After a long quarantine, states are preparing to open back up with businesses resuming operations. While the economy may need the boost, it’s important to remember that just because people are venturing out again does not mean the coronavirus has disappeared.
While we navigate this new normal, it’s important to make every effort to establish a healthy work environment. There are several options and recommendations for employers to consider when it comes to these extra precautions. We suggest implementing the policies outlined below.
Before diving in, note that employers with more than one business location are encouraged to provide local managers with the authority to take appropriate actions outlined in their COVID-19 response plan based on local conditions and guidelines from health departments. Businesses with only one location can implement changes from the top down a bit easier.
Establishing healthy business operations
First and foremost, identify a workplace coordinator who will be responsible for COVID-19 issues and their impact at the workplace. Having one person in charge of these issues ensures things get done and that people have someone to report to when they complete related tasks.
In order to ensure the office is a safe space for people to gather and work, you may have to adjust your current policies and procedures to accommodate for sick leave support and social distancing. We recommend getting started by assessing your workplace procedures regarding the following:
- Implementing flexible sick leave and supportive policies and practices.
Ensure that your sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of and understand these policies. You should always strive to maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member or take care of children due to school and childcare closures.
Additional flexibilities might include giving advances on future sick leave and allowing employees to donate sick leave to each other. Employers that do not currently offer sick leave to some or all of their employees may want to draft non-punitive “emergency sick leave” policies that allow employees to be out of the office when ill for any reason.
Most importantly, employers should not require a positive COVID-19 test result or a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick to validate their illness, qualify for sick leave, or to return to work. Healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely manner. Remember, even mild symptoms are transferable and further spread must be avoided at all costs after returning to work.
- Establishing policies and practices for social distancing.
Social distancing should be implemented if recommended by state and local health authorities. Social distancing means avoiding large gatherings and maintaining distance (approximately six feet or two meters) from others when possible. In the workplace, this includes working space as well as communal areas like break rooms and cafeterias.
In this same vein, it’s important to implement hard rules on flexible meeting and travel options by postponing nonessential meetings or events or rescheduling them through video chat. In the same vein, business services can be delivered remotely (through phone, video or web) and products can be brought to residential homes or collected through curbside pickup.
Preparing and maintaining a clean, healthy workspace
In addition to keeping your business operations up and running, it’s important to go the extra mile to ensure a safe, clean work environment. There are several ways you can go about this.
- Consider improving the engineering controls using the building ventilation system.
This may include increasing ventilation rates or increasing the percentage of outdoor air that circulates into the system. Often, you should look at doing both to be safest.
- Disinfect the workplace environment.
Disinfection is a huge undertaking and it’s hard to be certain when you’re doing enough to keep the environment clean. The best way to provide reassurance to employees that a workspace has been thoroughly cleaned is by working with a professional cleaning company. These companies have the right tools and knowledge required to appropriately disinfect a space while a standard cleaning crew with household products can fall short.
After a professional cleaning, businesses are still responsible for increasing daily cleaning and hygiene routines. The CDC provides helpful guidelines for disinfecting different types of surfaces. You can view their recommendations here.
Tips to remember in daily cleaning
Wear disposable gloves and gowns (or disposable protective suits) for all tasks in the cleaning process, including handling trash. Additional personal protective equipment (PPE) might be required based on the cleaning/disinfectant products being used and whether there is a risk of splash. Gloves and gowns or protective suits should be removed carefully to avoid contamination of the wearer and the surrounding area.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds. Always wash immediately after removing gloves and after contact with a person who is sick. If soap and water are not available and hands are not visibly dirty, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol may be used. However, if hands are visibly dirty, always wash hands with soap and water.
As we adjust to our new normal, it’s a moral responsibility for businesses to keep the workplace safe and healthy while operations continue. By taking extra precautions and remaining mindful, you can keep things up and running while making every effort to reduce health risks to employees.
If you need help preparing to reopen your business, we are here to help. For more information about maintaining a healthy business environment, consult our free pandemic reopening guide.
To learn more about the coronavirus, possible exposure and professional treatment contact ServiceMaster Recovery Management here.