Recently, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released guidelines for businesses for dealing with the novel coronavirus. The plans are detailed and address different businesses. Employers wanting guidance on reopening can refer to these documents.
OSHA has released a Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 that includes steps employers can take to reduce workers’ risk of exposure. In keeping with the administration’s general duty clause, which “requires employers to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm,” the administration has issued some general guidelines that it admits do not have the force of law but rather “are advisory in nature.”
First on the list of recommendations is that employers “develop an infectious disease preparedness and response plan.” The business’s specific plan is to be developed with state, local, and tribal guidelines in mind, and the plan should take into consideration the specifics of the worksite and the tasks performed there. From there, the plan should consider:
Where, how, and to what sources of SARS-CoV-2 might workers be exposed, including:
- The general public, customers, and coworkers; and
- Sick individuals or those at particularly high risk of infection
The plan should also take into consideration the non-occupational risk factors “at home and in community settings” as well as high-risk employees whose age or health conditions make them especially vulnerable.
The plan should also address the following factors:
- Increased rates of worker absenteeism.
- The need for social distancing, staggered work shifts, downsizing operations, delivering services remotely, and other exposure-reducing measures.
- Options for conducting essential operations with a reduced workforce, including cross-training workers across different jobs in order to continue operations or deliver surge services.
- Interrupted supply chains or delayed deliveries.
The plan should also address “basic infection prevention measures” for workers. These include promoting frequent hand washing (and providing hand sanitizer if hand washing facilities are not available), encouraging sick workers to stay at home, encouraging workers to cover coughs and sneezes, providing customers with tissues and trash receptacles, considering staggered shifts so that employees can maintain social distancing, discouraging workers from using each others’ equipment, such as telephones and laptops, and maintaining a cleaning schedule so that common areas (such as the break room, water cooler, and so on) are wiped down with disinfectant.
Additionally, employers should “develop policies and procedures for prompt identification and isolation of sick people, if appropriate.” This includes monitoring employees for symptoms of COVID-19 and promptly isolating them and sending them home if they have symptoms. Masks may be provided as a means of limiting the spread of the virus. Isolation areas should have limited access. OSHA further recommends that employers “actively encourage sick employees to stay home.” Moreover, employers should encourage contractors who provide workers to “develop non-punitive leave policies.” In keeping with such policy, “do not require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness.” Hospitals being as busy as they are, such notes may take too much of a physician’s time. Finally, “Maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member.”
Another part of a workplace plan involves establishing controls to prevent the spread of the virus. OSHA breaks these controls into four categories: Engineering Controls (such as air filters and increased ventilation), administrative controls (minimizing contact between workers and customers, limiting travel), safe work practices (providing soap, hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol, wipes, etc.), and personal protective equipment or PPE (masks, gloves, and similar equipment).
The CDC has quietly issued highly detailed guidelines for employers to deal with the coronavirus. The guidelines include guidance for many different types of employees; employers should check to see if their employees are among those covered by specific guidelines. The CDC has also issued guidance for small employers and some general business faqs. What follows is a summary of the guidance for small employers.
First, a business should “identify a workplace coordinator who will be responsible for COVID-19 issues and their impact at the workplace.” The coordinator will be responsible for considering new policies regarding leave, telework, and compensation. Leave policies should allow for flexibility so that sick workers or workers who need to take care of family members can take leave without being punished. As OSHA does, the CDC recommends policies allowing for flextime so that the presence of employees in the workplace is staggered, for telework, and for social distancing at work. The coordinator can also review these new policies with workers so that workers know of the new policies. Finally, the coordinator can prepare for disruptions to such things as supply chains, and “explore ways you can continue business operations if there are disruptions.”
Top 10 Tips to Protect Employees’ Health
The CDC also lists ten tips for protecting employee health. They are:
One: “Actively encourage sick employees to stay home.” The coordinator should develop policies to send sick employees home without delay.
Two: “Develop other flexible policies for scheduling and telework (if feasible) and create leave policies.” This is to allow parents of children home from school, for example, to work from home if at all possible.
Three: “Promote etiquette for coughing and sneezing and handwashing.” Employees should be instructed to cover sneezes, and they should have on hand equipment to allow for hand washing and wiping down equipment with disinfectant.
Four: “Perform routine environmental cleaning.” This includes wiping down commonly touched areas with disinfectant.
Five: “Provide education and training materials.” These can include training sessions, posters, and e-mail instructing employees on the new policies.
Six: “Have conversations with employees about their concerns.” Talk to employees about the new policies and listen to their concerns. See about addressing their concerns.
Seven: “Talk with companies that provide your business with contract or temporary employees about their plans.” Coordinate with contractors to make sure that temporary or contract employees are up-to-date on your company’s policies and make sure that the contracting company is also taking steps to protect employee health.
Eight: “Plan to implement practices to minimize face-to-face contact between employees if social distancing is recommended by your state or local health department.” This can include staggered shifts and new seating/standing arrangements.
Nine: “Consider the need for travel and explore alternatives.” Take steps to limit employee travel.
Ten: “If an employee becomes sick while at work, they should be separated from other employees, customers, and visitors and sent home immediately.”
The guidelines issued by OSHA and the CDC agree on many steps to be taken to protect employee health when a business is open during the coronavirus pandemic. Employers can stay in compliance be reviewing and implementing these guidelines to the best of their ability.