COVID-19: What Employers Need to Know

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Covid 19 blocksThe word “unprecedented” seems to have been used more in the year 2020 than in any other time in our history – and for good reason. The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented event in modern times and continues to be a source of insecurity in the public arena. One of the most affected sectors is in the area of employment. Massive numbers of workers have been laid off and businesses closed because of federal and state mandates that attempt to control the spread of his terrible disease. For those businesses that are able to keep their doors open, the looming concern for the safety of their employees and customers is a constant source of worry. In order to answer some of the common questions employers have about safety during their day-to-day operations, we’re going to give you some current guidelines that should help.

First, you must understand that the answers to these questions are relevant to what we know about the proper responses to this disease as of the posting of this blog. As we learn more about COVID-19, the answer to the proper response may change. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration of The United States Department of Labor has a great reference website that is consistently updated with guidelines for employers.

Create a Safe Work Environment

Curbing the spread of COVID-19 begins with establishing a safe work environment for your employees and customers. Here are some ways that you can accomplish this goal.

Improve your building’s ventilation – Increase the ventilation rate in your building and disable the DCV (demand-controlled ventilation). Opening outdoor air dampers help to reduce the recirculation of air. If possible, use natural airflow by opening windows. Use MERV-13 central air filtration or the highest compatible and make sure the filter fits properly to limit any bypass. Keep your air system running for all 24 hours of the day to provide as much air exchange as possible.

Give your customers and employees what they need to stay safe – Be sure to have plenty of soap and water on hand along with hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol. Discourage employees from handshaking. Encourage them to use greetings that don’t involve contact. If possible, in multiple locations, place touchless hand sanitizer stations as well as no-touch trash cans.

Increase Cleaning Mandates – Follow the CDC’s Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting to create an overall plan for keeping the surfaces of your business disinfected. Routinely clean surfaces that are frequently touched like doorknobs, telephones, and keyboards. Encourage workers to only use their own workstations, tools, and equipment, if possible. Provide disinfectant wipes to make it easier for your workers to wipe down telephones and other contact surfaces.

Limit Travel and Employee Meetings – Teleconferencing has exploded in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak because it is absolutely the safest way to communicate. If you are able to, use teleconferencing instead of face-to-face meetings. However, if this is not possible, hold meetings in open, well-ventilated areas (outdoors is the best) and have your employees wear cloth face coverings and maintain a distance of 6 feet apart. If your employees are required to travel, refer to the CDC’s Travelers Health Notices for recommendations and the latest guidance for each country

Maintain Safe Business Operations

Employees in an office wearing their masks.Once you have established a safe work environment, your daily business operations need to proceed with that same eye on safety. Here are some recommendations.

Implement Supportive Policies Regarding Sick Leave – The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires certain employers to provide paid sick leave or medical leave to employees for COVID-19 reasons. Make your policies as flexible as possible to discourage sick employees from coming to work. Employers who offer paid leave and who have less than 500 employees can receive 100% tax credits for the cost.

Distance Your Employees and Customers – Always use telework or stagger shifts if possible. Modify work areas to increase physical space not only between employees but between customers and employees as well. Use signs and tape markings on the floor to indicate 6-foot distances. Shift stocking activities to times when there are fewer customers around, and limit access or close common areas to discourage employees from congregating there.

Reducing and Preventing Spread of Disease among Employees

Conduct daily health checks – If you are using a screener to check temperatures, be sure to use personal protective equipment and partitions to protect the screener and follow social distancing guidelines. Make the screening private, if possible, to protect against discrimination.

Carefully disinfect if an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19 – First, if the employee shows symptoms while at work, be sure to separate the employee and find them safe transport home. Next, you should open windows to air out the space inhabited by the ill employee, and wait 24 hours to clean the infected area. This minimizes exposure for the people cleaning the space. Clean dirty surfaces first before disinfecting, and always wear gowns and gloves as well as face protection when cleaning.

Educate Employees – Be sure the employees are following all established procedures and advise employees to stay home if they are sick. Employees should be instructed to inform a manager if someone in their household is sick. If employees commute using public transportation, consider allowing employees to change their hours so that they commute during less busy times or give them the incentive to use other modes of transportation that do not carry such a high infection risk.

We Care About Helping Employers

Attorney discussing case to her client and handing out form.The attorneys at the Smithey Law Group LLC are here to serve employers. We care about helping you to maintain a safe and stable work environment for yourself and your staff. In fact, we care about helping you stay in business at all times, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. We all know what a devastating impact the pandemic has had on our economy, and we are committed to helping you keep your doors open and your staff and customers safe. So if you have any questions or concerns regarding what you need to do to weather this storm, call us today or contact us online.

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Joyce Smithey, a seasoned employment and labor law attorney, has over 22 years of experience representing both employers and employees in Maryland and D.C. Her practice, rooted in a deep understanding of employment law, spans administrative hearings to federal litigation. Joyce's approach is comprehensive, focusing on protecting client interests while ensuring legal compliance. A Harvard graduate, her career began in Fortune 500 companies, transitioning to law after a degree from Boston University School of Law. Joyce's expertise is recognized by numerous awards, including Maryland’s Top 100 Women. At Smithey Law Group LLC, which she founded in 2018, Joyce continues to champion employment rights, drawing on her rich background in law and business.

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