(Editor’s Note: Today’s article is brought to you by our friends at Poster Guard, a division of ComplyRight and the leading labor law poster service that gets your business up to date with all required federal, state and local labor law postings, and then keeps it that way — for an entire year. Enjoy the read!)
Whether your organization is reopening the operation or returning to normal production levels post- COVID-19, the process isn’t as simple as unlocking the doors and calling employees back to the workplace. Legal requirements and best practices can vary greatly depending on your industry, location, and work environment.
We recently shared some information about the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Since then, there’s been additional guidance for employers issued by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), along with many states, counties, and cities governments.
To ensure the safety of employees and to protect against legal liability and stay compliant as you develop your return to work plans, here are seven tips to consider:
- Know the rules for a compliant reopening in your area.
Organizations will want to check the most recent government orders, including federal, state, county and city requirements that apply to your specific industry. Wherever they are inconsistent, it could make good business sense to follow the strictest standards. And you’ll want to review government orders frequently, as they can change from day to day – and could even revert back to stricter requirements if a “second wave” does happen.
Consider forming an “opening team” and assign them responsibility for monitoring communications from all levels of government so there’s clear accountability. Use the RACI model to work out formal communication and decision-making procedures to ensure an organized and timely response to any new orders.
- Create a “welcome back” plan.
For employees who are working effectively from home, consider letting them continue until there is more certainty that the spread has been effectively contained. Don’t forget that there are labor law posting requirements for remote workers that must be met to stay compliant. Over the past three months, there have been more than 45 mandatory labor law posting updates affecting U.S. employers, and these postings must be provided to all employees whether they work onsite or remotely.
Organizations with fewer than 500 employees will need to abide by the paid leave requirements of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), as well as any state or local emergency leave laws. This means you may have employees that are entitled to continued leave (job-protected time off) if they are unable to return to work due to certain COVID-related reasons, including the closure of a child’s school, camp, or day care.
Before requiring employees to return to the workplace, also make sure to check state and/or local guidelines for your industry, as they may include specific restrictions addressing re-entry to the workplace, such as limitations on how many employees may work in an enclosed area, restrictions on certain work activities, and other requirements tied to phased re-opening guidelines. . Oh, and just a reminder that if the company is technically rehiring an employee, you typically have to provide all of the new hire mandatory forms, notifications, and handouts required for new employees to be compliant.
- Establish health screening protocols.
It’s important to decide whether and how the organization will screen employees for illness. Will the company conduct daily symptom checks or other ongoing health screens? The EEOC is allowing employers to conduct temperature checks (even onsite) during the pandemic but it will be necessary to check your state and local orders to determine whether a mandatory posting and/or policy is required regarding temperature checks.
Remember, if the company does implement any type of health screening process, they will want to be sure to comply with applicable privacy and discrimination laws – such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) – when collecting this type of information.
- Post reminders about distancing and increased hygiene procedures.
Some state and local orders are requiring certain businesses to notify employees and visitors of certain cleaning, hygiene, and personal protective equipment (PPE) practices. This could include compliant signage about hand washing, social distancing, covering coughs and sneezes, temperature checks, and wearing masks or face coverings. For instance, Arkansas has a “Stop the Spread of COVID-19” posting requirement.
Organizations will want to examine their work areas and consider floor decals or markers to designate one-way traffic through hallways or aisles. It might also make sense to add signage to remind workers and visitors to maintain safe distancing and designate restricted areas.
The organization should also establish new protocols for frequent cleaning and disinfecting of all work areas, including restrooms, light switches, door handles, elevator buttons, and other high touch surfaces more than once a day. Consider adding no-touch trash receptacles in places like employee break areas. Ensure that ventilation systems operate properly and leave doors open wherever possible to reduce surface contamination.
And, be prepared to decontaminate the workplace thoroughly should an employee test positive with COVID-19 (see #6).
- Revisit workplace policies and provide training.
HR departments will want to give the employee handbook a comprehensive review. New workplace realities may call for updates to existing policies, including attendance, work schedules, remote work, and sick leave. In some cases, compliant policy updates and employee communications are mandatory based on new employment laws prompted by the pandemic. For example, San Francisco, California has a COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Leave handout and the District of Columbia has a notification requirement for Family and Medical Leave During COVID-19.
In addition, seven states (Alaska, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Texas) have added COVID-19 handout and/or posting requirements related to paydays, separations, or unemployment insurance.
Communicating and training employees on any new safety policies and procedures (see #3 and #4) should be a top priority. Organizations should plan to deliver separate training to supervisors and managers on how to handle employee requests for leave, what to do if an employee exhibits symptoms while onsite, and expectations on how they should address and enforce any new policies.
- Prepare a response plan for employees who exhibit symptoms or get diagnosed.
While we hope it never happens, every employer should anticipate that, at some point, an employee will be affected by COVID-19 after returning to the workplace. You’ll want to be prepared to take swift action.
If an employee fails a health screening or exhibits symptoms while working onsite, send them home. Contact local health agencies for additional guidance. Organizations will want to notify coworkers who may have been exposed by the affected employee and ask them to self-isolate for 14 days. When notifying other employees, do not share the name of the affected employee or answer questions that could reveal their identity. This is considered private medical information protected by the ADA and applicable HIPAA rules.
Same applies if an employee tests positive for the virus. Inform all employees immediately and directly notify any individual employees who have been in close contact with the diagnosed worker. (Again, be sure to protect the privacy of the affected employee.) Consider closing down the work area or facility temporarily for cleaning and disinfection.
Depending on the situation, it will be necessary for the organization to determine whether the illness could be considered work-related according to OSHA rules.
- Stay agile and be ready for more change to keep compliant.
As employers move forward with their business plans in the midst of COVID-19, one thing is certain: more change will come. Every week, we learn new facts about the virus and new guidelines are being issued to mitigate its risk.
Organizations will want to regularly monitor guidance from government agencies and health officials. This is a rapidly evolving area of legislation, so it’s important to be connected with knowledgeable legal advisors to ensure compliance with the latest regulations. Odds are, every employer will need to revise their safety policies and procedures more than once over the coming months.
That’s one reason why it makes sense to partner with a labor law posting service like Poster Guard. I’ve mentioned before how I much I believe in this type of service because it frees up HR to focus on the business. And it’s even more important now. HR departments want and need to be focused on helping the organization meet its goals and targets. They want to help welcome employees back to work and they want everyone to be safe. They’re not looking to spend their time researching what COVID-19 posters and handouts are required in their state and city.
Poster Guard understands this too. That’s why they’re offering $30 off to their Poster Guard Compliance Protection product. This annual service covers federal, state, city and county labor law postings, and is available in electronic formats for your remote workers, too. And when the law changes, you automatically receive the new postings as part of the service. Poster Guard also offers an expanded service that covers all of the federal, state and local mandatory employee handout requirements, including the COVID-19 requirements mentioned in this article.
It seems to me that organizations right now are looking for ways to work safe, smart and compliant. Think about how HR departments should be spending their time right now and where they bring the most value. Organizations want their HR teams to help them hire, engage, and retain talent. Leave researching labor law handout and posting requirements to the professionals.17