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COVID-19 Return to Work Policies – Are You Ready?

April 30, 2020

Employers of non-essential workers are gearing up for office re-openings all over the country. Employers are anxious—and rightfully so—for things to return to normal as quickly as possible and for steady revenue streams to return. Unfortunately, until the pandemic is completely behind us, it is impossible for things to go back to the way they were prior to COVID-19—at least for the foreseeable future. 

As businesses gradually re-open, employers should be thinking about implementing interim guidelines, policies, and procedures to minimize the risk that COVID-19 will impact business operations (yet again). Implementing written policies can help with return to work logistical challenges; it can also help ensure the health and safety of employees and visitors; and it can help employers and businesses avoid lawsuits. 

Unfortunately, in focusing on the economics of getting businesses up and running again, many employers have not considered what an actual return to work in the “COVID-19 world” will look like—and all the while ensuring legal compliance across the spectrum of various state and federal employment laws, including the Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OSHA”), the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”), and the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”)—just to name a few. For example: 

  • Will employee temperatures be taken? If so, who is taking the temperatures? And how will employee confidentiality be maintained?
  • What protocols will be established regarding social distancing? 
  • Do parts of the office need to be reconfigured to allow for proper social distancing?
  • What steps and requirements are the various state and local government officials requiring employers to do once they re-open?
  • Will telecommuting still be allowed? 
  • How should issues involving “at risk” employees be handled confidentially and in accordance with the ADA?
  • What additional cleaning and sanitation protocols need to be implemented? Who is going to do the actual cleaning? Are your practices and methods blessed by OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”)?
  • Do you have the proper cleaning supplies? 
  • Do you have sufficient supplies of hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment (PPE), and will it be made available to your workforce to help mitigate risk?
  • Will employees be required to wear a mask? 
  • Will meetings be required to be held virtually through videoconferencing software?
  • What will be required of employees to ensure proper hygiene and etiquette? 
  • Will your business restrict non-essential travel? 
  • Depending on your jurisdiction, are you required to post COVID-related signage and, if so, where?
  • Is there an established reporting procedure and disciplinary process for employees that fail to follow the rules?
  • What will the Company’s policy be with regards to visitors and guests? 

The above are just a sampling of the whole host of questions employers should be asking themselves before workers are allowed to return to work. Coming back to work and re-opening your business requires careful thought and consideration, as there are no bright-line rules or “one size fits all.” What may make sense for one business or industry may be completely unworkable for others. 

Business owners should be careful not to implement policies that could (unknowingly) run afoul of local, state and federal laws and regulations.