As Smart HR continues to partner with you during this challenging time, we will bring you information we think you’ll find helpful in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. As states begin to lift their stay-at-home orders, companies should begin preparations now to phase in their workforce. With this blog, Smart HR is starting a series completely devoted to assisting you in this endeavor, offering practical suggestions based on data released from the CDC, WHO and from leading publications like the Safe Work Playbook developed by Lear Corporation. The content of the blogs is purely informational and not a substitute for legal advice. It is also an overview intended to help you get started. As always, Smart HR is here to help you develop a more comprehensive plan and will be your trusted HR advisor every step of the way.
Establish a Pandemic Response Team (PRT)
An office reopening must be strategic and well-planned. If your company doesn’t have a crisis management team in place, consider establishing a Pandemic Response Team (PRT) comprised of representatives from corporate management, finance, business operations, human resources, facilities maintenance and company safety/health personnel. The purpose of the PRT is to:
- Decide the criteria for establishing personnel who should initially return to work and how to phase in the remaining workforce as necessary.
- Develop a plan for workplace sanitation prior to reopening. Develop guidelines for everyday and emergency deep-cleaning sanitation in the event of workplace exposure to a COVID-19 positive employee.
- Determine what personal protective equipment is needed and establish a supply chain.
- Implement general health screenings to make sure employees are healthy each day.
- Develop protocols and policies pertaining to COVID-19 positive employees.
- Develop protocols and policies pertaining to visitors, clients and any other individuals who are not employees and have access to the facility.
- Determine which existing policies such as paid-time off policies need to be amended.
- Determine physical distancing protocol including possible staggered work, break and lunch times, rearrangement of office furniture and workspaces and possible restrictions on the use of kitchens, conference rooms and other gathering areas.
- Develop a communication plan and training for employees on reopening and procedures going forward.
Part 1 of this Smart HR series will focus on Pandemic Response Team objectives 1 – 3.
PRT Objective 1 – Criteria for Deciding Who Returns to Work
State and federal regulations come into play when deciding who can/should return to work.
When deciding who can/should return to work. There are state and federal regulations that come into the mix. Consider the following:
- Determine whether your state has any restrictions on the number of employees allowed to return during any phase-in period.
- Whether you are rehiring laid off employees, bringing back furloughed employees or bringing back employees working from home due to stay-at-home orders, you should have a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for choosing which employees to rehire or return to work. One option is to use the same criteria you used when deciding who to furlough or lay-off when deciding whom to bring back. For example, if the most recently hired employees were laid off, bring back the most senior employees first.
- Ensure an employee’s higher risk of COVID-19 complications does not factor into your decision. Although older employees and pregnant women are at higher risk of COVID-19 complications, the EEOC recently issued guidance that employers cannot unilaterally decide not to hire individuals who are over 65 or pregnant due to COVID-19 concerns.
- An employee for whom you provided a reasonable accommodation prior to COVID-19 may need an altered accommodation upon return to the workplace because of COVID-19. You may proactively reach out to that employee and start the interactive dialogue prior to the employee’s return.
- A reasonable accommodation provided before COVID-19 that did not cause an undue hardship on your company may cause an undue hardship after COVID-19.
- The ADA permits employers to make disability-related inquiries and conduct medical exams if job-related and consistent with business necessity. Inquiries and reliable medical exams meet this standard if it is necessary to exclude employees with a medical condition that would pose a direct threat to health or safety. Therefore, you may require returning employees to self-report COVID-19 contagion and/or symptoms and/or take the temperature of all those entering the workplace.
CDC Guidance on Returning to Work
Obviously, you must ensure no one returning to the workplace has COVID-19, and those who have had it, are no longer contagious. The CDC issued the following guidelines to ensure a safe transition back to the workplace:
An employee recovering from a fever and cough without COVID-19 testing is allowed to return to work if:
- Three days have passed since his/her recovery (fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medication and cough has improved); and
- At least seven days have passed since he/she first experienced symptoms.
An employee with a positive COVID-19 test showing symptoms is allowed to return to work if:
- His/her fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medications and respiratory symptoms have improved; and
- He/she has had two negative COVID-19 tests.
An employee with a positive COVID-19 test not showing symptoms is allowed to return to work if:
- At least seven days have passed since the date of their first positive COVID-19 test; and
- He/she hasn’t had a subsequent illness.
