If you’re struggling to create your Return to Work Employee Policy, you’re not alone. Many employers feel overwhelmed by the burden of establishing safe workplace procedures in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.
Without a doubt, you have to juggle several considerations, from ADA restrictions to OSHA regulations. And that’s before you even factor in the unique needs of your business and individual employees.
The good news is that organizations like OSHA, the CDC, and even your state government recognize the pressure you’re under. They’ve released several resources to help you make the best choices for yourself, your staff, and your customers.
Just take a deep breath . . . and take this one step at a time.
Guidelines to Help You Create a Safe and Legal Employee Policy
The guidelines for businesses in the age of COVID change as our understanding of the virus changes. So our first and most essential tip is this:
Consult your legal counsel and the following entities to make sure your Return to Work employee policy is safe and legal.
Centers for Disease Control
The Centers for Disease Control provides comprehensive advice to help you ensure a safe workplace. Review their Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers for guidelines on everything from sick leave to routine sanitation.
Of particular interest: the CDC encourages you to educate your employees on spread prevention. This not only helps you ensure a healthier workplace; it could influence the choices employees make beyond the office.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has published Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19.
This extremely helpful guide offers advice for businesses based on the level of exposure risk. It also has information to help you draw up an employee policy for workers who live or travel abroad.
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Refer to the EEOC for policies on health-related employee screening. In light of the pandemic, there are some temporary changes to ADA restrictions. But as the situation evolves, those standards are likely to change, as well. Look to the EEOC for updates.
Many states also have their own standards and recommended protocols for businesses returning to work. Your local government may even have guidelines that supersede those of your state.
In many cases, these directives concern specific businesses that carry a higher risk of contagion. You should learn the current requirements of your state no matter what type of business you own. But establishments such as gyms, day cares, and restaurants should especially take note.
Once you sort through these resources, some common themes begin to emerge. We’ll explore some of the most essential elements of your Return to Work employee policy below. But first, we encourage you to remember:
Flexibility is Key
Drafting a new employee policy is challenging for a couple reasons.
The first and most obvious reason is that you may have to put a lot of tedious new procedures in place. From taking temperatures to rearranging the workspace, there’s a lot to figure out and workaround.
Another notable challenge is that you have to change the way you think about everything from sick leave to employee accommodations. As an employer, you’ve worked hard to create an employee policy that respects your employees and promotes productivity.
This new policy can accomplish the same thing, but you may have to loosen your grip on old standards that made you feel protected. As you draft your new employee policy, remember:
Your business will be stronger in the long run if you prioritize employee health and safety today.
Sick Leave and Paid Time Off
As an employer, you may be used to setting certain standards for sick leave and paid time off. If this is the case, your new employee policy may need to look a little different from your old one.
First, the CDC strongly discourages employers from requiring a physician’s note or positive COVID-19 test. This is because it is difficult for individuals who do not exhibit emergency symptoms to see a doctor and get tested in a timely manner.
If you deny sick days to workers who are showing signs of infection, you risk contamination and spread at work.
Your Return to Work employee policy should also allow flexibility in the way your workers use leave. These are unprecedented times. Your employees may need to take time off because:
- They show signs of COVID-19
- They have COVID-19
- They must take care of a child or vulnerable family member who has fallen ill
Allow your employees to use any type of leave they have available to ensure their safety, their family’s safety, and the safety of your team.
Draft an Employee Policy for Safe Conduct in the Workplace
Reorganize workspaces as needed to promote social distancing. This could require:
- Eliminating communal desks
- Moving workstations so coworkers are spaced at least six feet apart
- Using floor markings or adjusting waiting room chair positions to promote social distancing among customers
- Installing partitions to separate employees from guests or from one another
- Establishing rules for using the breakroom and conference rooms
You may wish to change procedures for using communal equipment such as copy machines or refrigerators. Make sure employees understand not only what your policies are, but why you’ve put those policies in place, so they can use common sense to protect themselves and others.
If the size of your staff presents a challenge for maintaining social distancing standards, don’t panic. You can use methods such as staggering working hours or delayed starts until you can truly get back to business as usual. If some employees can do their work remotely, let them.
Your employee policy should also leave room for accommodations according to individual needs. For example, a team member who cares for a highly vulnerable parent or relative may wish to continue working from home. If this is reasonable for their position, consider making an allowance.
Provide Safety Equipment
Your employee policy should also include details regarding PPE. Make sure your team knows what your expectations are regarding masks, gloves, and other protective gear. Refer to the CDC for the latest PPE advice. Standards vary depending on your workplace, but at the very least, masks are encouraged in most businesses.
If your employees are expected to use such items while on the job, prepare to provide those items. You can find a selection of workplace safety items right here.
Guidelines for COVID Testing
Once again, refer to the EEOC and your legal counsel to confirm that your COVID testing procedures are in-line with current regulations.
As it currently stands, you are permitted to screen employees for COVID-19 symptoms. However, there are certain restrictions
- Ask if an employee has experienced specific COVID-19 symptoms.
- Measure the body temperature of employees.
- Send any worker exhibiting respiratory symptoms home promptly.
But you must also:
- Give a conditional offer of employment or direct a furloughed employee to return to work before asking about symptoms or measuring body temperature.
- Use the exact same procedures to screen all employees under the same job classification.
How frequently and thoroughly you screen for COVID-19 can depend on the nature of your business. Whatever you decide, you should outline your process clearly in your employee policy so your staff knows what to expect.
You should also be clear about the proper procedure for when an employee becomes ill at work. We recommend:
- Emphasizing that an employee should alert you when they experience symptoms.
- Establishing a plan for isolating an ill employee and getting them home as quickly and safely as possible.
- Determining ahead of time how and by whom that employee’s workspace will be sanitized.
Above all, make sure your employees know they still have a right to confidentiality. You cannot share the results of employee screenings or divulge information about an employee’s condition.
If an Employee Becomes Ill . . .
Finally, your employee policy must include guidelines in the event that a team member tests positive for COVID-19.
Now, current regulations state that you cannot identify the diagnosed employee to the rest of your staff. But that does not mean you cannot take preventative measures to protect your other employees.
Establish a contact tracing policy. If possible, speak with the ill employee to learn who they interacted with and what areas of the workspace they entered in the two days before their diagnosis.
Alert any individuals who might have come into contact with that employee. If you have reason to be concerned that those individuals may have been exposed to the virus, consider isolating them from the rest of the team. You may want to allow them to work remotely.
These adjustments may require some work. They might even be uncomfortable or feel like a threat to your productivity. Hang in there. Right now, the best thing you can do for your business is to ensure a safe space for both your staff and your customers.
Don’t hesitate to let us know how we can go above and beyond in the coming months.