How to prepare your business for operating after COVID-19 shutdowns, restrictions

October 10, 2023

The end of COVID-19 shutdowns may be near.While stay-at-home orders still are in effect, businesses can begin planning now for when those restrictions are lifted.For some businesses, that might mean furloughed workers are called back or rehiring people who have been laid off. Others may need to prepare for a gradual return to full operations. Many businesses have decisions to make regarding how to re-integrate employees who have been working remotely for weeks.County and state orders largely will determine how and when businesses can take those steps and what restrictions will remain in place.We’ve put together some tips to help employers move back toward their pre-pandemic operation.

  • Continue to incorporate flexible scheduling options and work-from-home arrangements when possible to accommodate situations in which employees are not able to return to work or have health concerns about doing so.
  • Ensure employees are aware of the additional paid sick leave options that are available to them through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The provisions of the law are in effect through the remainder of 2020.
  • Consider placing employees on a rotation, such as alternating weeks of working on site and remotely, to maintain social distancing and limiting exposure to coworkers.
  • Incorporate employee screening practices, including taking temperatures and implementing or increasing enforcement of policies that prevent people who are sick from coming to work or continuing to perform job functions.
  • Plan for transitions to be gradual and employees to be brought back in phases. Health experts caution about returning to pre-pandemic form too quickly for fear of ongoing spread of the coronavirus.
OSHA guidelines

Employers also have obligations under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s General Duty Clause to create a work environment that greatly reduces health and safety risks in the workplace that could cause serious physical harm or death.Adhering to those guidelines could be as simple as performing routine worksite cleaning and sanitation, including cleaning all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops and doorknobs.Some may choose to have their place of business professionally cleaned more frequently to further ensure cleanliness.Employees should be advised to frequently wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth. Having alcohol-based hand sanitizer available for employees to use is another good practice.

Employee screenings

State and local orders will dictate how and at what pace businesses return to their normal operations.As stay-at-home orders gradually get lifted, businesses still may have to incorporate measures to reduce the risk of illness spreading in the workplace, such as social distancing, screening employees before they start work each day, or having employees wear masks and other personal protective equipment.Employers need to have protocols in place for screening employees – whether done under mandate or voluntarily. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says employers are allowed to take employee screenings and ask the following questions with regard to COVID-19 detection:

  • Has the person been diagnosed with COVID-19?
  • Has he or she been tested for the virus?
  • Is the person experiencing symptoms including sore throat, cough, fever, chills or shortness of breath?
  • Has the employee had direct contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19?
  • Has the employee had direct contact with anyone demonstrating COVID-19 symptoms?

Employees who answer “yes” to any of those questions or doesn’t want to comply with the screening procedures can be sent home from work.For this purpose, these inquiries should focus on COVID-19 and not be associated with other illnesses or health conditions.Be consistent with screenings, and don’t single out a single person of a specific group of people.Social distancing measures also should be taken while employees are waiting to be screened. Measures to mitigate the risk to the person conducting the screening should be taken as well.If screenings are required, non-exempt employees should be compensated for time spent waiting to be screened.A person who is sent home due to symptoms or a positive test related to COVID-19 could classify as a qualifying event for paid sick leave under FFCRA. Seeking a medical diagnosis for COVID-19 also qualifies for paid sick leave under the act.Learn more: EEOC pandemic preparednessEmployers should follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for allowing employees to return to work following a COVID-19 diagnosis.

Form I-9 requirements

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security made temporary changes to Form I-9 review processes during the COVID-19 pandemic by relaxing the requirement for employers to review I-9 documents for new employees in person.Employees who were hired using remote verification during the pandemic must report to their employer for in-person verification within three business days after normal on-site operations resume.Employers also must follow E-Verify protocols when bringing employees back to work. Businesses have had the option to delay creating new E-Verify cases due to COVID-19 precautions.Tentative non-conformation issues will need to be resolved. Employers have been granted extended time frames to resolve those issues during the coronavirus pandemic. Tentative non-conformations arise when employee information does not match information in federal records.About us: As the Heartland’s leading employer services company, Syndeo partners with local business owners to help them minimize risk, improve efficiency and maximize profitability allowing them the freedom to focus on growth and fulfilling their mission. Syndeo fulfills its mission by taking on all of the HR responsibilities for our clients’ workforce, including employee relations, benefits, risk management and payroll.Winner of the 2020 Best of HR Services Award through ClearlyRated for providing superior client service. See our ClearlyRated profile here.

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