After months of navigating pandemic quarantines, PPE procurement challenges, staggering economic ramifications, and lives tragically taken from COVID-19, Americans are slowly reintegrating back into public spaces, and back into the workforce.
Employers of all sizes will need to take a long, hard look at their operational practices in order to implement health and safety measures. These practices will need to abide by both the law and safety regulations.
In this blog post, we established some important areas for achieving safety as a part of a pandemic return-to-work strategy. Designing compromises for the workplace, and creating efficiencies, should be a top priority for businesses.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) shared a variety of guidance memos for employers to utilize. A publication titled, “Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and The Americans with Disabilities Act” is meant to help employers implement a game plan for COVID-19 workforce implications. Another EEOC guidance memo says it is acceptable for employers to check the temperatures and conduct examinations to detect the virus in employees returning to work.
However, businesses must keep in mind that federal privacy protections remain intact. If employers do not adequately plan for the privacy repercussions of coming back to work, they may end up facing the court system.
An attorney with the law firm of Graydon Head & Ritchey, Christina N. Rogers, has recommended the following questions for employers to reflect on prior to executing new policies:
- How will the policy be implemented?
- Who will oversee this new policy /procedure?
- How will the individual employee’s privacy be protected?
- What is the probability that other employees will learn the personal health information of that employee?
- How will the employee’s private information be collected, recorded, and stored?
- How will confidentiality be secured?
Virtual Tools and IT Efficiencies
The concept of working remotely via teleconference meetings is not new, but COVID-19 has certainly made it more common than ever before. Even telehealth has been rapidly utilized by healthcare workplaces. For example, during the pandemic, a previously scheduled two-and-a-half-year-old wellness check at a pediatrician’s office is quickly rescheduled for a virtual assessment. In-person visits during the pandemic were reserved for children who are either due for immunizations or suffering from an illness.
For employees who are accustomed to socializing face-to-face in the workplace, it can be quite an adjustment to work solely in a virtual environment. With the help of an employer’s offering virtual social interactions, employees who are working remotely can stay engaged, as well as maintain their level of productivity. In fact, there is research that shows working from home increases productivity.
In a virtual workplace, IT becomes even more essential to a company’s success. The technology and its infrastructure is the baseline for how efficient their business will operate. Employees are accustomed to leaning on their IT department when a password needs to be reset, or a computer becomes disconnected from the company’s internal system. These same IT members are also responsible for creating and managing tools that will allow virtual workers to be set up for success.
IT security should also be a priority for employers, as working remotely has its own set of challenges. New policies may need to be written and implemented, and possibly gathering IT tools and software to ensure employees are set-up to succeed, much less delivering quality work.
Additional Workplace Considerations
Businesses typically have protocols in place to prepare for catastrophic events such as earthquakes, fire and hurricanes, but seemingly no one was truly prepared for how COVID-19 would wreak havoc on the economy and companies’ day-to-day operations.
Here are some additional considerations for the ‘new normal’ in business operations:
- When deciding which employees should return to the workplace, the determination should be based on true necessity versus employees’ classifications (e.g. age) which are protected under civil rights law.
- A staggered return to the office could include designating groups of employees who take turns- i.e one group physically works out of the office while another group of workers continues to do business remotely.
- The physical workspace needs to be analyzed, prior to employees coming back, for social distancing guidelines. Six feet of distance should be enforced between desks and workspaces, as well as marked lines among common areas including break rooms and community meeting rooms.
- For shift workers, in compliance with state law requirements, adjust meals, and rest break times in order to minimize large group overlaps.
- Ensure that the office provides PPE (e.g. gloves, masks, etc. ), stations with soap and disinfectant wipes, and plenty of hand sanitizer.
- Create a strict schedule for consistent cleaning in the heavily trafficked area, and in shared workspaces/
Stay tuned for our upcoming Auxo Medical blog post later this month — we’ll discuss what the ‘new normal’ may look like for our country’s healthcare industry.