Tuesday, 27 April 2021 13:12

Return To Work Guidance In A Post-Pandemic World

The COVID-19 pandemic has raged across the world for well over a year now. As vaccines become more widely available and social distancing restrictions are slowly lifting, a distant end to the pandemic is in sight. This has led many business owners to wonder how to safely return to the office. Can employers require vaccines? How can you give your workforce absolute peace of mind while at work? We're here to share expert guidance to help you return to work after the COVID-19 pandemic.

How To Return To Work After COVID Safely

The reopening plan for every business will look a little different from the last. For every step of the process, employers should implement policies and procedures that address preventing, monitoring for, and responding to any emergence or resurgence of COVID-19 in the workplace.

As OSHA notes, your plan to return to the office after COVID-19 should address:

  • Hazard assessment
  • Hygiene
  • Social distancing
  • Identification and isolation of sick employees
  • Guidance for returning to work after illness or exposure
  • Controls (e.g., physical barriers for workers, safe work practices, etc.)
  • Workplace flexibilities
  • Training
  • And anti-retaliation (i.e., workers' rights, human resources policies, etc.)

Can I Require My Employees To Get Vaccinated?

This is a common question we've been hearing since the first vaccines were created. Depending on your business, you may get a different answer. For instance, businesses in industries with a high risk of infection (e.g., health care, retail, food production, etc.) will most likely require COVID-19 vaccinations, as unvaccinated workers may pose a high risk for other employees and their customers.

In general, employers may legally require COVID-19 vaccines before employees return to the worksite (SHRM). However, employers must establish that it is a legitimate job requirement and they must make reasonable accommodations for workers who cannot take the vaccine because of medical or religious reasons.

We should note that this may change in the future, depending on the state. As of writing this, legislation is currently pending in a handful of states that addresses vaccine mandates and employment practices concerning vaccination (NCSL).

Are There Any Vaccination Exemptions?

Yes! Employees may be exempted from mandatory vaccinations based on potential concerns related to any disability they may have, any medical reasons, or for any religious beliefs that prohibit vaccinations. This is mainly due to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

What exactly do these pieces of legislation do? There's far too much to cover here, but we'll summarize the key points for returning to work after COVID:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act "prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation," and so on (DOL).
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 "prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin" (EEOC).

So, let's say that you have employees with medical reasons, a disability, or sincerely held religious beliefs that prevent them from taking the coronavirus vaccine. As an employer, you will be legally required to give your workers reasonable alternatives to continue their work (e.g., use of personal protective equipment, working separately, or working from home).

Protect Your Staff At The Office

As the pandemic winds down and your employees return to work at the office, you'll need to take the appropriate steps to create a safe and healthy workplace for your workforce and clients. It might be wise to even develop a "return to work" policy to guide the transition from remote to in-office work.

Here's a quick cheat-sheet to get you started on the process:

  • Contact the building owner(s) or facilities management to ensure the building is ready for occupancy and to learn any COVID policies that are in place.
    • Be sure to inquire about a building-wide office dress code, so nothing is lost in communication.
  • Modify your seating, furniture, and workstations to maintain social distancing of 6 feet between employees when possible.
  • Use methods to physically separate employees and clients in all areas of the building (e.g., install transparent physical barriers, use visual cues for social distancing, etc.)
  • Consider taking steps to improve ventilation in the building by opening windows and consulting with an HVAC professional.
  • Provide sanitation stations around your workplace with hand sanitizer and disposable masks.
  • Keep all of your employees included in your COVID-19 related communication plans.
    • Make sure everyone is aware of the office dress code when returning to the office.

Return To Work After COVID With The Help Of CourtSide® Consulting

If your business needs guidance for your return to work after COVID-19, you've come to the right place. At CourtSide® Consulting, we can help you navigate the legal complexities of employment laws to ensure your business hits the ground running at the office. We'll make sure that your workplace is up-to-date with current regulations and that your business is fully prepared for a return to the office.

Contact CourtSide® Consulting today to learn how we can help guide your transition back to in-person work at the office.