Consider Employees’ Safety When Reopening the Workplace

As stay-at-home orders begin to expire, employers have a plethora of factors to consider before reopening fully to the public. Savvy human resource professionals have undoubtedly already begun the planning process and developed numerous checklists. In addition to state and local guidelines, employers must consult the latest requirements and safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). 

The prioritization of the health and safety of employees should be at the top of any plan designed to prepare for reopening. Many organizations have offered suggestions on how to achieve this priority. In America’s Five Economic Essentials, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) states that “putting worker safety first is the first step in any viable reopening plan to save lives, defeat the coronavirus and revive the economy. “

The American Psychological Association advises employers to support employees’ mental health when reopening the workplace and recommends employers offer flexibility about where, when and how work is done. They believe that it is essential for leaders to pay particular attention to the emotional and mental well-being of employees who likely face new concerns, stressors and demands brought on by a return to work. “Employers and leaders can set a tone that emphasizes concern for employee well-being by offering compassion, honesty and openness. Check in with employees and actively listen, so they feel heard. Communicate consistently to reduce employees’ uncertainty and build emotional support.”

In addition to employees’ mental well-being, employers should also have plans in place to manage other factors related to employees:

  • how to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act for those for whom the workplace may still carry risk
  • how to handle workers who may be reluctant or outright refuse to return to work due to fear of unsafe conditions
  • how to process requests for continued work from home
  • how and when to bring back furloughed employees
  • how to manage parents whose children remain at home with no other child care options
  • the Families First Coronavirus Act, FMLA and paid leave rights and responsibilities.

These will all be critical points of discussions and possible litigation if ignored. Several employment experts warn that lawsuits may be on the horizon if employers do not make the safety of their staff a top priority.

Reopening Resources