How to Open Shop and Bring Staff Back to Work

If your business is preparing to open due to a relaxation of shelter-at-home orders, you should proceed with caution and make sure you have safeguards in place to protect your workers, as well as customers if they are entering your premises.

How can you take that first step back to a semblance of normalcy?

Here are some recommendations from the Los Angeles Department of Public Health and other sources that can apply to any municipality anywhere in the country. The advice mainly applies to establishments that will have customers, but most of the recommendations are relevant across a wide swath of sectors.

Measures to protect employees

  • If someone can continue working from home, let them do so.
  • Tell employees not to come to work if sick.
  • If any employee tests positive for, or has symptoms consistent with COVID-19, you should:

– Ask that they isolate themselves at home, and

– Ask all employees who have come in contact with that colleague to immediately self-quarantine at home.

  • Check employees for symptoms or a fever before they enter the workspace. This must include a check-in concerning cough, shortness of breath or fever and any other symptoms the employee may be experiencing.
    These checks can be done remotely or in person upon the employee’s arrival. A temperature check should be done at the worksite, if feasible.
  • Offer at no cost to your employees cloth face coverings if they are going to have contact with the public during their shift. If they are disposable, masks should be thrown away at the end of every shift. If they are reusable, they should be washed after every shift in hot water.
  • Instruct employees not to touch the exterior of their mask when removing and handling it.
  • Disinfect break rooms, restrooms and other common areas frequently.
  • Place hand sanitizer in strategic locations.
  • Allow employees to take frequent breaks to wash their hands.

Signage

Place signs at each public entrance of your facility to inform all employees and customers that they should:

  • Avoid entering the facility if they have a cough or fever.
  • Maintain a minimum 6-foot distance from one another.
  • Wear a mask for their own protection, as well as for the safety of others.

Controlling crowds, lines

Limit the number of customers in the store at any one time, to allow customers and employees to easily maintain at least 6-foot distance from one another at all practicable times.

Post an employee at the door to ensure the maximum number of customers in the facility is not exceeded. If people are queueing up, mark the ground outside the store to ensure proper social distancing.

If you have a restaurant, encourage people not to crowd and wait outside. Set up a system to alert people by cellphone when they are next.

Spacing between employees

  • Require employees to work at least 6 feet apart. You may need to reorganize your office or workstations to ensure proper spacing.
  • In jobs where workers are on their feet, you can mark spots on the floor where they should stand to ensure social distancing between your staff.
  • Social distancing in break rooms and supply areas (such as device charging stations and packaging supplies) may be addressed temporarily by spacing out tables, chairs and microwaves.
  • Another option is to use partitions made of plexiglass so workers can communicate and make eye contact.
  • In addition, you may want to abandon the popular open workspace concept and revert to using cubicles, which gained popularity in the 1980s and 1990s as a way to increase productivity by putting barriers between office workers. Having that divider will make your staff feel safer and can offer some protection.
  • Reconfigure furniture placement in offices, public seating areas and other non-warehouse or production areas to support physical distancing.

Cleaning and circulation

A recent research study that analyzed superspreading events showed that closed environments with minimal ventilation strongly contributed to a characteristically high number of secondary infections.

If you have fans or air conditioning units blowing, take steps to minimize air from fans blowing from one worker directly at another. Also consider opening windows to improve circulation.

Also important are:

  • Disinfecting frequently touched surfaces in workspaces, as well as doorknobs, buttons and controls. More frequent cleaning and disinfection may be required based on level of use.
  • Providing workers and customers with tissues and trash receptacles.
  • Employees who are cleaning and disinfecting should wear disposable gloves.
  • Cleaning surfaces using soap and water, then using disinfectant.
  • Sanitizing any other personal protective equipment such as hardhats after every shift.

10 Potential Causes of Employee COVID-19 Lawsuits

The novel coronavirus that broke out in the winter has caused immeasurable suffering, both physical and economic.

For employers struggling to stay in business, this is a fraught time where mistakes in managing their workforces could lead to employee lawsuits. Here are 10 potential trouble spots to watch for.

Workplace safety – Businesses that still have employees working on-site run the risk that a single infected worker may send the virus ripping through the entire workforce.

While workers’ compensation laws may prevent employees from suing, their family members who become ill or suffer through a worker’s illness face no such constraints.

Sick time and paid leave – Congress enacted the Families First Coronavirus Response Act in March, guaranteeing full-time employees of small businesses 80 hours of sick leave (part-timers get a prorated amount.)

State and local laws may entitle workers to additional leave. Mistakes in administering these benefits could prompt lawsuits.

Workplace discrimination – Because the coronavirus originated in China, there have been reports of Asian-Americans being targets of racist actions. Employers must take care to avoid the appearance of making workplace decisions based even partly on employees’ race. 

Americans with Disabilities Act – The ADA prohibits discrimination against disabled individuals and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for these workers.

