There’s no denying it: COVID-19 has disrupted the world of employment for years to come. According to various organizations, there were already over 250 million home-based jobs (not including domestic or care workers) before the pandemic. But now that one out of every three employees in North America and Europe works remotely, that number doubled in the 12 months since the pandemic struck in February 2020.
However, with the rollout of vaccines, the possibility of employees returning full-time to the workplace has increased considerably. This means employers should be ready for a whole new set of expectations from staff. In other words, if your clients haven’t updated your risk assessment to minimize the risk of COVID-19 in their business, they need to start today.
The good news is that this article will help you understand how your employer clients should prepare for potential coronavirus threats in their business.
Key safety protocols to consider for a safe office reopen
1. Prepare a safety plan
It’s the employer’s responsibility to prepare and make readily available a complete safety plan for the company, describing all the COVID-19 prevention steps that have been or will be implemented. They should make sure to be specific about self-screening, physical separation, and mask-wearing measures.
2. Propose staggered shifts or working hours so there are fewer people in the office
They can introduce different start, finish and break times for personnel at the office to minimize the risk of big groups coming and going during peak hours. To manage the staff’s inflow and outflow, employers can set up a routine where employees can ‘reserve their seat’ at the office and then check-in.
3. Reevaluate commute schedules, to avoid rush hour traffic jams
While traffic is expected to be lighter in the upcoming months, employers should still plan a new schedule with employees to take maximum advantage of the improved post-pandemic commute. They can adjust their hours so they can commute outside of rush hour traffic.
4. Put COVID-19 signage up to remind colleagues of safety protocols
When it’s impossible to have physical barriers to protect the staff, employers can use signs, tape marks, decals, or colored tape on the floor to remind people that they should be 6 feet apart from each other at all times.
5. Create a hybrid work environment that creates a supportive culture
Splitting the staff into two or more teams with alternative days working from home is a popular option. Employers can plan to strike a balance by providing limited additional services in the workplace for those who wish to return while also supporting those who prefer to work remotely. The goal should be to allow employees to work where they feel safe and productive.
Can a business require vaccination before returning to work?
The short answer is yes.
Until recently, there was no simple answer to this question. Whether businesses could develop the so-called “vaccine passports” was a heated debate because, while the federal government had not mandated vaccination for individuals, health care workers and government employees could be required to provide proof of vaccination according to state and municipal regulations. So as COVID-19 vaccines have become widely available, it’s been up to state and municipal authorities to decide if employers could demand their employees to get one of the approved vaccines.
But on May 28, 2021, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) posted updated assistance on the subject. Particularly, it notes that Federal EEO laws do not prevent an employer from requiring employees to get vaccinated before returning to the workplace (as long as they comply with ADA accommodation provisions and other EEO considerations). For example, employers should be aware if there are demographic groups that may face barriers to receiving the vaccine. Employers can also offer incentives for employees to get vaccinated or show documentation as proof of vaccination, as long as those incentives aren’t coercive.
Employers must play a part in limiting the spread of COVID-19 as health authorities in the United States and throughout the world make efforts to contain the disease.
I hope that this article has simplified the basic considerations for employers to prevent as many health risks as possible in the workplace. Establishing a new company culture around safety starts with the employer and the protocols they put in place.
“What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws,” by the U.S. Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission
“Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19,” by the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration