What Not to Do When You Reopen Your Business?
Without clear rules guiding businesses on how to keep employees safe, you're responsible for
making your own plan. Here's how to avoid some of the most common potential problems.
As states grapple with timelines for reopening their economies, businesses now face the
challenge of how and when to bring employees back safely.
Several factors make this task difficult for business owners to navigate. Safety guidelines may
differ from state to state, so companies with multiple locations across the country need to stay up
to date on the various guidelines. Making matters even murkier, the federal Occupational Safety
and Health Administration (OSHA) has not stepped in to issue overarching rules for employers
or clarify their responsibilities for keeping employees safe.
Says Travis Vance, partner and the chair of the Covid-19 task force at the labor and employment law firm Fisher & Phillips.
Vance offers five tips on what not to do when making your plan.
1. Don't automatically adopt a company-run temperature-taking operation.
Taking employees' temperatures sounds like a smart safety measure until you consider the
logistical challenges involved. Vance points to three big areas of concern: keeping that biometric
data private once you collect it, figuring out how to compensate employees while they wait in
line, and keeping the people in that line safe, given the imperative to social distance. To be sure,
employers may not have a choice on this matter because some states may issue reopening
guidance that advises companies to begin taking their employees' temperatures. If your business
is in one of these states, Vance says some companies are getting creative to avoid the data
privacy problem by using instant-read thermometers that they simply show to the employee after
they've taken their temperature.
"Collect as little data as you can," Vance says.
2. Don't assume social distancing will be easy to enforce.
Similar to taking temperatures, while social distancing seems simple in theory, it's much more
difficult to execute. Even if you can move cubicles so that everyone is six feet apart, you also
need to address break rooms and bathrooms. If you can, make communal restrooms into one-
person bathrooms. Consider public-facing positions such as receptionists and how you'll keep
them from exposure. And don't forget hallways.
"Make corridors one-way traffic only." Vance says.
3. Don't assume all of your workers will feel safe enough to come back to work.
Even if you take all necessary safety precautions, it's highly likely you will have some
employees who won't want to return to work because they feel unsafe.
"OSHA's threshold for people refusing to work is when someone is facing a high risk of
imminent death," Vance says. "In those cases, the only way to avoid such a hazard is for the
person to not work. Most of the time employees can't refuse to show up for work. So what do
you do when they just decide not to show up?"
Start thinking now about how you'll handle operations if many people still want to work from
home and how you'll treat all employees fairly in this case.
4. Don't equip your team with masks without a proper procedure in place.
Again, some state orders may require you to supply your team with masks. In many cases, this
order won't come with any additional guidance, so it will be up to your company to figure out a
plan for getting a sufficient supply, keeping them clean, and training employees on how to wear
them properly. Another question to consider: What's your response if an employee wants to wear
a bandanna instead of a mask?
"Everyone needs to adopt a policy on this; it doesn't matter if you're a bank or a food processing plant," Vance says. "It's putting every business on equal footing in terms of workplace safety."
5. Don't forget to come up with a plan for how to handle visitors to your office.
All of the careful precautions you take to keep your staff safe will be for naught if you don't also
think about how to handle third-party visitors to your office, whether it's package delivery people
or clients. Most businesses Vance advises, from retail to professional services companies, are
opting to post signage outside of their buildings advising visitors not to enter if they've had
Covid-19 symptoms recently or been in contact with someone who has been infected. Usually,
they also stipulate calling the receptionist instead of walking right in.