As states begin to lift stay at home orders and reopen their economies, many employers are wondering what it means for their businesses. States are encouraging businesses to open in a way that makes employees and customers feel safe. While the transition will not be easy, there are many steps that employers can take to get ahead of challenges and make the shift as seamless as possible.
As an example, on April 27, 2020, Ohio’s Governor DeWine outlined a plan to open Ohio’s economy, starting with healthcare. On Friday, May 1st, all elective health procedures that do not require an overnight stay in a hospital can resume. Dentists and veterinarians may also restart services on this date. On Monday, May 4th, manufacturing, distribution, and construction businesses may resume, and general offices are also permitted to open. Approximately one week later on May 12th, consumer retail and services will be allowed to reopen.
When reopening businesses, the Ohio Department of Health has outlined five protocols as best practices:
- Require face coverings for employees and clients/customers at all times;
- Conduct daily health assessments by employers and employees (self-evaluation) to determine if “fit for duty;”
- Maintain good hygiene at all times – handwashing and social distancing;
- Clean and sanitize workplaces throughout the workday and at the close of business or between shifts; and
- Limit capacity to meet social distancing guidelines, establish max capacity at 50% of fire code, and use appointment settings where possible to limit congestion.
While the Governor’s direction allows businesses to resume work in their brick and mortar offices, it does not require it. If employees are able to continue their work assignments remotely, employers should make that an option available to the extent possible. In addition, the following measures can be taken to keep employees safe:
- Require 6 feet of physical distancing if possible or other barriers if not possible;
- More frequent cleaning and sanitizing of surfaces in the workplace;
- Employees should wear gloves and be provided frequent opportunities to wash and sanitize their hands;
- Staggered breaks may be implemented to avoid crowds of employees in break areas at any one time; and
- Daily wellness checks may be provided for employees when they arrive to work.
Even if employers take these cautionary steps, challenges will likely still arise. If an employee contracts COVID-19 upon returning to work, employers should plan to provide two weeks of paid sick leave. Limited exceptions apply and refundable tax credits may be available to assist in offsetting the cost. Also, employers should expect issues related to employees who refuse to return to work, either based on fears or due to a lack of childcare. When these issues do arise, they must be handled in a legally compliant way. Terminating an employee for reasons associated with concerns over health implicates many employment laws, as well as amendments to them arising from the CARES Act and the Families First Coronavirus Act. However, employers do retain the right to discipline and terminate employees for cause, insubordination, failure to meet performance objectives, etc.
In addition to rejuvenating a business that has likely been impacted financially by coronavirus, employers have many other issues to consider. The best way to ensure a smooth transition back to the office is to develop and implement a plan now that meets the specific needs of your business. Working with outside counsel can provide a safe, productive, and legally compliant work environment for your employees.