Measures Companies Can Take to Ensure their Employees are Safe
The pandemic has upended businesses, forcing some to shutter temporarily and others to facilitate remote working. But now, in conversations with corporate executives, I hear one question consistently asked: How can I assure my employees that their workplace is safe?
I’ve thought a lot about this question and consulted the experts at OSHA and the CDC. While your organization will have specific and unique needs based on the service you deliver and the amount of contact between employees and the public, there are certain critical steps you can take to send a clear message to your workers that you are prioritizing their safety.
Your first step will be to create new corporate policies to ensure the health and well-being of your employees—and your customers. I always recommend that you begin by consulting state and local health departments to confirm that your requirements comply with health officials’ guidelines and regulations.
In some cases, your employees have been working remotely for a year or more, and many will understandably be reluctant to come back. Recognize that this transition may create a hardship—your workers may need to arrange for childcare or undertake a longer commute, as only two examples. Clear policies will help reinforce your expectations—and demonstrate that you value their safety.
Begin with a plan—a plan to reflect that it’s no longer “business as usual.” Consider these fundamental questions to help you get started:
- Will we require proof of vaccination—and what will our policy be for unvaccinated employees?
- Will we periodically screen employees with temperature checks or another form of testing? When, where, and how often?
- Will we require masks—and if so, where? Throughout the workplace? In all public spaces? In elevators and stairs? In hallways?
- What will our meeting policy be? Will we require masks? Limit attendance? Reconfigure chairs to promote safe distances between attendees?
- What will our policy be for visitors and vendors? Will we require them to sign a form confirming that they do not have any symptoms and have not been exposed to the coronavirus? Will we require temperature checks on entry to our office or facility?
- How will we ensure compliance with these new policies?
With your safety framework in place, you’re now ready to create clear policies to demonstrate to your employees that their safety matters. Here are a few specific steps that all organizations should consider:
Promote vaccination. Because vaccination is a key step in protecting your employees, make it easy. Circulate messages or videos from C-suite executives and other workers who have been vaccinated sharing their vaccine status. Grant paid time-off for employees to get vaccinated and to recover from any side effects. Businesses with fewer than 500 employees may be eligible for tax credits under the American Rescue Plan if they provide this paid time-off for vaccination.
Provide safe spaces. Reconfigure your workplace as a visible demonstration to your employees that you are investing in their safety. Install plastic barriers around desks. Make sure that contactless hand sanitizer is plentiful and available in multiple locations. If masks are required, provide disposable masks at your entrances and in any public areas. In break rooms, cafeterias, and other communal spaces, install tables with shields so that your employees can safely remove their masks to eat and drink. Provide visual cues—floor markings and signs—to remind employees to maintain a safe distance and to wear a mask when required.
Revisit your sick leave policy. Your sick leave policy must be clear, flexible, and non-punitive. Make sure that employees are never encouraged to come to work when they are sick. When possible, extend the number of paid sick days you offer employees or facilitate pooled sick days so that departments have additional paid sick leave available when a worker becomes ill. Ensure that employees also have access to family leave or remote work options if they need to care for a family member who has been exposed.
Improve ventilation. Ensure that your HVAC systems are operating properly with regular inspections. Maximize ventilation when possible by opening doors or windows. In workplaces with limited ventilation or high occupancy, you may wish to consider portable air cleaners with High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters.
Increase cleaning. This is especially critical for high-touch services (door handles, elevator buttons, handrails, keyboards) and frequently used spaces. Provide disposable wipes so that your employees can wipe down commonly used surfaces before use.
Actions matter. Replace handshakes with elbow bumps or other non-contact greetings. Encourage your managers and department heads to use phrases like “I’m practicing social distancing” and take a step back to ensure that employees feel comfortable following the same practice.
Crowd control. Stagger break times, working hours, and arrival and departure times whenever possible to avoid crowding in hallways, elevators, and break rooms. Allow flex schedules so that employees can commute during off-peak times.
Identify your expert. Appoint a workplace coordinator who will be responsible for overseeing coronavirus measures in your organization and providing contact tracing when an employee becomes ill.
These policies and protocols should become a fundamental part of your employee training. As with any significant change in corporate policy, communication will be vital. Make sure that new policies are explained clearly and consistently. Remember that your employees will want to understand what’s expected and may need time to adjust to significant changes.
As a recruiting expert, I see how much confusion there is around expectations of workplace safety in this post-pandemic world. I encourage the candidates I work with to ask questions specific to their own concerns, and I recommend that employers include these safety protocols in their onboarding for new hires. It’s also important to periodically revisit your safety policies to make sure that they are up to date and in compliance with local health guidelines.
Employees need to feel safe as they return to their workplace. Employers need to recognize those concerns—and respond.