In this episode of The Workplace podcast, CalChamber Executive Vice President and General Counsel Erika Frank is joined by employment law experts Bianca Saad and Matthew Roberts to discuss what employers should consider when drafting return to work guidelines.
A free CalChamber checklist designed to help employers develop a COVID-19 return-to-work plan is available at https://hrcalifornia.calchamber.com/forms-tools/forms/return-to-work-checklist.
Crafting a return to work checklist can be hard because there is a lot of information and guidance out there, Frank tells listeners.
That is why the first sources a business turns to for information should be government websites, such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the California government website on COVID-19, U.S. Department of Labor and the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), Saad says. Data and information surrounding the COVID-19 coronavirus is still very fluid, and government websites can be trusted to provide the most up-to-date information available.
What is also tricky is that many counties and cities have implemented additional requirements that are specific to their areas. This is why employers should also check their county/city website for local requirements and ordinances, Saad explains.
The California government website on COVID-19 features a Resilience Roadmap that offers workplace preparation guidance for each industry that is very helpful, she says.
Frank also encourages employers to check their local health department website as the health agencies also offer workplace guidance and checklists for employers to post.
Saad suggests that employers bookmark relevant websites on their internet browsers for easy and fast information retrieval.
Mapping Your Workplace
When conducting a risk assessment of a workplace, employers should look in particular at how their workspace is designed. Oftentimes, workspaces are designed for collaboration and may not work with social distancing requirements, Roberts points out.
Employers should look for bottleneck points (such as narrow hallways), areas of high foot traffic (such as reception areas), or areas where cubicles are spaced closely together, he says. This is the first step to reduce workplace exposure.
Put Someone in Charge
Because there are multiple components of limiting virus spread in the workplace, businesses should identify who to put in charge and clearly assign responsibility for COVID-19-related duties, Saad says.
For example, someone needs to be in charge of procuring cleaning and protective equipment supplies, including having backup vendors in case materials become scarce; someone should also focus on how to maintain cleaning protocols and determine what cleaning practices each area will require; and someone should focus on reminding and enforcing the company’s COVID-19-related policies.
“It’s almost like having a plan for the plan,” she says.
Policy Training, Enforcement
Training employees on COVID-19 symptoms and prevention does not mean that employers need to sit everyone down in a room and conduct a class—in fact, this may not be possible due to physical distancing protocols. Training for COVID-19 policies is a matter of simply providing the information to employees, Roberts tells Frank.
Government websites can be a great help as they provide a variety of checklists, signage and infographics, he says. For example, the CDC offers an infographic on how to properly wear a mask.
The CDC also offers guidance and steps on more complex situations, such as what to do if an employee tests positive for COVID-19, he says.
Once an employer establishes a policy, the company also should consider how it will enforce the rules. In particular, physical distancing rules can be hard to follow given that people are accustomed to being close to one another. Therefore, employers will need to take the time to remind folks to be mindful, Frank says.
Saad recommends that employers use signage to remind employees of rules, and set policies that limit the number of people allowed in a particular area—such as staggering shifts, or establishing a maximum capacity per breakroom/lunchroom.
Above all, employers should remind employees that if they’re not feeling well, they should stay home.