Quest News™

May 4, 2020

COVID-19 Return to Work Considerations

by: Michael Brown, Executive Vice President


Most companies in the transportation industry are considered essential businesses. As such, many firms have kept their offices and warehouses open during the COVID-19 pandemic. Others, however, (particularly those that do not physically handle freight) have had their employees working from home. Even those whose physical locations have remained open may presently be operating with reduced onsite staffing.

As states begin to reopen, and employees return to the workplace, we are all facing a "new normal." Things will not immediately return to the way they were before COVID-19 struck. Employees will return to a changed work environment while employers will face a host of risk management decisions and practices that they did not encounter previously.

The purpose of this article is to provoke the reader to proactively consider some of the decisions that will be necessary to make in the days ahead. Hopefully, this will assist you in making some advanced preparations and lead to a successful reopening. Although some of what follows may be obvious, we hope that you can take away a few items of value.

COVID-19 has made cleaning and sanitizing a priority, particularly in the workplace. Arranging for heightened cleaning procedures and supplies may take some time, so it is good to start planning now. Here are some issues to consider:

  • Deep Cleaning: Cleaning companies are beginning to offer more thorough cleaning services. These may include the use of anti-viral chemicals, ultra-violet light, enhanced cleaning of surfaces, etc. This type of cleaning is more time consuming, and demand will likely be high. It probably makes sense to communicate with cleaning companies now and get a plan in place as availability may initially be limited once workplaces begin to reopen. It's worth noting that some businesses with public access (such as a restaurant) are replacing carpet with hard surface flooring in anticipation of reopening as they are generally easier to clean, and it’s thought that shoes may be a vector for viruses. If this is impractical for your business, another option would be to use anti-microbial floor mats. These can be placed at entrances and remove particles from shoes.

  • • High Touch Surfaces: While you may choose to have deep cleaning occur on certain nights, over weekends, and before letting employees return after someone on your staff has tested positive for COVID-19, there are certain high touch surfaces that should be cleaned routinely throughout the day. Make a schedule where things like door handles, photocopier control panels, lock keypads, refrigerator handles, coffee machine surfaces, restrooms, certain conference room surfaces, etc. are sanitized periodically throughout the workday. You may keep cleaning supplies next to some of the shared equipment, and request employees to wipe down the equipment after each use. Take an inventory of what cleaning supplies are currently at your disposal and what additional supplies you will need to accomplish this (disinfectants, wipes, gloves. etc.). Order the necessary supplies sooner rather than later as they already are hard to procure, especially if ordering in large quantities.

  • • Common Areas in Leased Premises: If you lease your space and your building has common spaces like shared building entrances, restrooms, lobbies, elevators, etc., communicate with your landlord or property manager to see what cleaning procedures they are implementing to keep your employees safe.

  • • Air Filtration: Consider utilizing air purifiers. Virus particles are microscopic, and many air purifiers are not capable of purifying particles of that size. Portable units are available that purport to do just that, and they are in common use in doctors' and dentists' offices throughout the country.

  • • Workstations: Will employees be responsible for cleaning their workstations throughout the day/week, and what supplies will be needed to do the same? Once a process is created, ensure that all employees are notified of the procedure.

  • • Hand Sanitizers and Hand Washing: The CDC recommends the use of hand sanitizers, and that hands be washed frequently. Place hand sanitizer dispensers at entrances to your offices/warehouses and at various locations throughout the building – especially near high touch surfaces. Also, encourage employees to wash their hands more frequently. Supplies such as hand sanitizer, hand soap, and paper goods are in high demand, so placing orders in advance is ideal.

As workplaces begin to reopen and resume more traditional operations, social distancing will likely be a part of that equation, whether by state/municipal order or as part of a risk management practice. In anticipation of this, some things you should start considering now are:

  • • Workplace Signage: Decide where it would be necessary to post social distancing signs within your facility (common areas, stairwells, conference rooms, etc.)

  • • Reduced Office Headcount: One approach may be to bring some employees back to the office while having others continue to work from home. Let's face it, some people work better remotely than others, and some job functions are just more conducive to a work from home model. Another approach would be to have rotating office shifts. For example, one week, a certain number of employees work from home while the rest of the employees work at the office. The following week the two groups switch. Shifts could alternate more frequently, but having the transition occur over a weekend will provide more time for cleaning between shifts and reduce the chance of an employee on one shift who becomes infected, spreading the disease to others. Some jurisdictions may mandate that only a percentage of staff may be at work at a given time, and these orders should be followed.

  • • Workstation Placement: Is there adequate space between employees? If not, is this something that can be changed through reconfiguration? If so, this should be taken into consideration. For many employers, reconfiguration is not feasible, so the reduced office headcount referenced above would be a good alternative.

