not previously utilizing tools like these, or were still providing physical pay stubs to employees, have chosen to migrate to a full or semi-paperless environment for Payroll and HR.
  • Electronic timekeeping options - like online timesheets accessed through a mobile app - are very effective in ensuring employees and managers can submit and track attendance in a convenient way that's consistent with the current environment.

  • An employee mobile app deployed through your Payroll and HR vendor ensures, at a minimum, that employees can receive and view their pay online. Further tools include timekeeping options, time-off and other requests, and the ability to view and select benefits. An employee mobile app ensures that a majority of an employee's day-to-day interactions with your Payroll and HR department can be conducted online.

  • Applicant Tracking and Onboarding tools - which can also be added to your current Payroll and HR platform - have always been secure and convenient ways to find and source job applicants, conduct pre-screening and interviews, and provide an electronic and customized portal for your new employees to complete "first week" tasks online. In the current environment, tools like these will become much more routine as well as compliant with all distancing guidelines.

  • However, a note regarding those businesses in the fortunate position of being able to hire new workers: Employers may screen candidates for COVID-19 only after making a conditional job offer as long as it does so for all those in the same job category. Also, employers may delay the start date if an employee has COVID-19 or symptoms, or may withdraw a job offer if they need someone to start right away and the employee has COVID-19 or symptoms of COVID-19. However, employers may not delay the start date of pregnant women or those over 65 simply because they are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 (source: Skoler Abbott)     

Exposures


  • Potential exposure situations should be disclosed to HR immediately: living with or exposed to a healthcare worker caring for patients specifically with COVID-19; direct contact with a COVID-19 patient; return from any international or domestic travel or direct contact with persons returning from travel.

  • Employees exhibiting symptoms of acute respiratory illnesses (specifically a fever, cough, shortness of breath), should seek medical care immediately and contact HR immediately following the medical care visit so physician recommendations can be confidentially reviewed.

  • Employees advised clinically to stay home until symptoms disappear or through the duration of a medically advised isolation period must complete compliant documentation with HR.

  • The EEOC is allowing employers to test employees (assuming reliable, validated tests are available) and to take employee temperatures. However, the ADA requires that any medical exam (to include testing and taking temperatures) must be job-related and consistent with business necessity.  To avoid discrimination claims, standards should be drafted and distributed to employees outlining who will be tested. Here's a good article further detailing the legality surrounding this issue.

  • Remember that in order to maintain a harassment and discrimination free workplace, any discrimination-based assumptions about employees and any commentary or discussion based on perceived exposure and/or medical conditions of co-workers should not be tolerated. The EEOC has issued guidance that current laws do not interfere with an employer's ability to maintain a safe workplace.  Employers should follow CDC and state/local public health authorities’ recommendations while keeping in mind that state and federal guidance is likely to change.  

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