Bringing employees back to your workplace means complying with a new set of legal requirements as a result of a number of federal, state, and local legislation enacted during the pandemic. Here are just a few.
Safety and Cleaning Practices
When the time is right to resume operations, the workplace needs to be prepared with accommodations to keep both employees and customers safe.
Recommendations include providing employees with face masks and other personal protective equipment, routine cleaning, enforcing social distancing rules, extending telecommuting, and employee health screening.
Review the CDC’s safety recommendations as well as specific guidance on cleaning and disinfecting before reopening.
Inspections and Recordkeeping Requirements
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) requires employers to provide a safe workplace that is free from known hazards. Recently OSHA revised its enforcement policies related to coronavirus, including increasing in-person inspections at all types of workplaces and updating recording coronavirus cases.
Sick-Leave and Paid-Leave Regulations
New legislation enacted by the Department of Labor (DOL), the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires applicable employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division oversees the new law’s paid leave requirements, which apply through Dec. 31, 2020.
As employers determine the employees to call back to work, it’s important to use caution and treat all employees equally to avoid unintentional discrimination. ADA requires reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities, including during elderly workers and workers with underlying health conditions.
The EEOC also provides guidance to help employers implement strategies to navigate the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace.
Testing Administration, Confidentiality, and Maintaining Employee Privacy
Testing, monitoring, and health screenings are subject to both state and federal confidentiality and privacy laws. Under the ADA, disability-related inquiries and medical examinations are normally prohibited. Since COVID-19 is considered a “direct threat,” employers are subject to new compliance requirements, including:
Disability-related inquiries. Employers may ask employees to disclose certain COVID-19-related health information, including why they are absent from work and whether they have virus symptoms.
Medical examinations. Measuring an employee’s body temperature and requiring an employee to submit to a blood or saliva test as part of a COVID-19 health screening are all allowed medical examinations under the ADA. The information collected from screening an employee or applicant, including temperature checks, is subject to the ADA confidentiality requirements and must be maintained in separate medical files. and disclosure must be limited.
The CDC also provides guidance to help employers navigate testing, disclosure, and managing COVID-19 in the workplace.
Back to Workplace Policies and Procedures
Before returning employees to work, employers should review their employment policies concerning sick leave, family and medical leave, leave of absence, teleworking, and paid time off to ensure compliance with applicable new laws and regulations. Include new policies in your employee handbook and train employees on all new protocols and procedures for returning to work.
As the pandemic evolves, guidance from local, state, and the federal government and leading health authorities is likely to change, leaving employers exposed to a number of new legal obligations. In addition, the employment issues and level of risk factors may vary widely depending on the type of business or industry. Before bringing employees back to the workplace, employers should continue to follow the latest information on maintaining workplace safety and seek advice from legal and HR professionals to mitigate risks specific to your business.
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