These guidelines (download pdf) recommend that State Governors take a phased approach to (re)opening their states by developing and implementing appropriate policies in accordance with Federal, State and local regulations, and industry best practices that concern individual and workplace safety.
However, these guidelines are broad and, minus a vaccine, you as an employer might be confused regarding how to interpret these guidelines in relation to steps you are supposed to take to re-open in a manner that would be compliant and safe for your business, employees and community at large.
The following are suggested items to consider when planning to reopen your small-midsize business...
1) Pay Close Attention to Government Authorities
Federal: Stay informed (i.e.; sign-up for alerts/news feeds) regarding federal orders and guidance, when issued, such as from the:
- Whitehouse (coronavirus.gov)
- CDC ( The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention )
- DOL (The Department of Labor)
- OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration )
- EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission)
State & Local: These orders, when issued, will prescribe the basic parameters for what is permissible relating to current business operations, if your business is allowed to remain open, as well as for the reopening of businesses in Illinois and your local county (i.e.; view "Executive Order 2020-32" website page or download the "Stay at Home Order" pdf that should be posted on-site). However, keep in mind that these orders are likely to change frequently, with little notice, and may even conflict with one another. The following image represents the current Restore Illinois plan:
2) Decide If Your Business Should Reopen During COVID-19
Once stay at home government restrictions are relaxed during the COVID-19 pandemic, your organization will need to make critical decisions to determine whether to reopen during the pandemic and how to reopen the workplace during the pandemic.
The CDC is a great place to start since it has released guidelines to businesses to assist with re-opening decisions. For example, the workplace “decision tree” offers a decision-making tool, flow chart, that is designed to assist your business in deciding whether to open your workplace. However, this is a "decision" tree and not an "answer" tree so no detailed specific advice is provided – only high-level questions to ask before making any decisions - so employing or working with legal advisors is still key.
- Download the Workplace Decision Tree
The main thing to understand is that just because employees are allowed to return to the workplace does not mean it is the best option for your organization.
3) If Reopening - Develop Workplace Safety Plans/Policies
Return to the workforce ("social distancing") plan
Even if not legally required, having a written social distancing plan ("safety plan") in place is a good idea. These plans will help protect employees by minimizing the spread of COVID-19, reassure employees who fear returning to work, and may reduce employer liability against workplace safety claims upon reopening.
Some employers are considering implementing plans like the following:
- prioritizing employee returns: consider government orders and guidance, (who is critically needed, vulnerabilities of infection etc).
- considering alternating groups: you can alternate groups of employees who return to the office to reduce risk of exposure (i.e.; Group A in the office every M, W, F and Group B in the office on T, Thurs and then alternate).
- considering staggering hours in the office: you can schedule some employees to be in the office early and others to come in later to keep the number of employees who work in the same area at a minimum.
- encouraging continued remote/telecommuting: consider having certain employees or groups of employees work from home on more of a long term - permanent basis.
- closing common areas: close common areas for gathering, if possible - such as lunch rooms and lobby's.
- minimizing travel: non essential employee travel should be minimized.
- modifying work space: consider modifying work spaces to encourage social distancing (i.e.; adding floor and wall markers for every 6 ft; cocooning work spaces; adding plexiglass, adding automatic doors for more hands free movement and access; not allowing shared equipment, if possible).
- ensuring work spaces are sanitized: make sure work spaces are thoroughly and regularly sanitized by increasing cleaning and disinfecting schedules, make sure workers have access to soap and sanitizers for hand cleaning and industrial sanitizers for computer equipment, door knobs etc, open windows and doors for fresh air whenever possible.
Return to workforce health protocols
Employers should consider protocols that will be implemented for tracking and reporting COVID-19 tests, such as:
- considering employee medical checks: implementing monitoring measures to check for possible COVID-19 infections such as temperature checks (the EEOC expressly permits temperature checks during this pandemic) or COVID-19 tests or doctors notes on a periodic basis (note - there are concerns about whether reliable testing will be available on a widespread basis, and whether doctors will be available to provide notes on a timely basis).
- requiring notification of symptoms: requiring employees to notify the company about COVID-19 symptoms.
- considering how the company will address a COVID-19 infection: this policy should be per government mandate and guidance (i.e.; if an employee has tested positive the CDC recommends that the employer inform employees who may have been exposed--but, due to privacy concerns, without identifying the employee).
Return to workforce policies
Employers should conduct a comprehensive review of existing policies:
- covering areas such as: sick leave, commuting, meetings, visitors, travel, food, mail, cyber security and privacy, confidentiality, special accommodations, misc (i.e.; discouraging handshaking, face masks).
4) If Reopening, Review Critical Organizational Items
Business Plans & Strategy
- reviewing or updating plans and strategy: company business plans, strategy, projections and budgets should be updated considering the COVID-19 situation, (i.e; discussions of reductions in workforce, technology upgrades, customer/client outreach, company current and potential liabilities).
- reviewing shareholder engagement: shareholder engagement is critical during this time, both to communicate the company’s plans and identify shareholder concerns (consider having shareholders meeting via a virtual-only meeting in order to support social distancing efforts).
Finance & Insurance
- reviewing financials and insurance: Financing arrangements should be reviewed and new sources of financing may have to be considered (i.e.; SBA and stimulus loans etc). Additionally, insurance policies should be reviewed to determine if any insurance recoveries can be claimed (i.e.; for business interruption, property, cyber-security, bacterial riders, etc.).
The New Normal
Overall, it seems most businesses will continue to make a gradual return to re-opening in order to maintain social distancing to ascertain whether it is safe to get back to pre-COVID-19 life.
While this might be frustrating to employers and employees - the positive outcome of a gradual return is that employers will have the time to properly plan and prepare the workplace and business operations for a compliant, safe and productive reopening.
Does Your Business Need Help?
You’re not alone – feel free to request a scheduled session with me to discuss how my services can help with planning the reopening of your business workplace or with any type of workplace planning and strategy measures your business should or will need to take relating to the current and post COVID-19 environment.