Heading Back Into the Office?
How to Protect Your Business & Employees in the COVID Era
As COVID restrictions begin to loosen, businesses are starting to bring employees back into the office. The human resources policies surrounding this transition are more important than ever. Without the proper policies in place, businesses will not be able to effectively, safely, and compliantly manage this new reality.
Here in Ohio, the Responsible Restart Ohio Plan outlines protocols all businesses must follow, which include specifics on face coverings, daily health assessments, hand washing, sanitizing, and limiting capacity to meet social distancing guidelines. These are all concerns you’ll need to factor into your plan to bring employees back into the office. But first things first.
Step One: Decide Who’s Coming Back
Are you bringing back all of your employees or only a portion? Can some employees continue to work from home? Can your office environment accommodate social distancing requirements? If your goal is to bring everyone back to work, consider the following:
- Who will return and when?
- Bring back key or critical positions first, let them acclimate to the new requirements, then gradually bring back other employees.
- Don’t have everyone arrive to work at the same time – stagger start times. A rush of employees flooding in at the same time could make social distancing difficult, as well as the administration of the temperature checks or health assessments.
- As you phase in additional employees consider how a larger population complicates social distancing requirements.
Step Two: Craft Your Plan
Compliance with protocols required by the state will need to be formalized. What policies do you need to create and implement? Your policies will need to be put into writing and shared with your employees so that they are clearly understood. It’s a good idea to have your staff sign off on the policies to ensure receipt and understanding.
There’s much to consider as you contemplate the specifics and logistics of the new required protocols. As you do, here are some things to keep in mind.
What facial coverings are acceptable? You’ll need to be specific about what is required. N95 masks should be reserved for first responders and medical personnel. Unless the job demands it, they are not necessary. The Ohio Department of Health defines acceptable face covering as a cloth, bandana, scarf, or handmade covering that covers both the mouth and nose.
Next, you need to decide if your organization will provide face covering to your employees. If you do provide them, will they be a blue medical grade? Or cloth handmade? It’s a good thing to do if you have the capacity.
What if an employee refuses to wear a facial covering? First, see the Ohio Department of Health exemptions relating to face-covering requirements. If your employee meets one of the exemption requirements, get it in writing. If they don’t meet one of the mandated exemptions, ask if the refusal is for some other reason, such as medical, and get that response in writing as well. This is where your established policy will come into play.
Determine how well your office or workspace is set up for social distancing.
- Can you easily establish 6 feet of distance between employees? Or is it possible to erect barriers? Plexiglas is a popular choice.
- Limit gatherings in shared spaces such as conference rooms and kitchen areas. Create policies for the use of meetings and shared spaces.
- What is your guest/visitor policy – are none allowed? Or just a certain number? Are they allowed only during certain hours? Will you require that they wear facial coverings?
What can you do to facilitate good employee hygiene?
- Is it easy for employees to wash/sanitize hands? Consider creating hand sanitizer stations.
- Will your employees be responsible for workspace sanitation? For example, will you require them to sanitize their workspace at the beginning and end of the day?
- Do you have employees sharing the same work station? Will they be responsible for ensuring proper sanitation is done properly and frequently?
Daily Health Assessment
How will your company handle the administration of the required health assessment?
- Will you take temperatures onsite? Does your policy cover what to do if any employee refuses to have their temperature taken?
- Will employees be asked to perform a daily symptom assessment? This means they would attest to having none of the symptoms defined by the CDC; symptoms include cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, and new loss of taste or smell. How will you handle this?
- Is rapid antibody testing something your company should investigate offering?
When employees come back to work, there should be reminders about the new protocols posted throughout the workspace. These should be clearly displayed, easy to read signs or decals about what is expected and appropriate. For example, signs near the elevator bank may list a restriction on the number of people allowed in the elevator with markings on the floor indicating where to stand. Any signage you can add to make expectations clear will benefit all.
Step Three: Communicate to Your Employees
The signage mentioned above is part of this next step: communication. Once you’ve created the policies around safety bringing employees back into the workplace, you need to let your employees know what to expect when they come back. Be very clear about their responsibilities. New operating procedures should be listed out in detail. If you’re bringing employees back in phases, don’t forget to update communications for each group. And don’t neglect to let them know who to contact if they have any questions or concerns.
To safely bring employees back into the workplace, employers must be on top of their game. It has to be done correctly, and the policies governing these processes are key. Human resources professionals can help you map out and implement your strategy. Whether you have HR resources in house or need an external consultant, like those here at ConnectedHR, leveraging professional human resources will help you to protect both your employees and the future of your business. If you’d like some help creating your “back to work” plan and policies, let us know.