WAYS TO ENSURE A HEALTHY AND SAFE RETURN TO THE WORKPLACE
Many countries are in the process of lifting their shelter-in-place orders, if they have not already done so, allowing businesses to begin to reopen and bring their employees back to the workplace. In-house counsel, Human Resource professionals and executives need to be ready to navigate workplace modifications, including social distancing protocols, sanitation and safety considerations.
Below is a non-exhaustive checklist of some best practices and mandates from across the globe, on workplace modifications to facilitate a smooth return to work and help to minimise risk:
- Consider physical changes to reduce risk of exposure to COVID-19 and comply with applicable social distancing mandates, such as moving workstations, altering layouts and access points and installation of barriers. In Belgium for example, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment’s “Generic Guide for Combatting the Spread of COVID-19 at Work” advises employers to use ribbons, markings or physical barriers to demarcate zones or places to indicate distance, and aid in compliance with the government mandated social distancing requirement of 1.5 meters.
- Implement cleaning and disinfection protocols, and obtain necessary supplies. In the United States for instance, this will require consistency with CDC and OSHA protocols. In France, under Article L. 4121-1 of the Labour Code, employers have an obligation to take the necessary measures to ensure safety and protect the physical and mental health of workers. France has also prescribed a protocol for cleaning and decontamination of the workplace if a case of coronavirus is detected in the company.
- Evaluate the voluntary or mandatory use of personal protective equipment (PPE) (e.g. masks, gloves, face shields, etc.) and obtain the necessary equipment. Employees should be trained on use and decontamination. For example in Singapore, pursuant to the Government’s“Safe Management Measures” employers must ensure that everyone entering the workplace, including employees and visitors, wears a mask and utilises the appropriate PPE, at all times.
- Consider staggered and group divided work shifts to help minimise the impact of COVID-19 exposure. This may require a corresponding salary adjustment, due to reduced schedules. For example, the UK government’s COVID-19 guidance and support advises employers to provide different start, finish and break times for their staff, where possible.
- Prohibit or limit shared use of devices such as telephones, headsets, copiers, timeclocks, etc. Implement decontamination practices where prohibiting shared use is not possible.
- Establish protocols for interactions with customers (e.g. eliminating handshakes, requiring masks/barriers, digital customer signage). In Spain for instance, the Health Ministry issued a rule mandating face masks in the street and in public places or places where it is impossible to keep a distance of 2 meters.
- Post notices regarding new workplace rules. In the United States for example, under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), an employer with less than 500 employees is required to post hygiene/handwashing and social distancing reminders, in addition to any state and local requirements.
- Continue to check national, local and industry laws and guidance for updates in this area.
COVID-19 has required us to change our behavior, and the workplace is no different. It is important for businesses to prepare effective new workplace policies and procedures to ensure a healthy and safe transition for their workforces to return to work.