By now, a couple of months into shelter-in-place mandates, we’ve all disinfected our homes and cars, and have gotten really good at sanitizing our private spaces, which have been serving as homes and offices (and for some of us, jungle gyms).
But just like that, the time is nearing for offices and other business to start opening again. However, the lifting of the shelter-in-place mandates does not mean that our new-found cleanliness should be forgotten. Quite the opposite – now is the time to remain vigilant in keeping up with proper hygiene, which is especially important in a shared office space.
So what does that mean for employers? You are the first line of defense in keeping the workplace safe for your employees. You have the power to provide the tools that your employees need to stay safe in a place where they spend one-third of their lives. You can help set your employees’ minds at ease that they are not bringing germs home to their families.
Here are some helpful tips for keeping the office safe and clean, and inspiring employees to maintain proper hygiene:
Provide personal protective equipment (PPE) wherever possible. This includes gloves, goggles, face shields, face masks, and respiratory protection, depending on the position and job environment. But if PPE is provided, it doesn’t mean that this is the end of the line, because PPE should be regularly cleaned, maintained, and replaced, as necessary.
Provide ample sanitary items like wipes, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant for employees. This doesn’t just mean one big Costco-sized container at the reception desk; this means placing various sanitary items within quick access of every workstation, and especially near the areas that are most frequently touched by multiple people (e.g., the front door handle, the clock-in/clock-out station, the handle to the bathroom door, the copy machine, etc.).
Regularly clean all frequently used surfaces in the office, such as ledges, tables, workstations, elevator buttons, staircases, and doorknobs. Per the CDC requirements (and common sense), the most frequently touched surfaces, such as door handles, printer buttons, and copy machines, need to be cleaned the most often.
Encourage regular hand washing either at hand washing stations or in restrooms, especially upon entering the office and after coming into contact with frequently touched surfaces. Review CDC handwashing guidelines with employees. If possible, add additional hand washing and/or cleaning stations around the workplace.
If employees use mass transit, make a special effort for them to be sanitized as soon as they arrive at work, which becomes considerably easier if there are washing and/or cleaning stations upon entering the workplace.
Eliminate shared workspaces, if possible, in an effort to reduce cross-contamination and to encourage social distancing. Can workstations be moved around to better facilitate social distancing? Can conference rooms and empty offices be re-purposed as workstations? Consider the possibilities within the confines of the office set-up.
Consider continuing to conduct various meetings over the phone or through remote video platforms like Zoom or WebEx. Sometimes we will still need the benefits of the face-to-face interactions, and in that case, make sure the meeting is set up in a sanitized room that allows for ample social distancing rules.
Limit sharing of equipment, wherever possible, to reduce the potential for cross-contamination between equipment during the day. Consider placing wipeable covers on top of shared electronics, which make it easy to disinfect throughout the day and between use by different employees.
Limit access and/or traffic in certain common areas, perhaps with a limited number of individuals at once and a mandatory wipe-down of frequently touched surfaces after each use.
Consider closing non-essential common areas, such as fitness centers and kitchens/break rooms (but do not close bathrooms!) If this is not possible, consider at least postponing any group lunches/buffets and encourage people to use only disposable silverware and not share food with others (see our previous post for more meal and break room safety tips).
Communicate your company’s sick leave policies and encourage employees to stay home if they are feeling sick, especially if they are showing signs of infection. If an employee is showing signs of infection in the office, such as a high temperature or cough, keep that employee home for at least 24 hours or until he or she stops showing signs of infection. Make sure to disinfect that employee’s work area and any surfaces that he or she may have touched while in the office.
These protocols will not be as effective if employees refuse to comply, and it is ultimately up to each employee to do his or her part in keeping a safe environment for the group. If an employee refuses to adhere to proper safety and hygiene practices, you may want to consider telling that employee that he/she will not be allowed back into the office until he or she is willing to do so.
At the end of the day, it’s up to each individual to stay healthy and coronavirus-free, but employers can set the stage to make sure employees are in the best place to do that. Each office may need a different set of protocols, so don’t hesitate to reach out to counsel with more detailed questions about how to get your office in the best shape before employees return to work.
Questions about COVID-19 and the workplace? Contact the Hirschfeld Kraemer lawyer who normally provides your legal advice, or you can reach out to Alia Chaib in the Los Angeles office, firstname.lastname@example.org, (310) 255-1835.
Did you miss previous posts in our Planning For The Rebound series? Click on the links below:
Step 1 – Requirements For Returning To The Workplace
Step 2 – Do I Have To Bring Back Furloughed or Laid-Off Employees?
Step 3 – Do Employers Need to Bring Back Under-Performers?
Step 4 – Ready To Go Back To Work? Not So Fast …
Step 5 – Passing the Test: COVID-19 Screening in the Workplace
Step 6 – Deciding Which Employees Can Return To The Workplace
Step 7 – Workplace Safety: Posters Are Not Enough
Step 8 – Safety Tips For Allowing Vendors and Visitors Into Your Workplace
Step 9 – Meal and Break Room Safety
For additional employer-focused information about COVID-19:
Click here to see the Hirschfeld Kraemer EMPLOYER’S GUIDE TO CORONAVIRUS