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June 12, 2020

Getting Back to the Workplace: Health & Safety Issues Employers Must Address

Getting back to the workplace header of an employee in a mask.

As more and more businesses across the U.S. are being permitted to let employees return to the physical workplace, employers must quickly turn their attention to the most critical health and safety issues.

Health Screenings

The requirements for health screenings largely vary by state, so employers need to check with their state to ensure all guidelines are being followed. Some states, like Ohio, require employers to conduct “symptom screening” where employees self-report symptoms or are screened when they get to the workplace. Pennsylvania requires employers to take workers’ temperatures for two weeks if the employee had contracted the virus. These, of course, are just two examples. Many states recommend, but do not mandate, temperature screening. Again, be sure to determine what your state requires.

Masks

There is no uniform approach to wearing masks in the workplace. Some state health departments mandate masks absent a legitimate exception, for example, when wearing a mask would violate industry standards or when the employee works alone in an assigned work area. States vary regarding whether employers must pay for masks and/or pay for reusable masks to be laundered.

Companies should tailor mask policies to the specific needs of the workplace. Further, rigorous monitoring and protection is important. Do not ignore complaints that masks are not being worn. While you can send employees home for failing to follow company rules, be careful not to retaliate against an employee who simply raises concerns.

 

  • Be cautious about concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act. (For example, two employees band together to make their opinions known for the mutual aid and protection.)
  • Think hard about the reasons employees may object to wearing masks, for example, medical conditions (asthma, claustrophobia, etc.) or religious reasons.
  • Be sure to take into consideration the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

For a discussion of additional critical matters that businesses must take action upon to reopen and remain in business, while also supporting and prioritizing their employees and maintaining legal compliance, check out “Managing Through COVID-19 & Beyond: An HR, Benefits & Compliance Roadmap for Employers.”

When an Employee Gets Sick

This is probably obvious, but employees who report illness on the job should be sent home immediately. You must keep in mind your responsibility as an employer to alert local and public health officials for record-keeping, tracing reasons and to get advice from health experts, among other reasons.

Determine which employees had contact or interaction with the ill employee and advise them of the situation. Do not identify the ill employee by name unless that employee grants permission. Advise employees who had close contact with a sick employee to go home, isolate themselves and monitor for symptoms.

Of critical importance is that employers follow the CDC guidelines on returning employees to work after illness. Persons with COVID-19 who have symptoms and were directed to care for themselves at home may discontinue isolation under the following conditions:

  • At least 3 days (72 hours) have passed since recovery defined as resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath); and,
  • At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.

If the employer is covered by the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act, they must understand and provide the paid leave contemplated by the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act. For details on these acts, as well as other need-to-know employer issues, check out our “Employer Compliance Handbook: COVID-19's Impact on Benefits and Employment.”

COVID-19 Resources

Access all COVID-19 related articles to help your business respond to the pandemic.

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