You should gauge employees’ willingness and ability to return to the workplace considering the following:
- Some employees have temporarily relocated their residences during the pandemic and may not be immediately able to return.
- Caretaking obligations may affect an employee’s ability to return until schools are back in session or other childcare options are arranged.
- Employees may be entitled to leave for COVID-19 related reasons, including caring for children and sick family members.
- Employees may be fearful to return for many reasons including having compromised immune systems or family members with risk factors.
PRT Objective 2 – Workplace Sanitation
Workplace sanitation takes on a new meaning amid COVID-19. You must ensure your workforce is returning to a clean, 100% disinfected office, set standards to maintain sanitation and establish protocol in the event of a future outbreak. The goal is to establish a sanitary baseline before your office opens.
Cleaning plans vary according to industry and company size. Generally, careful attention should be paid to:
- Workstations and equipment including keyboards, tape dispensers, staplers, monitors, chairs, computer mouses, phones, copiers, headsets, file cabinets, etc.
- Conference rooms and other gathering spaces
- Kitchens including coffee machines, microwaves, cabinets, dishwashers, faucets, etc.
- Cafeterias including table and chair surfaces, dispensers, vending machines, etc.
- Doors, windows, handles, buttons, keypads.
The PRT should determine the frequency with which the above areas are sanitized going forward in coordination with building services or an outside cleaning services company.
Deep-Cleaning with Confirmed/Suspected Virus Outbreak
Deep cleaning occurs when an active employee tests positive for COVID-19, another novel coronavirus or for presumed cases. The PRT should:
- Identify an approved external company to carry out the deep cleaning activity. At a minimum, the company should have the ability to dispose of hazardous waste, the proper equipment and PPE to perform the task, any required permits to perform disinfection services and dispose of waste and possess COVID-19 approved disinfectant chemicals.
- Notify employees of any necessary office shut-downs during the cleaning.
- Ensure the cleaning contractor follows company protocol concerning the proper wearing, decontamination and disposal of PPE used in the cleaning as biohazardous waste.
- Notify employees of the timetable for returning to work after the cleaning.
Smart HR has partnered with District Clean, a locally-owned sanitation services company, to assist you with your sanitation needs. District Clean is the only approved vendor providing sanitation services to Hilton properties in the D.C. Metro area. District Clean is offering a discount on sanitation services and products to Smart HR blog readers.
PRT Objective 3 – PPE Needs and Supply
Personal protective equipment, commonly referred to as “PPE,” is equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses. These injuries and illnesses may result from contact with chemical, radiological, physical, electrical, mechanical or other workplace hazards. PPE is very workplace specific and will vary based upon your industry and workforce. It is likely your workplace already has on hand some PPE, but you should determine if additional PPE is needed and establish a supply chain given the current shortage of many PPE items such as face masks. The PRT should:
- Confirm the office has an adequate supply of soap, disinfection, hand sanitizer, paper towels and tissues.
- Determine if additional equipment is needed for any disinfectant items such as hand sanitizer dispensers.
- Determine what PPE is needed such as face masks, face shields, gloves and safety glasses.
- Identify PPE vendors and lead times for obtaining PPE.
- Draft policies for proper PPE use. It is important to note that some sources do not recommend using gloves in the workplace as it can create a false sense of security leading to less hand washing which is the number one defense against viruses. If gloves are used/required, employees should be trained on proper removal and disposal of gloves and reminded of the importance of handwashing.
- Determine if “touchless” thermometers will be used for on-site employee screening and, if so, establish a supply.
- Determine if training is needed on proper PPE use including what type is needed and when, how to properly put it on/take it off, its limitations and proper care and maintenance.
OSHA offers extensive guidance for employers concerning the use of PPE you may find helpful, particularly if you are in the healthcare or manufacturing industries.
Contact Smart HR for Help
We are all ready to “get back to normal” whatever our new normals may be. A thoughtful and strategic approach to returning to our workplaces is imperative to ensure worker safety and as seamless a transition as possible. Remember to expect challenges along the way and know that Smart HR is here to help. We can answer legal questions you may have, assist assembling your PRT, head your PRT or help accomplish any PRT objectives. Stay tuned for next week’s blog, Smart HR’s Strategic Approach to Reopening Businesses – Part 2. We will cover your PRT’s next few objectives including conducting general employee health screenings including any legal considerations and developing policies and protocols concerning COVID-19 positive employees and visitor/client onsite visits.