10 Tips for Protecting Workers During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. March 30, 2020
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10 Tips for Protecting Workers During the Coronavirus Pandemic

​Employers can take certain actions to make the workplace safer in businesses deemed essential during the coronavirus pandemic and in regions where companies are staying open. Here are 10 ways to protect employees.

1. Follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance. "Pay attention to public health officials and follow their guidance as it evolves and changes," said Hugh Murray, an attorney with McCarter & English in Hartford, Conn. Tell employees to stay at least six feet apart and to refrain from shaking hands. Workers should wash their hands often for at least 20 seconds with soap and water and avoid touching their faces. They should cough into tissues or their elbows.

2. Plan for remote work. In businesses where physical presence is not a necessity, telework arrangements are "the simplest and most effective response to COVID-19," said Isaac Mamaysky, an attorney with Potomac Law Group in New York City.

Many offices have already moved to telework. "At this point, if you are still bringing people into your offices, then you are waiting on one of two things—a legal mandate to close or someone to get COVID-19, forcing a closure," said David Lewis, founder and CEO of HR consultancy OperationsInc in Norwalk, Conn. "Why wait until someone gets sick if closing is an inevitability?"

3. Practice social distancing.  Groups of any size should consider meeting virtually or by phone, as opposed to in person, said Katherine Dudley Helms, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Columbia, S.C.

[SHRM Resource Spotlight: Coronavirus and COVID-19]

4. For manufacturers, ensure that employees use a hospital-grade disinfectant when cleaning. They should clean all areas that are frequently used or touched, including restrooms, door handles, tools, time clocks and vending machines, noted Denise Drake, an attorney with Polsinelli in Kansas City, Mo. Employees should wear protective gloves when cleaning and perhaps while working, depending on the job, she added.

5. For grocers, ensure that employees use a hospital-grade disinfectant to clean all areas and items shoppers frequently use or touch. Disinfect checkout lanes, credit- and debit-card pin pads, door handles (including in the freezer section), restrooms, shelves, cash registers or touchscreens, and phones at least every 30 minutes, Drake said. Wear protective gloves when cleaning, bagging groceries and shelving products.

6. For retailers that remain open, put in place social distancing measures approved by the CDC or the applicable state department of health. This may include temporary reductions in staffing, shortened hours of operation and limited in-store services, said Michelle Strowhiro, an attorney with McDermott Will & Emery in Los Angeles.

7. Provide additional break time. That way, employees can wash their hands more frequently, Strowhiro said.

8. Immediately send home employees who have symptoms of COVID-19. Likewise, employees who are well but who have been exposed to an individual with COVID-19 should stay home, Mamaysky said.

9. Require that employees who recently traveled to affected areas stay out of the workplace until a certain number of days pass without symptoms. Note that COVID-19's incubation period is 14 days, Mamaysky said.

10. Provide coronavirus-related information, but don't overload workers with such communications. "If too much information is provided, none will be read," said Jonathan Segal, an attorney with Duane Morris in Philadelphia and New York City.

Provide input as the DOL develops further guidance on the FFCRA. Participate online at https://ffcra.ideascale.com through April 10—an extended deadline.

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