Although these are “recommendations”, this will vary depending on office policy, social distancing risks, employee occupations, field work and a host of other concerns relative to your particular business.
First and foremost, there is NO guidance from any Governmental office that clarifies any of the recommendations below that will stop an employee from a lawsuit. For instance, you re-open your office and someone coughs – then the person who walked by them gets sick OR they are on an elevator and claim that you are putting them in harm’s way, etc. The risk can be lessened if you have the proper documentation an employee should sign, but it will not prevent ALL claims by employees.
According to OSHA/ADA/EEOC, although there are a few conflicts:
You MAY check temperature, ask questions about health, inquire about others in a household, discuss symptoms, diagnosis’, ask about fevers, coughs, shortness of breath, sore throat, headaches, chills, gastro issues, ability to smell/taste.
You may NOT discuss: age, underlying health issues, pregnancy UNLESS the employee brings any of the above to your attention with concerns about how it may affect them due to COVID-19 and exposure. This includes mental health issues – the employee would have to disclose this to you, rather than an employer – even with prior knowledge bringing this up in a conversation
Anything and EVERYTHING is subject to HIPAA laws, which means you may NOT disclose any health information to anyone outside of your HR Dept, including the owner, other employees, etc. You may issue information that states that there is an employee with symptoms, but not the name of that employee.
You must make reasonable accommodations for any employee who claims that the risk to their health, because of a disclosed condition, warrants a change in their work-related space/location. If you know it’s due to a mental health condition, that is treated the same as any other medical issue.
What can you do to prepare your office/field work for re-opening:
– Have appropriate PPE
– Set standards of what must be wore at work, for instance, masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, distancing guidelines, googles, etc
– Set up mandatory training sessions with requirements for allowing someone to return to work
– Have a document, which I’ve sent to you, for employees to sign with expectations for coming into work
– Use the document (you should adjust as necessary) I sent for visitors to sign before they may enter your premises
– You must provide ALL PPE for employees and visitors
– LISTEN to all concerns by employees BEFORE you re-open
– Discuss “whistle-blowing” issues and anonymous reporting of illness
– Try to make openings/closings “touchless”, so doors remain untouched for entry and exits
– Have a cleaning schedule every employee can view showing what you are doing to make the office safe for return
Issues that you should consider:
– Should you stagger your entry to the office, for instance provide times each person should arrive
– When someone arrives, you might have them bring an employer provided temperature strip that they must put on their forehead to show they have no fever (in a private setting only)
– You may need 5 minutes to conduct a Q&A about their health on a daily basis
– You must be careful that others do not see you “sending away” a person that may not be approved to return to work
– You can ask for “volunteers” to come to the office instead of demand everyone return and gradually re-open
If someone is suspected of being ill:
– ISOLATE IMMEDIATELY
– Send them home and ask how you can help them
– Let them know they cannot come back to work after infection until they are 100% recovered for at least 72 hours, which means no fever without any medication, respiratory system recovered, have two negative results and a letter from a physician
What do you do if someone refuses to return to work due to FEAR:
– If the fear has no basis, you may terminate, however you must consider the following:
o Mental health fears are a medical issue
o Age may be a factor
o Pre-existing conditions are valid
– You must do everything possible to accommodate, which means possibly allowing them to telecommute, change their desk area, alter their time at work, etc.
This is a work in progress. Congress is discussing protections for employers from employee and customers to prevent frivolous action, while protecting each and every working American.