Developing New Employer Policies Regarding COVID-19

It seems highly likely that many workplaces will open up before COVID-19 has been fully contained as a threat. That means that employers will need new policies and standards of conduct for employees in the workplace that can help mitigate the threat of infection, and protect those most vulnerable to this virus. Specifically, employers will need to set forth clear rules, processes and expectations for employee behavior which may include:
  1. Standards of conduct including handwashing, hand sanitizing, sharing of equipment, dissemination of hard-copy documents, donning and doffing of PPE, social distancing and workstation cleaning and disinfecting.
  2. Details and consequences regarding prohibited conduct and failure to comply with the standards of conduct such as coming to work with COVID-19 symptoms, failure to socially distance in the workplace, failure to wear and utilize PPE and failure to disinfect/clean working areas and equipment.
  3. Rules regarding entering and exiting the building to ensure social distancing—for example only two people in an elevator at one time and/or the requirement to wash one’s hands before entering the office or workspace.
  4. New procedures and policies regarding calling in sick, incentives to remain home when sick rather than come into the office (even if the employee feels they can work), and what circumstances or symptoms require (or mandate) employees to remain home.
  5. As schools remain closed, employees will continue to face the challenges of balancing child-care and work. When employers begin to recall employees, employees will find themselves facing childcare challenges and may request permission to bring children to the workplace. This will create a significant challenge to social distancing requirements and hinder the employer’s efforts to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 in the workplace.

Once new policies have been developed, it is important that they are not only distributed to employees, but also explained and that employees have an opportunity to ask questions or seek clarification. It’s important to also make sure that employees sign an acknowledgement that includes the obligation to read and comply with the policies, as well as understanding the consequences for failure to comply.

These are difficult and uncertain times. And new circumstances will require new ways of interacting with each other. The more that employers can set clear, transparent expectations—and design processes and tools that help employees meet those expectations—the easier it will be to re-open the economy while minimizing the threat of infection.