5 steps to take BEFORE re-opening
your office during COVID-19

Protect your employees and business' liability

At MYCA Learning, we're committed to creating safer workplaces from a physical, emotional, mental, and now health standpoint through education. As a women-owned small business, we understand the challenges all businesses are facing as they navigate the 'new normal' and complicated landscape that COVID-19 has created in our workplaces. That's why we're leveraging our WBENC network (Women's Business Enterprise National Council) to partner with the top women-owned legal, HR and experiential design companies to provide key resources and knowledge around how to protect your employees and minimize liability during COVID-19.

Employees, clients and stakeholders are all rightfully asking how they will be protected when coming back to the office. Do you know the best practices to implement in your workplace and confidently answer their questions?

Do you know how to confidently answer these questions?

1 - Know your legal requirements

According to Cindy Towers, attorney and founder of JURISolutions, employers have an affirmative obligation to maintain a safe work environment across federal (OSHA, FMLA/FFCRA, Wage & Hour, CDC, EEOC), state (especially CA) and common law (negligence, worker's comp, reckless endangerment).

Towers remarked "I'm really passionate about this and could speak for days on the specifics, but what it really comes down to are two key components: 1. Did you demonstrate 'Duty of Care'? and 2. Are you using an A.C.T. approach?"

  • Duty of Care
    Demonstrating 'duty of care' means that your business implemented all of the best practices possible to protect your employees and minimize your risk and liability, ultimately impacting your business' reputation and long-term impact on the community. Employees will remember if you showed empathy and demonstrated this care.

    Duty of Care includes but not limited to:
    - Showing care and empathy to employees and hearing their concerns
    - Updating policies and procedures
    - Making sure employees are trained, comprehend best practices and acknowledge their comprehension by signing 'I Agree'
    - Implementing and modifying office arrangement to accommodate physical distancing.
  • A.C.T. Approach
    A.C.T. stands for Accurate Current and Trackable. In addition to the 'duty of care' method, it's important that each of the best practices are accurate (OSHA and CDC compliant), current (constantly updated) and most of all, trackable (documentation needed for reasonable defense). If an employer can provide evidence that best practices were implemented, businesses will greatly minimize their liability if OSHA ever 'comes-a-knocking'.

    For more information on the specific legal requirements, visit https://www.jurisolutions.com/

    So how exactly do we utilize 'duty of care' and the A.C.T. approach? See 2-5 for step-by-step guidance on what to do next.

2 – Start with understanding your employees' concerns

Before you can begin to make changes or take steps towards bringing employees back to the office, you should take a pulse of where your organization stands. Many dynamics are at play in your workforce and by assessing what your employees care about, you will be able to make more informed people decisions and improve business results.

One way to gather this data is by utilizing a confidential and anonymous survey. This will demonstrate care and empathy to your employees by providing them a safe platform to voice their concerns, which will then provide insights on what areas the business should focus on rather than guessing and assuming.

According to Kelly Kolar, president and founder of the Kolar Experience Institute, the 3 employee sentiment metrics that employers should be measuring are Wellbeing, Safety and Returning to the Workplace (remote and in office).

"Many businesses are already re-opening while others are waiting until January 2021 - depending on your company's timeline, it's may be helpful to deploy a survey more than once to assess if employee sentiment has changed since the first survey." said Kolar.

The Kolar Experience Institute has built a survey specifically to help businesses assess and navigate employee sentiment surrounding covid-19. For more information, visit KolarExperienceInstitute.com.

3 – Update your policies and procedures

After gathering insights on what your employees care about and the areas of your business to improve, it's important to update your policies and procedures to comply with updated regulations and implement new practices.

"Your HR manual should have clear, delineated guidance on how to plan, prepare and respond to Covid-19 in the workplace. Many states, including Kentucky, are highly recommending that reopening proposals are submitted to the state government to ensure that these businesses are able to comply with public health protocols and CDC guidelines." recalled Robin Throckmorton, founder and president of strategicHRinc.

Throckmorton recommends that the updated HR manual include return to work checklists, flowcharts and processes around taking temperature and how to handle potential exposure, as well as outlines of FFCRA and CARES impact on HR.

Her organization has created updated policies and procedures from a national level, if you'd like to request a sample, please visit https://strategichrinc.com/.

4 – Train and provide evidence of comprehension

For employees who use PPE, perform medical screenings or are managers that handle COVID-19 issues like detecting symptoms or improper physical distancing, OSHA requires that these individuals be trained. For all other employees, both the CDC and OSHA are highly recommending that employers train all employees on health and safety protocols. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/community/workplace-decision-tree.pdf

Some states including California actually require that training records be maintained in order to prevent citations. According to the Cal/OSHA, a failure to maintain training records can be used as evidence that the training itself did not actually occure to support a finding that an employer did not have an effective IIPP (Injury Illness Protection Plan) under section 3203(a)(7).

Beyond requirements and recommendations, training your employees is a communication tool that ensures that everyone receives the same education on best practices because we cannot assume that all employees have access to the same information. By testing comprehension and requiring acknowledgement with a signed 'I Agree', you are also reassuring your employees that everyone will comply with the best practices to keep each other safe.

Need online COVID-19 safety training that isn't boring?

Check out our interactive and engaging eLearning that includes best practices and tracks completion across your company.

Demo Covid-19 Training

5 – Modify your office to accommodate physical distancing

In order to maintain the recommended physical distancing of 6 ft between each individual, many offices will have to be re-arranged to accommodate. Some employers may need to consult with safety design experts in order to optimize their floor plan for the best implementation of control measures, modified work stations and dedicated spaces for screening.

Site audits should include:

- identifying where and how exposure may occur
- identifying areas with access to PPE and disinfectants
- determining areas for clear communication and bulletins
- assessing and re-designing the floor plan layout
- making recommendations on prevention and isolation measures

In addition, we all need visual cues and reminders to have spatial understanding of what 6 ft constitutes as we are interacting in the modified workplace. This can be accomplished with signs that measure the space, as well as signs indicating where employees can and cannot sit to limit the number of people in an area. For smaller office settings, some hallways may need to be converted into "one-way" only while enclosed spaces such as elevators should have signs indicating the number of individuals allowed inside.

For any questions regarding how best to optimize your workspace, visit kolardesign.net for more information. The Kolar team has designed spaces for safety and optimal people experience, such as for hospitals, for 30 years.

The why: it's about people!

Beyond the regulations, legal implications and best practice protocols, this is about PEOPLE. By setting up your office and people with a safety-first mindset, you will be ensuring the physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing of employees and all of the loved ones they interact with. After everything, your employees, customers and stakeholders will remember if the leaders of your company showed empathy and care during these tough times. Most importantly, you are saving lives.

Originally published May 11, 2020 , updated July 5, 2020

Want updates on useful information around training?

Yes please!

About The Author

Melody Cooke is the Chief Communications Officer at MYCA Learning. In addition to serving her clients, she enjoys learning from thought leaders across WBENC on the best strategies to improve workplaces. During her free time, you'll find her in exploring a park, singing or learning how to paint.