COVID-19 Workplace Guidelines to Keep Employees Safe

covid-workplaces-guidelines

As many offices slowly start to transition back to in-office or hybrid work, the prevention of COVID-19 is a big concern among many employees. While the CDC, OSHA, and local public health authorities have the most up-to-date guidance on how best to prevent illness in the workplace, every company will have unique hazards and concerns. Along with recommendations by health administration officials, there are some additional guidelines to help keep your employees out of harm's way.

COVID-19 Workplace Guidelines to Keep Employees Safe

The first step in creating safe health standards for your workers is to set guidelines for your workplace. By sharing your expectations, you can help keep open lines of communication so that your workers feel safe coming to you if they have any worries or concerns. Let your workforce know that occupational safety is your top concern during this time and that everyone must work together to help keep each other healthy.

Imbue Company Culture With Safe Practices

Making employees safe starts with changing the company culture and providing adequate hygienic and educational resources.

Report outbreaks

Employers should encourage employees to notify them if they have had a positive COVID-19 test. As soon as you know of a positive case, tell those in the workplace who may have had contact with the employee while still following the confidentiality rules within the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Follow 29 CFR 1904 to report COVID-19 hospitalizations and fatalities to OSHA and report these illnesses to health departments to conduct contact tracing better.

Actively encourage sick employees to stay home

It's imperative to have employees stay home as soon as they start feeling any COVID-19 symptoms. Common symptoms of COVID-19 include cough, fever, sore throat, diarrhea, and shortness of breath. Ensure employees are aware of sick leave policies and any other medical leave benefits they may be able to take advantage of in case of severe illness.

Conduct daily in-person or virtual health checks

Back your reassurances up by doing daily health checks on employees, whether in-person or virtually. By catching cases early, you prevent further infection and can ask those who had contact with sick employees to isolate as well. Remember to follow the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance to ensure you keep proper confidentiality of any medical records from these checks.

Prohibit handshaking

In the office, create a cultural replacement for physical handshakes like tapping shoes, elbow bumps, and waving, and remind employees that physical touch is risky. Provide polite guidelines for employees to respond to customers or clients who go in for a handshake to have responses ready to go rather than feeling pressured.

Educate employees on how to protect themselves at work and home

Properly educate employees about how they can stay safe even outside of the office. Encourage appropriate use of PPE, explain the benefits of disinfection products such as hand sanitizer with adequate levels of alcohol and regular hand soap, and give them resources to learn more about vaccination efforts and the disease itself. Point to health care providers as excellent sources of information for questions or concerns about COVID-19.

Implement flexible sick leave and supportive policies and practices

Verbally encouraging employees to isolate and stay home if they are sick is essential; however, workers may still feel pressured to come to work without more flexible sick leave and other supportive practices. Changing policies to make sick leave more accessible to workers can help keep people safe. Helping show employees that you truly stand behind your words will make them feel more comfortable asking for the time off they need.

Communicate workplace policies clearly via multiple channels

Rather than just sending a single email out about your policies and guidelines, convey important information to employees through multiple channels. Use Slack or other internal messaging channels. Call and personally share information if possible so that workers can ask questions if needed. Leave packets of information on employee desks, or mail copies to their home if they work hybrid or remote.

Make the Office Space Safer

These next suggestions offer ways to lower the risk of transmission by implementing changes to the space.

Maintain a healthy work environment

Create a work environment that not only champions healthy choices but is as healthy an environment as possible. Conduct a thorough hazard assessment, and ensure all ventilation systems are working as well as possible. Update employees on any changes being made to help create a healthier workplace to keep everyone informed.

Perform routine cleaning and disinfection

Disinfect and clean commonly touched surfaces, such as elevator buttons, handrails, and bathroom fixtures. Make sure these areas are cleaned throughout the workday multiple times. Encourage employees to self-sanitize areas and wash their hands before going to common areas such as print pantries or lunch areas.

Barrier/Partition Controls

Adding barriers or partition controls between workplaces can help provide added protection for employees at higher risk of illness or who may not yet have the vaccine. Putting a physical boundary between workstations can block respiratory droplets that get past masks or protective gear. Barriers can also help employees feel more comfortable in the office when working next to colleagues.

Provide adequate PPE

Personal protective equipment (PPE) plays a vital role in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Face coverings, including masks and face shields, play a big hand in disease control around the office. Wearing gloves can also help prevent spread through commonly touched surfaces such as handrails, doorknobs, or keyboards. Additional PPE may be necessary at jobs where there is a lot of person-to-person interaction, such as in medical settings or customer service roles.

