Imagine this scenario: Your business finally gets the all-clear to reopen. You have developed a comprehensive and detailed return-to-work plan that includes extensive office health and safety measures. You email employees the good news. When the day comes, only half of those scheduled show up. Those who do show up are disengaged and nervous. Not only are they anxious about exposure to the virus, they are anxious about all the new rules they must follow to stay away from their coworkers.
Employee concerns about the health risks of returning to work are both inevitable and widespread. According to a mid-March 2020 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 41% of employees are afraid to go to work due to the risk of coronavirus exposure.
Developing a “safe-at-work” plan addressing health and safety measures is an essential first step. But it is only a first step. It is equally important to communicate the plan at the outset, train employees on these measures on day one, and continuously address employee concerns about health and safety issues.
Develop A Safe-At-Work Plan. The specific measures in an effective safe-at-work plan will depend on the type of workplace; different measures will be appropriate for office, retail, manufacturing, and health care environments. Many resources exist to assist in plan development. For example:
Your plan should also incorporate any applicable state or local health and safety order requirements. Finally, do not forget to review and update your leave policies to provide flexibility, as they are a key to encouraging those who may be ill or exposed to stay home.
Provide Written Materials Detailing Your Safe-At-Work Plan. Effectively communicating a safe-at-work plan is key to educating employees on compliance, but just as importantly, reassures anxious employees about what is being done to prevent exposure. This communication should occur by regular mail or email, if possible before employees actually return to the workplace.
Your written informational materials should address:
- Personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Disinfection measures
- Social distancing protocol
- On-site health screening
- Signs and symptoms of COVID-19
- Self-quarantining and return-to-work policies
- Measures addressing visitor, contractor, and vendor screening
- Time off options
- Any other COVID-19 related workplace changes
Use Other Forms of Workplace Communication. In the workplace, reinforce key health and safety messages through:
- Signage in common areas reflecting health safety guidelines
- External signage alerting visitors to restrictions on entry, as well as guidelines and expectations
- Handwashing postings in the restrooms
- Visual markers to encourage social distancing, and six-foot markers where appropriate
- Arrows to signify one-way corridors
- An informational repository on your shared network to allow employees to access all COVID-19-related documents, resources, and company protocol
Train Employees On Safe-At-Work Measures. Effective implementation of a safe-at-work plan includes workplace training on all the factors listed above. Ideally, the training occurs first thing on day one of an employee’s return to the worksite. Consider webinar-type remote training for employees with remote work capability in advance of their return.
Continually Communicate. Recognize that returning to work will be an unsettling and stressful experience for employees in many ways. Frequent, ongoing communication is key to reassuring employees, and to an effective transition back to the workplace. Develop a communication plan to address employee concerns. Such a plan might include:
- Regular reminders of policies and resources
- Forums for addressing questions and concerns, whether on-line or in-person
- Meetings (with social distancing of course)
- A designated point-person to answer COVID-19 related questions or concerns
- An internal complaint procedure for safety concerns or exposures
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Reopening a workplace amid the COVID-19 pandemic requires thoughtful planning, employee communication, and training. Addressing employee fears and safety concerns through an effective and ongoing communication program is an essential step in bringing employees back 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 Felicia Reid in Hirschfeld Kraemer’s San Francisco office, firstname.lastname@example.org, (415) 835-9024.
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
For additional employer-focused information about COVID-19:
Click here to see the Hirschfeld Kraemer EMPLOYER’S GUIDE TO CORONAVIRUS