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We Are Open for Business. Now What?

Originally published on PC360 | June 22, 2020

Established continuity plans are an essential part of a business’ reopening in a post-COVID-19 world. Expectations for success continue to rise as more businesses reopen with safety as a top priority. With a growing list of resources and recommendations, many employers are wondering where to start.

We partnered with the Public Agency Risk Management Association for our latest Out Front Ideas with Kimberly and Mark webinar, where three special guests — Tim Karcz, senior risk manager, California Joint Powers Insurance Authority; Traci Parke, partner, Burke, Williams & Sorenson LLC; andChuck Pode, risk manager, County of Ventura — joined us to discuss employer considerations for returning to a physical workspace.

Physical Workspace

There is an abundance of public health recommendations for reopening safely, but businesses are left to develop their own policies and practices to implement these standards. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has outlined how to create a plan for implementation, including measures for separation, social distancing and sanitizing. Many public entities that are reopening are requiring a site-specific plan addressing these issues before reopening. One of the best ways to get started on site-specific plan development is to conduct a walkthrough of the facility, acting as one of the employees. Before completing the walkthrough, you should know what day-to-day activity looks like, where to make necessary adjustments and the expectations for both employees and custodial staff. Be open to changing and revising the plan constantly and communicating the expectation changes with employees.

Your continuity plan should include:

  • Engineering controls, like barriers and social distancing measures.
  • Administrative controls, like staffing level changes.
  • Personal protective equipment to control transmission, like masks.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting procedures.
  • Employee training to address check-ins, health screens, social distancing and PPE usage.
  • Employee-specific guidelines to address when an employee feels ill, or if someone in their household is feeling sick.
  • Updated data security measures.
  • Safety considerations

An excellent resource for preparing a safe return to work is OSHA document 3990-03: Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, which follows standard regulatory requirements. There are six key elements listed in this document to implement a successful reopening model.

  1. Develop an infectious disease and response plan. Ask your business partners if they have any resources readily available. There are templated resources available for what applies to your industry, but OSHA is encouraging more personalized plans to meet your organization’s needs effectively.
  2. Prepare and implement basic infection prevention methods. Basic principles include refraining from physical contact, using a key or pen to open doors, throwing away used tissues, and not touching your face, mouth or nose with unwashed hands. Make these guidelines inclusive to all employees within your industry.
  3. Develop policies and procedures for prompt identification and isolation of sick people. Encourage employees to self-isolate if they are experiencing symptoms, and have a plan in place if someone exhibits symptoms within the workplace.
  4. Develop, implement and communicate about workplace flexibilities and procedures. Talk to your employees about their concerns regarding leave, safety, childcare and any other issues that may arise. Flexibility with current policies is critical to continued success.
  5. Implement workplace controls. Engineering, administrative and protective equipment measures all need to be addressed.
  6. Follow existing OSHA standards. Many existing rules apply to current prevention methods and should be included as part of any continuity plan.

OSHA also suggests classifying worker exposure to COVID-19 into four risk categories: very-high, high, medium and low. The guidance document has specific definitions for each:

  • Very-high risk includes those exposed to known or suspected COVID-19 patients.
  • High risk includes those exposed through medical services, like first responders.
  • Medium risk includes those possibly exposed to someone who may be infected, but may not know they are infected.
  • Low risk includes the majority of employees that are not required to be around those that may be infected but could be exposed at some point.

ADA Considerations

As COVID-19 makes a more significant impact on the day-to-day lives of employees, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may pose a greater challenge for employers. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has published guidance on complying with the ADA with COVID-19 in mind. A few of the commonly addressed questions include:

  1. How much information can an employer request from someone who is sick to protect the workforce? Typically they cannot request details of the illness, but because of COVID-19, they can request that the employee disclose any symptoms related to COVID-19. The employer must keep this information confidential.
  2. Can employers take employee temperatures or require health screens before entrance into the workforce? Yes, although it can present confidentiality issues because there is no real playbook for how to conduct the health screens. If implementing this process, it is a good practice to disclose this information to employees before they return to the workplace. Specific states will require a notice of collection before screening employees. This information will also need to remain confidential.
  3. What can we do to protect our high-risk employees or any employee that seeks health-related accommodations? ADA duties and obligations still apply to provide accommodations for anyone with a preexisting condition or disability that makes them particularly susceptible to COVID-19. Think about the individual risk factors that these employees may face in the workplace. Accommodations may vary depending on the essential functions of their day-to-day job. Get input from the employee and their manager to protect them. Telecommuting is highly encouraged by the EEOC and should be seriously considered if it does not cause undue hardship for the employer.

To listen to the full Out Front Ideas with Kimberly and Mark webinar on this topic, click here.