This post discusses issues related to re-opening a physical workplace that has been closed as a result of COVID. First and foremost, the question to be answered is whether to re-open the physical workplace at all; or is a business able to not only survive, but thrive, while keeping everyone remote or off-premises?
Assuming the decision has been made to re-open the workplace this post explores practical considerations and planning for your re-opening.
Who Should Return to The Workplace?
Are all employees brought back? If so, should an employer take a phased approach in bringing employees back, starting with the most essential workers?
Another alternative is to implement a hybrid system where employees are in the workplace part-time and remote part-time, an A/B schedule. Factors to consider when making this decision include the occupancy limitations mandated at the city, county, and/or state levels as well as the physical limitations of the workplace and the ability to safely provide physical separation of workers.
The best risk management is to err on side of absolute safety and precaution. Take the most cautious approach to protect employees. Done right, re-opening the workplace can strengthen an employer’s relationship with employees by demonstrating employee safety is the top priority.
Make a Return to the Workplace Plan
Make a plan once you decide to re-open the workplace, before bringing any employees back.
Overarching factors to consider when putting together a plan include:
- Protect Your People (employees, customers, vendors, friends, and family);
- Protect Your Resources; and
- Protect Your Reputation
At a minimum, the return plan should address:
- Prevention protocols: How to stop COVID from getting into the building;
- Common safety measures: How to stop COVID from spreading if it does get into the building; and
- Response protocols: How will the business respond if COVID does get into the building.
In addition, there are also environmental considerations to account for, including:
- The workplace floorplan (what, where, how, and when to clean and disinfect); and
- Determining who is responsible for maintaining HVAC, plumbing, and indoor air quality.
Also, with COVID numbers spiking as we head into the cold and flu season, any plan should consider:
- Changing community risk;
- Changing science of the disease and the evolution in the understanding the transmission and risk; and
- Changing guidance at the city, state, county, and federal levels.
Once a plan has been formulated, the next steps are figuring out how to communicate the plan to your employees and stakeholders and devising safety protocol training strategies. Prevention is the key to returning safely.
Finally, be flexible! Keep the plan current after re-opening after COVID, accounting for employee needs and practical realities.
The State of Washington has provided information and guidance regarding re-opening the workplace during a surge of COVID cases:
- Here is a summary of COVID prevention and general workplace requirements;
- Certain industries have specific prevention requirements. More information regarding those industries can be found here; and
- Washington State has provided guidance regarding screening employees and guests (not retail customers) for COVID signs and symptoms.
Please contact Foundry Law Group today if you have any questions about your plan to re-open after COVID.