Employees who become ill from COVID-19 (the illness caused by the virus) may suffer after-effects that include trouble breathing, speaking and working at their former pace. Employers must accommodate these workers to the extent that is practical.

Wage and hour violations – Non-exempt employees working remotely may be working more than their regular hours, missing rest and meal breaks, and using their own equipment.

Employers must keep careful records, reimburse employees for their use of personal equipment where warranted, and remind employees to take mandatory breaks.

Battered retirement plans – Stock markets have cratered since the beginning of the year, taking retirement account balances down with them.

Questions may be asked about whether fund managers did enough to limit the damage. Employees who are not satisfied with the answers may go to court. 

Health information privacy – Employee health information privacy is protected by law. Employers must secure the records of infected employees from unauthorized access by individuals within and outside the company.

Union contracts – Collective bargaining agreements may contain provisions that go beyond federal requirements for breaks, paid leave, layoff notices, and workplace safety.

Employers must keep their CBAs in mind and work with their unions to avoid contract violations.

Disparate impact from layoffs – If layoffs are necessary, employers must take a thoughtful approach when deciding which employees to part company with.

An appearance of singling out older workers or other protected classes under discrimination laws could invite lawsuits.

WARN Act – The Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act requires some employers to provide at least 60 days’ notice before layoffs. Many businesses’ revenues fell off the cliff so quickly that they were unable to provide that much notice.

A final thought

The pandemic is a crisis that few businesses foresaw. The effects, including the litigation, may haunt them for a long time to come.

Employer Guide for Dealing with the Coronavirus

As the outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus gains momentum and potentially begins to spread in North America, employers will have to start considering what steps they can take to protect their workers while fulfilling their legal obligations.

Employers are in a difficult position because it is likely that the workplace would be a significant source of transmission among people. And if you have employees in occupations that may be of higher risk of contracting the virus, you could be required to take certain measures to comply with OSHA’s General Duty Clause.

On top of that, if you have workers who come down with the virus, you will need to consider how you’re going to deal with sick leave issues. Additionally, workers who are sick or have a family member who is stricken may ask to take time off under the Family Medical Leave Act.

Coronavirus explained

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the virus is transmitted between humans from coughing, sneezing and touching, and it enters through the eyes, nose and mouth.

Symptoms include a runny nose, a cough, a sore throat, and high temperature. After two to 14 days, patients will develop a dry cough and mild breathing difficulty. Victims also can experience body aching, gastrointestinal distress and diarrhea.

Severe symptoms include a temperature of at least 100.4ºF, pneumonia, and kidney failure.

Employer concerns

OSHA — OSHA’s General Duty Clause requires an employer to protect its employees against “recognized hazards” to safety or health which may cause serious injury or death.

According to an analysis by the law firm Seyfarth Shaw: If OSHA can establish that employees at a worksite are reasonably likely to be “exposed” to the virus  (likely workers such as health care providers, emergency responders, transportation workers), OSHA could require the employer to develop a plan with procedures to protects its employees.

Protected activity — If you have an employee who refuses to work if they believe they are at risk of contracting the coronavirus in the workplace due to the actual presence or probability that it is present there, what do you do?

Under OSHA’s whistleblower statutes, the employee’s refusal to work could be construed as “protected activity,” which prohibits employers from taking adverse action against them for their refusal to work.

Family and Medical Leave Act — Under the FMLA, an employee working for an employer with 50 or more workers is eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave if they have a serious health condition. The same applies if an employee has a family member who has been stricken by coronavirus and they need to care for them.

The virus would likely qualify as a serious health condition under the FMLA, which would warrant unpaid leave.

What to do

Here’s what health and safety experts are recommending you do now:

  • Consider restricting foreign business trips to affected areas for your employees.
  • Perform medical inquiries to the extent legally permitted.
  • Impose potential quarantines for employees who have traveled to affected areas. Ask them to get a fitness-for-duty note from their doctor before returning to work.
  • Educate your staff about how to reduce the chances of them contracting the virus, as well as what to do if they suspect they have caught it.

If you have an employee you suspect has caught the virus, experts recommend that you:

  • Advise them to stay home until symptoms have run their course.
  • Advise them to seek out medical care.
  • Make sure they avoid contact with others.
  • Contact the CDC and local health department immediately.
  • Contact a hazmat company to clean and disinfect the workplace.
  • Grant leaves of absence and work from home options for anyone who has come down with the coronavirus.

If there is a massive outbreak in society, consider whether or not to continue operating. If you plan to continue, put a plan in place. You may want to:

  • Set a plan ahead of time for how to continue operations.
  • Assess your staffing needs in case of a pandemic.
  • Consider alternative work sites or allowing staff to work from home.
  • Stay in touch with vendors and suppliers to see how they are coping.
  • Consider seeking out alternative vendors should yours suddenly be unable to work.