Planning for Phased Reopening During the Coronavirus Pandemic

States across the U.S. have already started their phased reopening with an eye on getting back to business as the coronavirus pandemic numbers begin to drop. A successful reopening means that employers must take steps to protect their workers’ health and minimize the odds of another outbreak.

That’s not all business owners need to be concerned with, either. To help avoid discrimination accusations and ensure employees have the tools they need to thrive in this challenging new world employers must reopen armed with information and a solid plan.

Ali Law Group recently hosted an informative webinar with a slideshow, presented by ALG Principal Attorney Sima Ali.

Ali offered action items helping businesses plan and prepare for reopening. Following these five steps may help your business open safely and efficiently.


Plan ahead

Active planning represents the key to a successful reopening. Identify the core business functions to execute a phased reopening, if necessary.

As you re-hire employees, onboard new talent, or call back furloughed workers, you may wish to revise job descriptions and organizational charts based on your new workforce.

Consider setting up employee surveys to discover common concerns. From a lack of available childcare to health fears, employees might face trepidation or hesitation about returning to work. Whatever you can do to alleviate those concerns can help improve employee retention rates and workforce morale.


Establish Safe and Healthy Work Procedures Applicable to Your Workplace

Establish safe work procedures for your specific workplace. Commercial offices, retail outlets, restaurants, and hospitality venues all face diverse challenges. For retail facilities, it will be a matter of engaging customers while promoting the health and safety of consumers and employees, alike. Real estate development and property management firm Cushman & Wakefield established an 8-step retail readiness checklist.

Whatever industry you’re in, you might appoint one person, or a group of people from various departments, to help establish standards for health and safety based on local, state, or federal guidelines. Consult with an HR professional or your labor attorney to establish policies that are in compliance with regulations.


Establish Legal and Ethical Policies for COVID-19 Testing and Employee Health Monitoring

The coronavirus pandemic has ushered in a whole new world where health monitoring may become the norm. It is essential to maintain HIPPA regulations and employee privacy while looking out for the health and welfare of your employees. Medical documentation must remain separate from regular personnel files per ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) rules.

Understand that, as the employer, you may be responsible to pay for the cost of any COVID-19 or antibody testing. Hourly wage employees should be reimbursed for testing and waiting times if the employer has mandated the tests. Guidelines for taking employee temperatures – and the screening threshold, as well as consequences for not passing the screening – should be made clear.


Establish Social Distancing Policies

Just as employee wellness checks may become standard, office places and other work facilities may need to implement social distancing strategies. Cushman and Wakefield has also provided guidance on maintaining social distancing and the “six-foot rule.”  

Safety measures may include moving desks to ensure social distancing, the use of partitions between desks or between employees and customers, and even steps as simple as making hand sanitizer available to workers, visitors, and customers.

To avoid expensive renovations to a workplace, employers may consider flexible work hours or staggered shifts.

Permitting employees to continue working remotely can help reduce office space required for adequate social distancing. Consider establishing break and mealtime schedules to avoid large gatherings. Use in-office video conferencing and messaging programs like Slack in lieu of sit-down meetings around a conference room table.


Revise Your Employee Handbook to Outline Procedures

Once you’ve established new policies, take time to revise your handbook to outline these policies. Since policies and regulations surrounding COVID-19 may change frequently as situations change, you may consider an addendum to the handbook that can be modified as the need arises.

Polices to consider may include:

  • Requiring employee temperature checks
  • Providing accommodations for vulnerable employees even if they don’t otherwise meet ADA requirements
  • Paid Time Off requests and claims

As you review and revise your employee handbook, pay close attention to employee leave requests and tracking procedures. Employees who request time off under the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act should understand the circumstances under which they can qualify. Employers may qualify for refundable tax credits for employees who take paid time off under the FFCRA.

Employers and HR managers should be cognizant of treating employees equitably as they navigate a new world of legislation, requirements, and employee requests that may or may not fall under reasonable ADA accommodations.

How you, as an employer, handle these requests should be considered on a case-by-case basis to ensure equity and fairness for all employees and to maintain a positive working environment.

This article does not constitute legal advice. Contact Ali Law Group with specific questions about your organization or situation as we all continue to work together reopening America.


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