Increase physical space between employees at workspaces

Moving workspaces further apart may not be a viable option, but it can be a great way to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Cubicles can be shifted or turned in patterns to form barriers. If you cannot move the workplaces themselves, consider a hybrid schedule where employees next to each other work on different days of the week to create plenty of space for workers.

Increase physical space between employees and customers

Customers and employees often do not need to be close together. The need for contact will differ across industries, but if it doesn't inhibit an employee's performance, customers should be directed to spaces further away from workers. Moving waiting line guide rails or placing directive stickers on the floor can help customers follow your new temporary policies to keep employees safe.

Use signs, tape marks, or other visual cues

In spaces where creating a guide rail or other physical barriers is impossible, use signage or decals to help direct employees and customers on social distancing recommendations. Floor stickers indicating a six-foot distance between those standing in line or tape marking off-limit areas can help demonstrate where people should stand. Physical barriers will be more successful in getting people to follow instructions correctly, but conscientious people will often follow other visual indicators.

Limit access to common areas

Areas such as lunchrooms and coffee corners often are spaces where employees congregate. To prevent viral spread, ask employees to limit time in these areas or restrict seating in these areas to lower capacity and six feet apart. Adding stickers of visual indicators can remind workers of the policies and keep mingling to a minimum.

Adopt More Flexible Policies

Rethink traditional and outdated policies for happier and healthier employees.

Implement flexible workplaces

Flexible workplaces allow workers to choose options that make them feel most comfortable. Keeping employees happy and productive is crucial, but not all workers will feel safe returning to the office. Some people may need more space and time post-pandemic to recover from their experiences and to feel safe being around others again. Create space for people to come back as they are ready, or you will end up with a stressed and unproductive workforce.

Use flexible work hours

Flexible work hours can be an excellent alternative for workers who have to come back to the office. Allowing workers to stagger shifts keeps fewer workers in the office at any given time. Many employees may have trouble finding childcare or bus routes again right away, so allowing for flexible work hours gives those people the ability to work when they can without creating extra logistical problems.

Implement flexible meeting and travel options

Not all meetings need to be in-person. Zoom and other virtual alternatives have proven highly successful for companies, with many moving to hybrid and online meetings permanently. If there isn't a crucial reason for conferences and events to be in-person, move them online for the safety of attendees, or postpone them altogether if they're non-essential.

Deliver services remotely

One of the best ways to prevent infections is to provide your services remotely rather than in person. If you can meet with clients and provide them with your company's service or product remotely, do so! Even as a temporary move, it will help prevent many contact points for your employees (and clients).

Delay travel

If employees travel for meetings or events, consider postponing these opportunities. Many of these travel opportunities aren't vital and can be dangerous vectors of infection for your workforce. Often your company can meet travel needs through virtual meetings or phone calls. Ask clients to be patient during the pandemic and that things will return to regular operation when it is safe for your employees.

Continuously Monitor Employee Morale

As more companies transition to remote or hybrid work models, it's up to management to ensure employees are keeping up with proper work boundaries. Have supervisors and managers encourage employees to unplug at reasonable hours fully and to use their vacation time. For example, many companies are giving employees half days off on Friday to mitigate stress.

Make Remote Working Safe with WorkChew

The best way to keep employees safe is by allowing them to work remotely. WorkChew is a platform that lets your workforce get out of their homes and into work-focused spaces safely. WorkChew enables you to reserve spots at local hotels and restaurants to work, all while staying socially distanced and safe. WorkChew members even get the benefit of exclusive discounts, too!

Socially distanced workspaces

Reserve socially distanced workspaces where you can eat and work without worry. WorkChew partners with their spaces to create a Safety Pledge Program where all areas must meet requirements such as required masks, social distancing, and hand sanitizer access. By creating comfortable rooms for your employees to work, they can get out of noisy households while still staying safe during the pandemic.

Online reservations

WorkChew facilitates online reservations so that employees can easily claim space in their favorite local spots. The platform also allows for online ordering, so your workforce has limited interaction with staff, creating as safe a situation as possible.

Conclusion

Keeping your employees as safe as possible during the pandemic should be your top priority. By implementing clear and well-communicated guidelines and policies, you can help keep workers safe. Using platforms such as WorkChew can help make hybrid and remote work more accessible and more productive for employees, turning long days at home with loud roommates or family into a peaceful, safe experience with food as needed.

And of course, always remember to follow the CDC and OSHA for the most up-to-date recommendations during the pandemic, and adjust your policies and guidelines as necessary.

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