As cities begin to reopen following months of community lockdowns and city-wide quarantines, South Florida is also starting to roll out safety guidelines to ensure that employees going back to the office are given a safe workplace that allows to live and work without fear of infection. However, the COVID-19 pandemic that swept through the world in the first quarter of 2020 brought about an unprecedented challenge that many governments around the world struggled to combat.
In America, the Department of Labor issued a list of recommendations about what constitutes a ‘safe workplace’, but we asked an expert Tallahassee law firm to analyze these recommendations and find out what exactly covers employee rights in ‘the new normal’.
Follow the Spirit of OSHA
In general, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, or OSHA, long ago laid out guidelines and responsibilities that will allow employers to provide a safe work environment for their employees. In essence, the ‘general duty clause’ instructs employers to keep their employees safe, keep them healthy, and of course, keep them alive without lowering their quality of life while they’re in your workspace.
For the new normal, this means providing your offices with frequent sanitation services, including frequent wiping down of surfaces with disinfectants, setting strict social distancing protocols for everyone in the office, and making mask-wearing mandatory for all employees (yes, face masks work).
Reassure the Workforce
COVID-19 is unprecedented in scope, magnitude, and rate of infection, so it’s natural for many employees to feel uneasy about returning to the office. As much as possible, assuage their worries by clearly stating and outlining all the safety protocols that you’ll be enforcing in the office, including asking about individual employees COVID-19 status and/or inquiries into their personal details, like previous travel plans or previous contact with people who might have been infected. Of course, be prudent about the information and take it on a case-to-case basis: maybe an employee went to an amusement park but they rented out Disneyland for personal use. Sure, it’s unlikely, but it can happen.
Are these kinds of questions invasive? They are for some, but as an employer, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your workplace reduces the chance of infection drastically, and this line of questioning, while uncomfortable, has been approved by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as necessary queries during the pandemic.
Give High-Risk Employees a Chance to Work
COVID-19 is especially deadly to the elderly, the young, and people with pre-existing health complications. These health issues can be anywhere from asthma to congenital heart disease. If you have an employee who falls under this category, accommodate them (as is their right under the Americans with Disabilities Act) by modifying their work environment in such a way that it provides them with a safe workplace to operate in.
This could take the form of special, isolated workstations, easier access to medical care, or simply allowing them to work remotely. Of course, employers have every right to ask for proof of their employee's disabilities, so be sure to have the necessary paperwork on hand.
Get Used to the New Normal
Above all, don’t expect a return to ‘normal’: remember that social distancing, constant sanitation, even remote work, are going to be our ‘new normal’ for the foreseeable future. Adjust accordingly and help your employees have a safe work environment.