COVID-19: Nuts & Bolts of Returning to Work
Last week, our post addressed the reflective and philosophical aspects that we feel are necessary for every workplace to consider prior to tackling the nuts and bolts we discuss today. While nothing has yet changed in terms of legislation in BC (e.g. what constitutes an essential service), nor have the requirements for physical distancing, there are positive indications that, with appropriate measures, some organizations will soon be able to transition back into the workplace. When and if it’s time will depend on recommendations from our public health officials, as well as whether your workplace can appropriately manage it.
Following the reflections we discussed last week, the next step will be to conduct a workplace assessment to determine if your organization is/can be ready, followed by preparation, implementing ongoing safety protocol – and throughout, communication and implementation of your new way forward.
Conducting a Workplace Assessment
Start with your vision/culture for your new normal as the foundation – rather than the way things were back in February/early March. Then, address the following questions, engaging your management team and employees, as applicable – with an open mind to varying perspectives.
- Do you have to go back to the workplace as you knew it, all or in part? Is it time to move to fully or partially remote?
- Is your workplace set up to appropriately allow for physical distancing? If not, are there steps you can take to do so, such as re-arranging desks and/or workstations?
- Can your business accommodate staggering of hours, or varying of shifts?
- Are there employees who: (a) specifically can (want)/can’t accommodate varying hours; (b) should/shouldn’t continue to work remotely; (c) have/don’t have child/dependent care; (d) are immunocompromised?
- Which positions does it make the most sense to bring in first for a phased return?
- What else needs to be considered that is unique/specific to your industry, organization or location?
Preparing the Workplace
Once you’ve determined if/how you can appropriately bring employees back into the workplace, the next step is to set the stage for alignment with your new normal. What can you prepare/put in place now, so that the return to work (physically or otherwise) isn’t simply the same as it was before – unless, of course, the same as it was before was serving and will continue to serve you/your clients in the way forward.
From there, work with your team to prepare the workplace to meet occupational health and safety requirements specifically related to COVID-19/infectious diseases. This needn’t be about you, the employer, getting all of this ready. Rather, in the spirit of all being in this together (especially if that’s a culture shift for you), consider how you and your team can work together to take care of the following:
- Fully sanitize the workplace and put a plan in place to do so regularly
- Provide a ready supply of hand sanitizer and/or wipes, in addition to tissues and hands-free waste bins, throughout the workspace
- Depending on available materials and Canadian public health advisories, provide masks and gloves, where applicable
- Re-arrange reception/waiting areas and install a “sneeze-guard” if/as needed
- Set up boardroom and meeting rooms for appropriate distancing
- Put up signage at appropriate places outside/around the workplace/site
Once the workplace is safe/appropriately set up for employees to begin returning, put your communication and workplace return orientation plan in place.
- Share preparation and returning to work protocol, get their input and address their concerns
- Create a phased return schedule, along with appropriately staggered work times and days (e.g. working from home versus in the office/workplace)
- Let customers and any potential visitors to your workplace know what your plan/protocol is
- In the spirit of collaboration, consider “back to the workplace” hosts to give tours/provide instruction on new safety, hygiene and physical distancing protocol (both via video/phone before going back and upon re-entry)
- Depending on your size/nature of organization, while it’s unlikely you will bring everyone back on “day 1”, use this as an opportunity to introduce your new vision/why – how things will look differently, going forward
Immediate to Short-Term
In addition to what we all know/should be doing regarding staying at home if sick/have been exposed to COVID-19 and hygiene (e.g. hand washing), etc.:
- Ensure employees clear their work surfaces at the end of their shifts; and sanitize phone sets, keyboards and mouse as part of their end-of-day activities
- Sanitize high touchpoint areas (e.g. reception desks, kitchens, door handles) several times a day (perhaps on a rotating schedule with all staff sharing the task)
- Outline procedures for physical distancing such as: not entering others’ offices; depending on size of facility, only one person in the kitchen/lunchroom/washroom at a time; a limited number of people in meeting rooms. Establish a schedule for lunch breaks to ensure physical distancing is maintained
- Discourage work travel and in-person attendance at meetings unless essential and/or appropriate measures are taken
- Keep doors and windows open whenever possible to increase ventilation
- Develop an Infectious Disease policy which outlines expected steps employees will need to take, as well as what they can expect should there be a second/third wave of COVID-19 or a future epidemic/pandemic. This should also include your communications/triage protocol
- Develop a Remote Work policy and associated agreement. This may be, in part, due to a culture shift in your organization, but you should also expect/plan for second/third waves of COVID-19. Take the time now to set clear parameters and details about equipment provided. Consider loosening restrictions about working from home when “sick”. Many remote work policies indicate that “if you’re sick, you’re sick and you should be taking a sick day, rather than working from home”. While we agree with this in theory, given that absolutely no one should be in the workplace with symptoms (mild or otherwise) and depending on circumstances, many people can still do their work/be productive with mild symptoms. This is another reason why clear parameters are so important
- Update employment agreement templates such that they expressly allow for temporary lay-offs and/or reduction of hours in unforeseen/crisis circumstances. In many provinces, BC included, one of the parameters for layoffs is having a contractual agreement that specifically outlines that layoff may occur. This ensures employees are clear at the beginning of the employment relationship and agree to it. For existing employees, if you update agreements, it should be done via a confirmation/change of terms agreement and must provide appropriate notice and/or consideration. We recommend HR and/or legal advice with this one
A Final Word
As with all things COVID-19 related, developments are evolving quickly. While we definitely encourage you to start the conversation/preparations, keep in mind that rushing into action without forethought could not only have a health impact, but an ethical one – which, in turn, could have a negative impact on your organization’s reputation. Accordingly, being able to show that you’ve taken the right measures to keep your employees and customers safe will have a positive impact on your business and reputation.