Do We Really Have to Get Dressed and Go Into Work? Guideposts for Re-Opening After COVID-19 Authors: Rachel LaBruyere, Anne Yuengert and Craig Oliver Tags: Coronavirus, PoliciesIs your state starting to lift COVID-19 restrictions? Are you migrating your workforce back into the office from furlough or from remote work? Are you trying to figure out how to do this and just wish someone would give you a straight answer on how to keep everyone safe? We know this is hard, and there are not clear answers to many of your questions. Although the “new normal” will be different in every workplace, below is a checklist you can reference as you develop policies and procedures to bring your employees back safely and effectively.

Not So Fast: What Is Your State or County or City Doing?

First and foremost, it is absolutely crucial that you follow your state’s lead. Has your state begun to lift its stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders? If not, you may not be able to bring your employees back to work yet. If your state has relaxed stay-at-home orders or implemented re-opening plans, read those orders (as they are not all the same) and decide what you can and can’t do. If you have employees in multiple states, you will need to adopt a state-by-state reopening approach. Finally, many localities have their own orders, so check the cities and counties where your employees live and work.

New Policies to Consider

What new policies do you need to deal with when bringing employees back to work? Here are some to consider:

  • A check in/check out system to track when employees are at the office (to help with social distancing and contact tracing if necessary)
  • Update attendance policies to include references addressing:
    • How employees request leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act
    • Employees accessing FMLA leave (if you have 50 or more employees) due to COVID-19
    • Teleworking and accommodation policies
  • Update your policy for employees to report safety issues to include COVID-19 concerns
  • A policy for how to handle an employee who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or who is exhibiting symptoms
  • A plan for how to track positive cases and notify those who have been exposed (contact tracing policy)

Speaking of Policies

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has strongly recommended that, before bringing employees back to work, employers modify existing employee illness policies to include certain COVID-19 provisions or create a separate COVID-19 policy containing these provisions. Some of the provisions Gov. Lee suggested related to the employer’s policy include:

  • A description of COVID-19 symptoms
  • Screening questions for each employee to answer before returning to work
  • A description of leave options available under the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act

Gov. Lee also recommended that employers post a copy of this policy and require all employees to sign an acknowledgment of their receipt of the policy.

Other state and local officials may recommend similar steps as employees transition back to the workplace.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Now is a time to over-communicate with your employees. Make sure that each and every employee receives training and information regarding new policies and protocols. Document everything.

  • Have employees acknowledge receipt of new rules, trainings, and policies.
  • Train managers and supervisors on compliance with new policies.
  • Where it make sense, post signs and visible reminders of new policies.

Brass Tacks: Protection and Hygiene

How do you plan to keep your employees safe on a day-to-day basis? Walk through a typical day in your office, and try to plan for every single step of the day.

  • Place proper hand-washing protocol posters in common areas and restrooms.
  • Provide additional cleaning or sanitation measures for any equipment employees use. Require employees to sanitize this equipment after each use (i.e., clean the copier or microwave after each use).
  • Provide supplies in all common areas: wipes, hand sanitizer, trash cans, etc.
  • While you don’t have to require people to wear masks, follow your local authority’s lead. If your state or city is requiring masks in public, encourage your employees to wear masks in the office, especially in common areas or when working together.
  • If you are encouraging masks, provide clear examples of how to wear masks, what proper masks look like, and/or provide masks if possible.
  • Train employees on use of PPE, sanitization protocols, and require sign off on completed training.

Brass Tacks: Social Distancing in the Office

Just because your employees are back in the office, doesn’t mean social distancing isn’t required. Below are a few best practices to consider:

  • Staggered schedules. Do you need all of your employees there at the same time or can half of your employees come in Mondays and Wednesdays, and the other half Tuesdays and Thursdays? Can your first-shift employees come in one week, and second-shift employees the next week? Find what works for your workforce.
  • Hold meetings virtually, even if everybody is in the office.
  • Postpone gatherings and events, or hold them virtually.
  • Create a policy for elevator use (i.e., only three people at a time, use the sanitizing wipe on the buttons as you leave, elevators will be cleaned X times a day).
  • Rethink your break room. Should you close it entirely? Place physical barriers in every other seat or table to increase distancing? Reconfigure the tables or chairs?
  • Create a visitor policy: who, how many, where, and when are visitors allowed?
  • Request contactless deliveries from vendors to the extent possible.
  • Stagger break and lunch times.
  • Install clear shields for any staff that cannot avoid distancing from visitors/customers/clients (for example, those at the front desk).

