When COVID-19 shows no signs of slowing down, the world nations believe that vaccination could be the only effective and economical means to control the pandemic. The federal regulators had given emergency approval to vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. As per the latest updates on the vaccine rollout, about 30 million doses have been distributed in the US, and around 3.4% of people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Most of the first vaccines have been given to front-line medical workers and nursing home residents. At least 541,000 people in the United States have been fully vaccinated as of Jan. 12, according to a New York Times survey of all 50 states.
As COVID-19 vaccine distribution became the talk of the town, employers across the U.S. have started thinking of ways for reopening their workplaces. However, several studies have been reporting that workers are concerned about their safety and they like to have health precautions in place even after they go back to the office. Experts have been warning us that the priority when re-opening an office will be to create a sense of physical and psychological safety in the workplace
Are you also planning to get your staff back to the office? If you’re desperate to get back to the office, here are a few things you must consider before your team returns to the workplace.
In order to make your staff feel secure and valued, you need to keep them updated by:
- Offering reliable and regular safety data on the COVID-19 vaccine.
- Informing the news related to the vaccination from trustworthy sources.
- Offering insight into the risks of not receiving a vaccination. Let them know that vaccines may become mandatory, and inform them what the consequences will be if they refuse to get vaccinated.
- Introducing COVID-19 vaccines into existing wellness programs/incentives in 2021.
- Keeping track of the information directly from sources like the Department of Labor on matters such as wage and hour issues, FLSA, FMLA, OSHA, unemployment compensation, and Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
Decisions and preparations employers should make
- Determine how many employees should return to the office.
- Find out which positions all over your organization need to be present physically at the workspace.
- Decide which employees should come back first (if you plan a phased re-opening)
- Prepare a symptom questionnaire before coming back to work
- COVID-19 testing (Americans with Disabilities Act requires the mandatory medical tests must be “job-related and consistent with business necessity”)
- Measuring body temperature
- Screening employees for symptoms of COVID-19
- Training required by OSHA
- Supply, proper care, maintenance, and disposal of PPE.
- Establish a protocol for when an employee has a confirmed case of COVID-19. Notify employees if there is a confirmed case in the workplace, but do not reveal the employee’s identity. Identify who may have been exposed to or in close contact with the confirmed case and send those employees home to monitor symptoms. The rest of the workplace may continue working but should be notified to self-monitor and report symptoms if they develop.
- Determine how, when, and where you will record and report a confirmed case ofCOVID-19 in the workplace according to OSHA standards.
How to prepare your workforce for the return?
- Plan a “back to work orientation” on their first day back to office for reviewing any new policies, procedures, expectations, and employment or benefit paperwork.
- Provide adequate notice so that employees can plan accordingly.
- If applicable, communicate to employees why a remote work arrangement will no longer be available. If some positions will continue to telework while others will not, be prepared to address that as well.
- Remind the employees that they may utilize their Employee Assistance Program(EAP) benefits when they experience trouble finding childcare or anxiety about going back to work.
- Encourage employees who are sick or have been exposed to someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 to stay home.
- Inform the reporting requirements for illness, symptoms, or coming in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.
- Notify the PPE and safety requirements
- Communicate the travel restrictions
- If you are administering COVID-19 tests, measure temperatures, or note down symptoms upon arrival.
- Workplace safety and training
- Ask managers or employees to stagger their lunch hours and rest breaks.
How to prepare your workplace?
- To comply with social distancing guidelines, increase the physical distance between spaces that employees, customers, or visitors will occupy.
- Consider rearranging/ modifying common areas such as workstations, assembly lines, water coolers, restrooms, vending machines, checkout lines, copiers, and other collective office equipment, time clocks, breakrooms, and waiting areas as per safety standards.
- Provide cleaning supplies at each desk.
- Maintain a rigorous cleaning schedule.
- Display posters and notices of good hygiene practices, especially in areas like restrooms and breakrooms.
- Decide what safety measures and PPE are needed in your workplace based on regulations and purchase the necessary equipment like masks, and gloves.
- Ensure cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, and handwashing stations are available in common areas.
- Confirm applicable new Federal or State notices such as Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) notices are posted in common areas.
- Decide which meeting spaces you will use and post notices indicating seating capacity on the entrance of each space.
One of the challenges facing employers as they plan a return to the office is whether they can or should require their employees to take a COVID-19 vaccine. According to legal experts, employers should not mandate the vaccine at this point. Whether your workforce is vaccinated or not, you must be prepared to make the transition from remote work to in-office work as comfortable as possible. Depending on the nature of the business and its operations, you can let a part of your workforce to function remotely (on a rotational basis, if required) until a state of normalcy is regained. Keep in mind that it could take a while to bounce back. So, you have to provide your teams the best possible circumstances that ensure their safety and security.
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