As states, cities and municipalities move ahead with or revisit their phased reopening plans, business leaders must be equipped with policies and procedures in place to address the array of issues that will arise as employees begin to re-enter the workplace.
Because of the overarching impact that the COVID-19 global health event has had, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a company’s reopening. However, there are significant actions employers can take to help keep their employees and businesses safe.
First and foremost will be the focus on compliance within an organization. Compliance has always been a key part of a company’s operations, but new, changing regulatory requirements only underscore the function’s critical importance as businesses navigate the path forward.
Navigating New and Existing Policies
New updates continue to be issued from nearly every level of government regarding business re-openings and restrictions. This health event has triggered new laws and guidelines as the situation shifts, adding a layer to existing laws that remain in effect. For any organization planning a return to work or expansion of operations, it is critical to be hyper-vigilant in understanding and implementing all pertinent policies.
To make informed decisions, companies should identify the trusted sources of information they will rely on to shape new policies and procedures relating to the workplace. Employers should also think about assigning individuals or teams to monitor for policy updates and keep accurate documentation on how they are enacting policies and new processes within the organization. Keeping a detailed record of how a company is addressing and adhering to new protocols is key for measuring success and ensuring companies remain in compliance. Being cognizant and steadfast in understanding the regulatory landscape is essential to protect employees, customers, vendors, and visitors. Organizations should strive to be agile and be able to tailor their approach by location and job function.
Weaving Safety Protocols into Physical and Administrative Policies
To maintain a level of safety and protection for all involved and to remain compliant with all regulatory procedures, employers should also prioritize new physical and administrative controls including:
- A Review and Reorganizing of the Physical Space: An overhaul and review of the physical workplace will be needed to ensure that all safety procedures are followed. This can include a stringent office cleaning schedule, appropriate socially distanced workspaces with physical barriers, the inclusion of air filters, rethinking an open-floor plan, providing adequate hand sanitizer, a shift to touchless technology where possible, and floor markings in common spaces to ensure six feet of separation.
- New Administrative Steps to Ensure Safety: To further enhance safety measures, additional administrative policies can be enacted. These can include putting policies in place to ensure anyone who is sick stays at home, teleworking whenever possible, limiting the number of employees in the office at one time, limiting or canceling work-related travel, requiring or providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to employees, and decreasing the number of face-to-face meetings and limiting the number of attendees.
Focusing on Data Protection
Another issue that should not be overlooked is the protection and safety of employee data. As companies plan return to work procedures, especially those relating to employee health (i.e. questionnaires, temperature checks), they must be considered through the lens of employee privacy. All existing laws that protect sensitive health data or personal information remain in place. To remain compliant, companies must now look at how those laws apply to these new scenarios and determine policy accordingly. Some will employ third-party vendors to handle health screening and data storage, while others may opt to manage themselves but refrain from storing data. Again, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. It is about finding the best way for your organization to remain in compliance.
Communicating New Procedures Early and Often
None of these changes will be successful without a communications strategy clearly articulated and implemented by company leadership. While the shift to work-from-home happened quickly and without much warning or preparation, the re-entry into the workplace can be thoughtfully planned for and communicated in great detail.
Companies should discuss new protocols and plans for staying compliant early and often to their teams. The return to a new physical environment can be jolting, as can health screenings or medical surveys in the office. Providing as much preparation and information for employees will go a long way in building a level of comfort. Creating a detailed return to work communication or an internal database of new policies and changes can also help the workforce ease back to the office. Employers should also stress that the return will not happen overnight and remain available and overly communicative with their teams about updates as they happen.
We are living in unprecedented times, which calls for employers to navigate new rules with great care. Being vigilant, nimble and understanding that we are in a fluid situation will be essential to successfully planning and implementing a return to the workplace.
About the Author
Ellen Feeney is the vice president of counsel and compliance solutions at ADP.