Written by: Virginia McCormick, NES, Inc.
As many employers around the United States prepare to reopen their doors, employees are feeling uncertain about the preparations being made for their protection.
Employers Look to Reopen in COVID-19 Aftermath Using CDC Guidelines
On May 4, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that some low-risk business will be permitted to reopen, with strict regulations, as soon as May 8. Newsom referred to this decision as Stage 2 of the State’s plan for moving forward after the COVID-19 outbreak, and the announcement outlined restrictions for reopening certain businesses, such as retail and manufacturing facilities. As of May 7, the New York Times reported that 31 states have either already partially reopened or are planning to reopen certain regulated businesses soon.
As the country attempts to loosen business restrictions and restart the economy, millions of workers from a wide variety of industries will be asking themselves what kinds of precautions their employers are taking, and if they feel safe returning to work. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published an interim guidance for businesses and employers that may struggle to adjust to their employees’ needs.
In addition to the overall recommendations of requiring masks and enforcing social distancing, the CDC guidelines focus on the need of employers to be prepared, flexible, communicative, and supportive in order to confidently bring back employees and maintain a healthy workspace.
Above all, employers should encourage their workers to stay home when they feel sick or have been exposed to someone sick. The following guidelines relate specifically to healthy employees returning to the workplace. Employers must ensure their employees are safe to return before considering the implementation of CDC guidelines for creating and maintaining safe workplaces.
Preparation: Assuaging Worker Concerns Through Planning
For the past month, cleaning and sanitization have been key to reducing the spread of COVID-19. Now that businesses are beginning to reopen their doors, cleaning will need to evolve quickly into a thorough, routine, and communal effort. According to the CDC guidelines, employers should prepare to educate – and potentially re-educate – returning employees on how to reduce the spread of COVID-19 through good hygiene and housekeeping practices.
While it could potentially take months to return to conditions resembling workplace normalcy, preparation can mark a step in the right direction for employers and employees. In addition to prompting conscientious employee behavior through promoting good hygiene, CDC recommends that employers also consider engineering controls – strategies used to protect workers by implementing certain measures to reduce or eliminate a hazard. Engineering controls can be as simple as improving a building’s ventilation system or can involve more complex solutions, such as redesigning a work or office space to ensure social distancing.
Preparing a workspace using CDC guidelines goes beyond sanitization. Employers should reevaluate business practices that put their employees at risk.
Human resources policies should be reviewed often to make sure they are consistent with public health recommendations and state and federal workplace laws. Additionally, the CDC guidelines recommend that businesses should designate a workplace coordinator who will be responsible for identifying and responding to COVID-19 issues at the workplace. This may help employees feel more confident in bringing up anxieties or concerns they may experience in the coming months by providing a clear outlet.
Now may be the best time for employers to catch up on required paperwork, schedule required compliance training, or engage in various professional improvement endeavors. Businesses can resume regular functions faster when conditions improve if they are current on their regulatory requirements.
NES offers many health and safety training courses in web-based formats to help employees satisfy training requirements in as convenient a manner as possible. To view our online programs, see our webpage on Online Courses & Webinars.
Flexibility: Employing Empathy in the Workplace
COVID-19 has taken a considerable toll on the emotional and physical wellbeing of many workers. And with the United Nations International Labour Organization releasing a statement that estimated a loss of 195 million jobs worldwide due to the pandemic, the concerns are understandable.
Employers should be prepared to make compromises and allow workers to maintain more control of their work and work environment, say the CDC guidelines. Understanding and respecting an employee’s work/life blend is essential, as workers may find themselves still needing to take time to care for children out of school, perform services for high-risk family members, or schedule around state and federal restrictions for the foreseeable future.
By anticipating workers’ needs to take leave from work and preparing fair policies in advance, employers can build trust and confidence with their employees. Taking the time to adjust work hours and find creative solutions to employees’ problems can go a long way in easing their concerns.
Additionally, the CDC guidelines recommend that employers assess the essential functions for their business to continue operation and consider cross-training employees to perform these essential functions should workers need to be relieved due to sickness, stress, or other pressing matters.
