More than two months after closing their doors due to coronavirus, businesses in every state are starting to reopen. Grocery stores, healthcare facilities, banks, gas stations and other essential businesses that remained opened during the COVID-19 pandemic have had time to adjust to new protocols. However, nonessential businesses may need to implement new safety precautions and strategies for employee safety. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has encouraged businesses to create coronavirus workplace safety guidelines to help curb the spread of the virus.
As no two work environments are the same, employee safety guidelines should be tailored to each individual work setting. Some employees are also at a higher risk than others, such as employees that work directly with the public. In anticipation of an office reopening, review the following checklist for employee safety.
Adapting to the “New Normal”
Coronavirus is a highly communicable disease that puts employees at risk for transmission. Employees who can continue to work remotely should do so, especially those in high risk businesses, others will need to adapt to the “new normal.” Although coronavirus restrictions are beginning to ease across the U.S., many public health experts urge employers to stay cautious.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages businesses to monitor local, state and federal public health communications regarding COVID-19. In addition, the CDC suggests conducting a thorough hazard assessment of the workplace to identify potential dangers that could contribute to the spread of the virus.
A “new normal” in the workplace may consist of social distancing protocols, hygiene requirements, regular health monitoring and more stringent office cleaning and disinfecting policies. Some employers may require employees to wear masks or other personal protective equipment (PPE) during work hours.
Educate Your Staff on Employee Safety
Proper planning and communication following the coronavirus pandemic is critical. Staff should be educated on the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and instructed to stay home if they feel ill or have been in direct contact with someone with the disease. Flexible sick time policies should be modified to accommodate employees who are suspected of being ill or have tested positive for coronavirus.
Share information that has been proven to minimize the risk of transmission, such as avoiding handshakes, using hand sanitizer and switching high-touch communal items for one-time use items (e.g. individual instant coffee packets instead of coffee pot). Businesses can help support employee hygiene by making soap, tissues, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes readily available. Employers should identify a workplace coordinator who will be responsible for handling COVID-19 issues, such as implementing control procedures and answering questions asked by employees.
Suspend or Limit Any Business Travel
Business travel poses certain health risks to employees due to the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. Consider limiting or suspending business travel and follow all travel guidelines published by the CDC.
If employees must travel, it is critical for companies to account for all employee travel activity. This means tracing both personal and business trips to high-risk areas. The World Health Organization (WHO) also encourages travelers who exhibit symptoms of acute respiratory illness, during or after travel, to immediately seek medical attention.
While waiting for business travel to return to normal, businesses should begin contingency planning. This may involve updating budgets, reevaluating travel risk management strategies, modifying company travel programs and prioritizing what types of business travel to open first.
Update Door Access Controls
Even with fewer employees in the workplace, businesses face certain security issues. Regular deliveries, cleaning, maintenance and other services may require individuals to enter and exit the office throughout the day. Once inside, these individuals are able to spread germs on surfaces which puts employees at risk. Bacteria can also cling to door knobs.
Consider changing your door access control methods to a hands-free option. When installed in entryways, lobbies, elevators and other high-traffic areas, hands-free systems can prevent the spread of germs. Another alternative is antimicrobial hardware. When used on door handles and locks, these silver ion coated devices can help slow down the spread of viruses and bacteria.
Many businesses are also making the switch to automated and voice-activated technology. Mobile credentials on smartphones can be used for a wide range of purposes, such as entering a locked building which eliminates keycards or riding on the elevator without having to push buttons.
Look Over Your Employee Benefits
Employee benefits can change within a business after being closed for several weeks or even months. Employers will need to work through various employee benefit scenarios, such as whether or not a returning employee will be considered a new hire for purposes of an employer’s benefit plan. This will depend on multiple factors, such as whether the employee was placed on furlough or leave, or was terminated from employment.
How employee benefits are recovered will also depend on the type of benefit. For example, returning employees who are treated as new hires will need to adhere to a retirement plan’s automatic enrollment procedure. If an employee is returning from unpaid leave, he or she may be able to apply the existing deferral election when pay is reinstated.
Contact BBG for Help
As state governments continue to roll back stay-at-home orders that temporarily closed certain businesses, employers are preparing to welcome back employees. Unfortunately, the workplace will no longer be what it once was due to concerns about COVID-19 exposure.
Businesses have a duty to provide employees with a safe work environment that is free of controllable hazards that are likely to cause harm. This requires employers to mitigate the risk of employee exposure to the virus and implement changes that are necessary for the health and safety of all workers.
Employee benefits is an important topic in the midst of a business reopening. Employers who require assistance with adjusting their employee benefits to meet the “new normal” should seek the help of an experienced business benefits consultant. Reach out to the knowledgeable team of business benefits consultants at BBG today.