Return-to-Work Policies & Guidelines Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic - Shegerian Law

Due to lockdowns and the need for self-isolation, there’s no denying that it has been a rough two years for everyone. Life as we know it may have changed, but the world has learned to cope and adapt to the challenges brought by the pandemic. Thanks to the efforts of the medical experts, relevant authorities, and the people’s willingness to cooperate, the world is slowly getting back on its feet.

Fortunately, quarantine restrictions are now easing up, and things may soon get back to how they used to be. Many companies are looking to return to their respective offices, but with the virus still a threat, returning to work should be made with the proper precautions.

To help businesses and employees transition from a work-from-home setup to an office or hybrid arrangement, this guide will provide you with considerations on how you can safely return to the office.

How to Properly Plan for Your Re-Opening

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that employers follow a three-phase re-opening strategy. Use this as a guide when returning to work and ensure that all safety protocols are implemented before your re-opening.

Phase 1

In Phase 1, OSHA recommends limiting the number of people in the office. If remote work is available and feasible, it would be best to implement it. However, employers should ensure that proper safety protocols, such as social distancing and staggered shifts, are implemented to safeguard those who need to return to their respective workplaces.

Go for remote work whenever possible but also take note of the different needs of employees. Those who are at a higher risk for illness should be accommodated accordingly. Non-essential business travels should also be limited.

Phase 2

In Phase 2, remote work should still be implemented whenever possible, but non-essential travel can now resume. Employers can start easing the limited number of employees in the workplace, but proper safety protocols should still be in effect, depending on the nature of your business. Vulnerable workers should be accommodated as with Phase 1.

Phase 3

Restrictions have now eased, and all employees can return to the office. However, remember to still abide by state regulations and practice standard safety protocols at work.

12 Safety Factors to Consider

Employers have the responsibility to provide a safe working environment. As your staff returns to the office, your COVID-related safety protocols and policies should be clear and concise. Here are some factors to consider when returning to work.

1. Set up a team to organize your return

Build a team that will help you develop an action plan once employees start coming into work. Hiring professionals in related disciplines and fields (e.g., doctors, human resource managers, and lawyers) will make it easy for you to create your return-to-work policy.

2. Hazard assessment during tasks

Identifying hazards in your operations will give you a better idea of how to safeguard your employees. Knowing which areas or tasks can spread infection will help you decide on the arrangement you should follow. 

3. Sanitation protocols and employee hygiene practices

Remind your employees of the proper sanitation protocols. Beyond handwashing, they must keep their work areas and materials clean. These include keyboards, telephones, doorknobs, and especially shared spaces like the pantry and bathroom. It is highly recommended that you provide sanitation equipment and products throughout different areas of your facility.

4. Social distancing measures

The company should implement social distancing protocols, with employees staying at least 6 feet away from each other. When bringing everyone back to work, try and assess if your workplace can accommodate everyone when you space them out. Avoid gatherings of 10 or more people, and if possible, host virtual meetings.

5. Illness detection and isolation procedures

If someone starts to show symptoms, they should immediately be separated from other employees and sent home. Do not let health discrimination take over; instead, explain the best course of action for everyone.

6. Proper safety training

The company should provide employees with the proper safety training, especially about the occupational risk of exposure to COVID-19 at work. Organize talks, training, and seminars to ensure that all staff members understand and agree with these preventive measures.

7. Workplace modifications

If your office space is primarily a communal or shared workspace, it would be best to turn them into cubicles as you return to an office setup. Again, this is to protect all employees from the dangers of contagion.

8. Knowing who is at risk

A factor to consider is that not everyone is fit to come back. Take some time to know if you have employees that have underlying health conditions. Given the risks it may pose, making a return may not be the best option for them.

9. Assess essential functions

If employees can do their tasks in the safety of their homes, do not dismiss this fact. Less exposure is still the best course of action. Implement a return-to-work policy only if circumstances allow and there are proper steps to prevent the spread in your workplace.

10.  Employee mindset

Efforts to get back to the office will only work if everyone is in the right headspace. Remember that most have been working from home for more than a year, so it might take some time for them to adjust to coming back to the office.

11.  Operations when absenteeism is high

You cannot deny that COVID-19 is still out there, and there is a risk of infection no matter where you are. So, when the number of employees getting sick and the rate of absenteeism spikes, consider what the action plans are then.

12.  Existing benefit plans

Not every employee will have the same mindset with regards to coming back to the office. Ask yourself, are employees going to be given benefits? Additional hazard pay? Will the employees be compensated?

5 Useful Tips to Safeguard Employee Health

1. Regular testing

If you’re an employer, consult with your executive board and applicable local government units regarding company testing to maintain confidence in the workplace.

2. Implement a vaccination program

Determine if a mandatory or voluntary vaccination program applies to your workplace. Gauge how well the employees perceive a vaccination program and impose this for everyone to be protected.

3. Consider ridesharing

Employees might be allowed to shift their hours to travel to and from work during less busy times. This is important if they are commuting to work. If not, maybe carpooling can minimize the employees’ exposure to anyone not part of the workplace.

4. Build a COVID-19 response plan

You cannot expect anyone to return to the office if the company’s response plan has not been discussed. Employers need to assure employees that they will not risk themselves and their loved ones. Always remember that there are employee rights regarding safety in the workplace during COVID-19.

5. Employee scheduling

To minimize the number of employees in the workplace, consider a designated work schedule for everyone so that they are exposed to only a few people. This is beneficial to them and the company as it decreases the chances of infection.

Have a Safe Return to the Office

Not everyone will be all for returning to the office. Some may have found their ideal balance of work and personal life in the two years of working from home and now prefer it. When deciding to implement a return-to-work policy, consider the different factors affecting an employee’s willingness to follow through.

The points above may provide valuable insights into whether returning to work is the best option for your business and employees. It would also be best to consult with a wage and hour attorney from Shegerian Law and Associates before getting into any agreement regarding back-to-office setups. Get in touch with us today to learn more!