Business owners must be flexible and considerate of the struggles their employees may face when returning to work.
Communication: Keeping Eyes, Ears, and Minds Open
Communication after COVID-19 should go beyond the impersonal and irregular company-wide email, says Chief People Officer Allison Velez of Paladina Health in an interview with the Society for Human Resource Management. “If your old policies and programs aren’t meeting the current needs of your teammates, change them,” said Velez.
To adjust business operations in the wake of COVID-19, many employers will be writing, adjusting, and implementing new policies. Employees should be kept up-to-date on company policies, especially in a time when company policies regarding hygiene guidance and health screening are more important than ever.
Alternative means for meetings and gatherings, such as virtual spaces like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, should be considered. Videoconferencing and teleconferencing offer good compromises to risking the safety and trust of employees. When alternative means are not possible, the CDC guidelines recommend meetings be held in open, well-ventilated spaces.
NES provides a free, 30-minute COVID-19 Wellness & Safety webinar, designed to provide businesses and employees with an overview of the novel coronavirus and how to conduct operations in a mid- and post-COVID-19 world. For more information or to register for an upcoming session, check out the course listing here.
Support: Employers Assisting Their Employees, and How NES Can Help
COVID-19 is driving many changes to our daily behaviors, from grocery store runs to birthday parties. The workspace is no exception to this. “Fear and anxiety about this new disease and other strong emotions can be overwhelming, and workplace stress can lead to burnout,” says CDC in regard to employee job stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under OSHA’s General Duty Clause, employers must provide a workspace free from recognized hazards that can or are likely to cause harm or death. In accordance with this regulation, employers have a duty to respond and support their returning workforce, regardless of the industry they are in. Doing so not only lessens the chance of spreading COVID-19, but also helps decrease employee stress during a difficult transitional period.
In a post-COVID-19 world, communication methods may evolve. Meetings, for example, may transition from cramped rooms to large, open areas – or even digital spaces.
For employees working from home, the CDC guidelines recommend that online toolkits and resources should be disseminated quickly and easily to all employees so they have what they need to operate. Employers should expect to provide informational technology services to help support these employees. Regular check-ins with employees to ensure professional and personal health should be offered, but not required. Again, CDC encourages employers to be flexible with their employees’ work/life balances, especially for those working from home.
For workers who are physically returning to offices and facilities, employers should consider providing training to employees that focuses on maintaining safe workspaces and good housekeeping practices. While many healthcare providers are reporting less overcrowding overall due to successful stay-at-home measures, employers should still strive to bring down the rates of worker injuries now more than ever.
Providing safety and health training can help employees get back on track and in the right mindset to perform their duties. By implementing these CDC guidelines, business owners who provide a prepared, flexible, supportive, and communicative workspace for their employees will give themselves a better chance of succeeding in this new landscape.
As a leader in health and safety training, NES provides on-site and online services for a wide variety of industries. No matter what your operations, we can help provide training, fit testing, regulatory guidance, and many more services to protect your employees. For more information, check out the NES COVID-19 services page.
Additionally, NES is well-informed when it comes to dealing with potential hazardous exposures like COVID-19. We provide training programs and products for first responders to opioid overdoses, clandestine laboratories, marijuana grows, and other hazardous sites. Learn more by visiting the NES clandestine laboratory information page.
For more information on how we can help you manage the health and safety of your employees, please contact NES at 916-353-2360 / 1-800-NES-ADVISE (1-800-637-2384) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
LA Magazine: Clothing Stores, Florists, and Other California Businesses May Be Able to Open as Soon as Friday—with Restrictions
The New York Times: See Which States Are Reopening and Which Are Still Shut Down
CDC: Employees: How to Cope with Job Stress and Build Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic
CDC: Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
United Nations International Labour Organization: ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work. Second edition
Society for Human Resource Management: Pandemic Takes a Toll on Employees’ Emotional Well-Being
Forbes: Hospital Operator Tenet Healthcare ‘Not Overwhelmed’ With Coronavirus Cases