Brass Tacks: Testing, Screening, and Privacy

  • Mandate that employees with symptoms stay home, and create a dedicated call-in procedure.
  • Do you want to implement temperature checks? A few things to consider when making this decision:
    • Temperature checks are a medical procedure under the EEOC’s most recent guidance.
    • It’s ok to take an employee’s temperature, but be sure that you are keeping the results confidential (i.e., only available to those who need to know).
    • Any testing must be “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” As this crisis continues, whether taking employee temperatures or other tests meet this standard could change. Make sure your testing protocol is within the bounds of existing laws and guidance.
  • If an employee tests positive, do not disclose that employee’s identity to other employees, unless the positive employee gives his or her consent. If you have consent, get it in writing.

Create a contact tracing policy that assumes you may not disclose the identity of an employee who tests positive, and plan to implement contact tracing in a manner that respects employee privacy.

Do We Really Have to Get Dressed and Go Into Work? Guideposts for Re-Opening After COVID-19

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Photo of Rachel M. LaBruyere Rachel M. LaBruyere

Rachel LaBruyere is a privacy and litigation associate in Bradley’s Charlotte office. She regularly advises clients on CCPA and GDPR compliance issues. Before joining Bradley, Rachel served as a Legal Intern in the United States Attorneys’ Office and an Appellate Litigation Intern in…

Rachel LaBruyere is a privacy and litigation associate in Bradley’s Charlotte office. She regularly advises clients on CCPA and GDPR compliance issues. Before joining Bradley, Rachel served as a Legal Intern in the United States Attorneys’ Office and an Appellate Litigation Intern in the Office of the General Counsel at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Prior to law school, Rachel spent more than five years managing digital strategy for technology companies.

While in law school, Rachel gained a breadth of litigation experience working for the ACLU of North Carolina, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s trial and appellate practices.

Photo of Anne R. Yuengert Anne R. Yuengert

Anne Yuengert works with clients to manage their employees, including conducting workplace investigations of harassment or theft, training employees and supervisors, consulting on reductions in force and severance agreements, drafting employment agreements (including enforceable noncompetes) and handbooks, assessing reasonable accommodations for disabilities, and…

Anne Yuengert works with clients to manage their employees, including conducting workplace investigations of harassment or theft, training employees and supervisors, consulting on reductions in force and severance agreements, drafting employment agreements (including enforceable noncompetes) and handbooks, assessing reasonable accommodations for disabilities, and working through issues surrounding FMLA and USERRA leave. When preventive measures are not enough, she handles EEOC charges, OFCCP and DOL complaints and investigations, and has handled cases before arbitrators, administrative law judges and federal and state court judges. She has tried more than 30 cases to verdict. View articles by Anne

Photo of Craig Oliver Craig Oliver

Craig Oliver’s practice focuses exclusively on labor relations and employment law on behalf of employers and management. His practice regularly includes Title VII and other employment discrimination litigation, FLSA and state wage and hour litigation, trade secrets and non-competition disputes, collective bargaining issues…

Craig Oliver’s practice focuses exclusively on labor relations and employment law on behalf of employers and management. His practice regularly includes Title VII and other employment discrimination litigation, FLSA and state wage and hour litigation, trade secrets and non-competition disputes, collective bargaining issues, and alternative dispute resolution. Craig’s recent experience includes obtaining dismissals of lawsuits alleging race discrimination, gender and pregnancy discrimination, retaliatory discharge, and FMLA violations, prosecuting and defending claims of unfair competition on behalf of companies, and defending FLSA collective action cases.