As the country starts a smooth reopening plan, small businesses need to consider updating their business policies before getting their employees back at work during the Covid-19 pandemic. This way you can balance your profits and workplace safety.
Mona Bushnell published a compilation of these guidelines and resources from different state government websites as well as the best practices recommended by the CDC and the federal government. Here you can read her findings.
What policies need to be updated as business reopen during Covid-19?
1. Create a COVID-19 business cleanliness plan
Implement stringent cleaning plans and sanitization processes for disease control before reopening your business premises. The CDC offers the best and most detailed plan for business sanitization, and we highly recommend all business owners refer to it.
Prior to creating an action plan, reach out to the most reliable people on your team now, especially managers and department heads, and collaborate with them as you develop back-to-work strategies. Also, consider the guidance from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on developing an infectious disease preparedness and response plan; this guide includes direct advice on creating good workplace policies and controls to promote workplace safety.
2. Support public health while running your business
Beyond basic sanitation, having a real, actionable plan for supporting public health and worker safety is imperative. In addition to social distancing – which may require reorganizing your workspace, or staffing workers in shifts with only 50% of them working at a time – you will need to consider providing personal protective equipment (PPE), which may include hand sanitizer, gloves, masks or shields.
In addition to procuring the appropriate PPE for your staff, you will need to create policies around using it and around sanitization efforts in general. The CDC recommends appointing one employee as the workplace coordinator to oversee the pandemic return-to-work process. Reputable sources are careful to point out that training is essential for effective use of PPE. Free training videos from the CDC are available online.
Lack of compliance with new safety measures may become an issue among employees. Your messaging around the safety precautions should make it clear that following these protocols is now part of each worker’s job duties and there will be repercussions for noncompliance. If you have any in-house human resources professionals, you should work with them to make sure safety standards are clearly communicated and understood.
3. Provide reasonable accommodation and sick leave
Reasonable accommodation for vulnerable populations is recommended throughout every phase of reopening, and continuing remote work (where it applies) is the most obvious solution. According to Opening Up America Again, vulnerable populations include all elderly people, as well as “individuals with serious underlying health conditions, including high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, and those whose immune system is compromised, such as by chemotherapy for cancer and other conditions requiring such therapy.”
Many companies have announced that they are allowing all employees to continue remote work indefinitely, and to only return to the office premises when they feel compelled to do so.
Of course, not every job can be done with just a laptop and an internet connection. If you employ workers who must be onsite, you’ll need a plan for vulnerable employees who cannot come back to work. You might assume no one in your workforce is a vulnerable person, but in addition to employing someone with an invisible illness or disability, you may well have a staff member who lives with a high-risk person.
If you ask your employees about their health, you must stay within the law and not overstep any boundaries. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission breaks down the boundaries set by the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act and other EEO laws here. It may also be worthwhile to consult your business’s attorney on how to communicate and roll out your reasonable accommodation plan to your affected employees.
Your communications to staff regarding pandemic accommodations should include not only information for vulnerable populations but also general policies on sick leave and PTO during this challenging time. Most businesses are creating coronavirus sick leave policies that allow employees to stay home for two weeks at a time if they are at all ill. That way, workers don’t come to work sick in an effort to preserve their accrued sick leave or PTO. You should also establish how you expect employees to relay their symptoms to their managers and have a plan for the managers should they need to make a quick staff replacement.