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Employer Considerations on Returning to the Workplace in the Age of COVID-19

Employer Considerations on Returning to the Workplace in the Age of COVID-19


Following the White House’s issuance of broad guidelines for states to implement a phased reopening of businesses subject to isolation orders stemming from the COVID-19 global pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reportedly preparing to issue detailed guidance. While we await further direction, as businesses face the difficult questions involved in reopening, this article explores interrelated areas to consider in so doing. While by no means exhaustive, the following presents fundamental areas that employers should consider as they make the transition to reopening.

First and foremost, employers should stay abreast of directives and guidance from federal, state and local health authorities (e.g., testing, use of facemasks, gloves or other personal protective equipment) in order to prepare an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan. It is also imperative to engage in open communication with your workforce to notify them of policy changes and actions being implemented, as well as to address issues and concerns that will inevitably arise.

Implementation of Infection Prevention Measures in the Working Environment

While many aspects of COVID-19 remain unknown, it has been widely reported that it is highly contagious and primarily spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Spreading can occur when these droplets enter the mouths or noses of nearby people, or possibly inhaled into the lungs. OSHA further advises that the virus may be contracted when a person touches an infected surface or object, followed by their own mouth, nose or possibly eyes.

Symptoms typically include fever, cough and shortness of breath, but the CDC has identified other non-respiratory symptoms, including chills (with or without shaking), muscle pain, headache, sore throat and loss of taste or smell. Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. Of particular concern is that some people are asymptomatic yet nevertheless carry the virus.

Thus, it is critical that employers will need to take active measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Such measures can include:

The Physical Working Environment

As public health authorities and healthcare providers have advised, DISTANCE, DISTANCE, DISTANCE is a key weapon in the fight against spread of COVID-19. It is abundantly clear that workplaces will undergo fundamental changes to their layout and operation to implement this critical guidance. Some considerations for employers:

Communication With Employees and Customers/Clients

Develop a communication plan that will both inform and ease anxieties about both working in and visiting the workplace, including:

Employees Returning to Work

Reopening the workplace to employees and visitors should be accomplished in the most organized and safe manner possible, which will help alleviate the health and safety concerns that are sure to exist.

Employees Exhibiting Symptoms

Unfortunately, infection can still occur despite following reasonable precautionary measures. In such cases, it is critical to promptly identify and isolate potentially infectious individuals to protect employees and visitors at the worksite.

Handling Families First Coronavirus Response Act (and Other) Leave

We have seen a veritable avalanche of new laws and regulations relating to COVID-19, including the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the CARES Act, which makes it more important than ever to properly review and implement policies as needed to address them.

Returning to Work After Illness

Employers also need a plan to safely allow an employee who became infected with COVID-19 to return to the workplace. The CDC has provided both time-since-illness-onset and test-based options for returning to work:


It will be important to address and communicate any impact on benefits due to business interruptions stemming from the pandemic, including:

Some other considerations for the Post-COVID-19 World

If this pandemic has made anything clear, it is that business will undergo fundamental changes and require more imagination and flexibility than ever before to keep workforces and others visiting the workplace safe. Some additional areas to think about as the world moves into the “new normal”:

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