  • • Be Mindful of Gathering Spots: In every office, there are places where people tend to congregate—office kitchens, mailrooms, coffee machines, photocopiers, and printers, etc. Try to reduce the number of people standing around in those places at any one time. Determine if any gathering spots are near workstations (i.e., a photocopier that is adjacent to an employee’s desk). Decide if it is possible to move either the equipment or to relocate the employee/workstation.

  • • Elevators: Create procedures to limit the number of people in an elevator car at the same time. If the elevator(s) that your employees utilize are shared with other building tenants, speak with your landlord or property manager to understand what procedures they may be planning.

  • • “Traffic Patterns”: Many larger offices are laid out in a racetrack format. Can the direction of foot-traffic be made one way? Many grocery stores have adopted this approach wherein aisles have been made one way.

  • • Courier/Supply Deliveries: Most companies allow deliveries during normal business hours. Would it be feasible to require delivery drivers to make their delivery at the door of your office without entering? If they must enter your office or warehouse, you may wish to adopt a procedure that requires them to wear masks, have their temperature checked before entering, etc.

  • • Recordkeeping: Be sure to maintain accurate records of which employees are present on which days as well as a record of any visitors that entered your premises. This will assist in contact tracing in the event of positive test results.

  • The CDC recommends that all Americans wear face masks when in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. Some jurisdictions have made the wearing of masks mandatory in various situations (when visiting stores, outside of the home, etc.). Irrespective of a mandate, most companies will likely want to require that employees wear masks while in the proximity of others at work. Consider the following:

    • • While many employees will already have procured a mask or masks, some companies will likely provide masks for their employees. A common choice is cloth masks that can be laundered and re-used.Studies have found appreciable differences in the efficiency of different mask materials.

    • • Whether employees are asked to bring their own masks or masks are provided for them, some will inevitably forget to bring them to work. For this reason, you may want to have a supply of disposable masks on hand.

    • • If your employees are required to wear masks, any visitors should be required to don them as well. Advise any visitors of this requirement and have a supply of disposable masks should any visitor arrive without one.

    As restrictions ease and business travel re-starts, many companies will need to make decisions regarding how “essential” employee travel is determined. Some things to keep in mind:

    • • For some time to come, there are likely to be “hot spots” of COVID-19 around the world. Should employees be restricted from traveling to those areas? If they must travel there, should they be required to work at home for a “quarantine period” before returning to the office?

    • • Air Travel: Some airlines are implementing more stringent risk management practices that include enhanced cleaning of aircraft before each flight, mandatory use of masks, seating to enhance passenger social distancing, etc. Determine if having company reimbursed travel should be limited to carriers that have implemented such procedures.

    • • Hotels: Similarly, some hotels are implementing procedures that attempt to better protect guests from becoming infected during their stay. Decide whether you want to have employees stay at hotels with these enhanced measures during company travel.

    • • Personal Travel: When employees undertake personal travel to “hot spots”, should they similarly be required to self-quarantine?
    • When employees do become sick and/or test positive for an active COVID-19 infection, you will want to have procedures in place. Consider the following:

      • • Employees should be instructed not to come to work if they feel ill or if they or a family member have tested positive for COVID-19 and have not been cleared by a doctor or completed their quarantine period.

      • • Some employers may wish to check employees and visitors’ temperatures when entering the building each day. While there are many reports of asymptomatic spread (an infected individual capable of passing the virus on to others will not show symptoms), restricting entry of individuals who do have a fever could certainly reduce the chance of the infection being spread at the workplace. If you do intend to perform temperature checks, using contactless digital thermometers would be ideal as well as ordering them now as supplies are limited.

      • • Some employees might have other underlying medical conditions or be in an age group that is more vulnerable to COVID-19. These should be taken into consideration when determining which employees should return to work and which may want to continue to work at home for the time being.

      • • When screening employees, dealing with those with underlying conditions and vulnerabilities, or staff that may have contracted the virus, employers should be very cautious that they do not violate health privacy laws such as HIPPA or other laws and regulations including but not limited to those overseen by the EEOC.
      • • It is also a good idea to be sure that your Employment Practices Liability Insurance policy is up to date. If any allegations of discriminatory behavior related to terminations, layoffs, stay at home procedures, mishandling of medical information, etc. are made against your company, be sure to report them to your EPLI insurer immediately.

      • We hope the above listed considerations assist you when making decisions on how and when to reopen your workplace. We encourage clients to review the White House Guidance on Reopening America, the OSHA Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, the EEOC Guidance on workplace protections and rules as well as the HHS HIPPA Guidance as it relates to COVID-19 . As we continue to deal with this health crisis, we would like to remind you that Avalon representatives are available by phone and email at any time. If you have any questions regarding this article, please contact me at mbrown@avalonrisk.com.

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