Deciding When It’s Right For You To Reopen
A recent survey by Blank Rome found that 73% of the companies surveyed have not yet developed a return-to-work strategy. If and when the government allows businesses to reopen, that doesn’t mean COVID-19 is no longer a threat. Some businesses may have greater exposures than others, so you will need to understand the risks and decide when it’s right for you. To help you in this process, consult the Centers for Disease Control, your state’s shelter in place orders and union obligations if any apply. We’ve listed additional organizations’ guidelines that would be helpful:
Preparing Your Business To Avoid An Outbreak
Before you reopen your business, you’ll need to think about how you can do so safely. Most businesses will not be able to flip a switch and go from closed to open, but rather will need to reopen in phases. This section provides an overview of how to prepare for reopening.
To ensure that employees receive clear communications and that your company is on the same page when it comes to your return to work action plan, it’s essential that you create a Pandemic Response Team. A Pandemic Response Team is a cross-functional team that recommends and oversees workplace protocols to control the spread of COVID-19. The scope and design of your team will vary depending on your specific business. This COVID-19 Operating Checklist provides a great example of various responsibilities belonging to the different individuals on a Pandemic Response Team. An additional checklist for evaluating changes that need to be made to your office can be found here.
Our Team of Experts have identified several lines of insurance coverage that you should confirm you have in place during this pandemic and as you reopen your workplace. Contact your Alper Services Representative to review your policies.
Cyber Insurance Coverage – Employees working from home open their company up to increased cyber risks. Chubb provides informative tips to stay safe while your staff works remotely. They also highlight the additional resources that many insurance carriers include with cyber insurance that help a policy holder before and after a breach.
Directors & Officers Coverage – The potential for third-party claims arising from COVID-19 is real. Employees may sue not only companies but their directors and officers for plummeting stock prices and diminished 401k’s. This article highlights other scenarios where D&O insurance policies may provide coverage when claims are filed.
Employment Practices Liability Insurance Coverage – An EPL policy can protect employers from COVID-19 claims filed by employees.
Conducting a Risk Assessment – Before reopening, businesses should perform a risk assessment to determine what steps must be taken. OSHA has a risk classification system that labels your workplace depending on it’s level of exposure.
Cleaning, Disinfecting and Sanitizing your workplace before employees return – The CDC has many materials to help you determine how and when you should clean your workplace. Consider this one and this one.
Modifying your workplace to mitigate the risk of an outbreak is important not only for your employees but also anyone who visits including vendors and customers. This includes altering your physical space to comply with social distancing guidelines, increasing signage, providing proper PPE and creating new security protocol to name a few. The Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) has an extensive list to help you prepare your space for reentry.
Employee Health Screening & Compliance Issues
As you prepare to resume office operations, it is important to protect your most important asset, your employees. Control measures must be established, and where necessary, provide accessibility to medical professionals. For an added level of security for your COVID-19 taskforce, or even your HR administrators, the use of vendor resources like those of Eagle One, can mitigate the liability related to identification of established symptoms by way of temperature testing, access to PPE manufacturers and a 24/7 COVID-19 hotline.
OSHA has issued two revised enforcement policies to ensure employers are taking action to protect their employees. These relate specifically to increased OSHA inspections of workplaces as they reopen and recordkeeping requirements for confirmed coronavirus cases.
Exposure and Confirmed Illness Protocol – When there is evidence of a confirmed COVID-19 illness, it is critical that an employer act swiftly to prevent further spread, as well as notifying the proper entities for recordkeeping. The CDC has created guidelines that address what to do if an employee has been confirmed to be positive for COVID-19. These guidelines provide guidance for not only the employer, but also the employee, who will need to know how to self-quarantine for the protection of friends and loved ones.
The Illinois Department of Public Health has highlighted several items that should be considered when dealing with confirmed exposure. Specifically, they recommend that employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (i.e. cough, shortness of breath) upon arrival to work or become sick during the day should be separated from other employees and be sent home immediately. A review of your sick leave policy should be inclusive of COVID-19 governmental policies and shared with the workforce. Similar conversations and guidelines should be discussed with temp agencies and contract employees. Creation of a fully comprehensive action plan will ensure consistency and a safer work environment.
Laws On What You Can and Can’t Do – While Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act rules generally prohibit asking employees about their health, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission confirmed employers have the right to request health information from workers during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Employers may ask if employees are experiencing fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, or a sore throat. Be sure to maintain all health information as a confidential medical record in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The law firm of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner wrote an article on US COVID-19: Workplace Temperature Screening: How To Develop and Implement A Screening Protocol that answers many questions about how to go about testing your employees.
Managing Employee Concerns
Consider a phased approach to reopening, starting with employees who had no symptoms, then staff who have been ill, either from COVID-19 or other illnesses, with the final phase being staff who were confirmed positive and have since recovered.
Employers that want to create a smooth and stress-free transition as employees return to work should address their employees beforehand and in writing. This Back To Work employee communication letter can be edited to suit your organization’s needs. It provides transparency regarding the steps taken to protect employees from COVID-19.
We have gathered additional links pertaining to employee stress during this pandemic:
Combat Employee Burnout: Provide employees with additional breaks or even days off to deal with stress and concerns related to COVID-19. Circulate this employee burnout symptoms scorecard to management so they are aware of what signs to look for within their staff.
Provide an EAP: Employee Assistance Plans (EAPs) provide employees with access to mental health professionals who offer a limited number of counseling sessions and also recommend mental health professionals for continued treatment. Employers who have EAPs should make sure that employees are aware of this resource, while employers without EAPs should consider putting such a program in place.
Group Health Plan Benefits: In addition to providing coverage for mental health care, many group health plans include behavioral health programs that assist those experiencing difficulties. Telehealth services can also be used to provide faster access to mental health care providers. Employers should make sure that employees understand and are aware of the various mental health benefits and programs available under their group health plans.
Who Goes Back: The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has created an online tool to help workers determine whether they qualify for paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Click here to access it.
Establishing New Policies – Social distancing protocols are important to communicate to employees before arriving back to the workplace. Many have become familiar with social distancing norms while out for walks or in the grocery store. However, social distancing in the office has it’s own set of rules. Consider these resources: