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As California businesses look to reopen safely amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we begin to face unprecedented challenges. Employers struggle to keep both customers and employees safe and informed while the latest state, county, and sector-specific guidelines are continually evolving.

What are the best practices for ensuring the safety of employees, clients, and customers? While businesses able to reopen at this time vary, there are a few general principles each industry should follow.

 

Face Coverings

On June 18, 2020, the California Department of Public Health mandated that face coverings be worn statewide by the general public when outside the home. This is part of the larger effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as there is scientific evidence that the use of cloth face coverings by the public helps to reduce the release of infectious particles into the air when someone speaks, coughs, or sneezes. While coverings are not a substitute for social distancing, washing hands, and staying home when you feel sick, they may be helpful when combined with these measures.

There are people, however, who are exempt from this rule including – but not limited to – children under 2, those with a medical condition that prevents the wearing of a covering, those who are hearing impaired or communicating with someone who is, and those engaged in outdoor work or recreation. If someone on your team falls into one of the exempt categories, an alternative to wearing a face covering could be to wear a face shield with a drape on the bottom edge if their condition permits it.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommends that employers encourage employees to wear face coverings in the workplace, if possible. The question of whether a face covering is considered personal protective equipment (PPE) and should be provided by the employer free of charge, has been hotly debated; however, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not designate face coverings as PPE. While every circumstance is different, if your operations require your employees to come into direct contact with the public, or if the employer requires employees to wear face coverings while at work, we suggest to err on the conservative side and provide face coverings (employer-paid) to all impacted staff.

For further criteria specific to your industry, see CDPH COVID-19 Industry Guidance.

 

Employee Screening

For employees to return to work safely, many employers are implementing screening processes that include temperature checks
and the completion of a basic health questionnaire upon starting their shift. If an employee reports common symptoms related to COVID-19 such as dry cough, shortness of breath, loss of taste and smell, and/or fever over 100.3, the employee should not be
allowed to work and advised to seek medical care.  Keep in mind, employers with less than 500 employees may be required to provide up to 80 hours of paid sick leave for employees who are experiencing COVID related symptoms and/or exposure under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. And finally, if you have employees who are working effectively from home, it’s not a bad idea to allow them to continue remote work as we gingerly maneuver this new landscape.

 

Social Distancing and Cleaning

During the staged approach to reopening, businesses should follow certain guidelines to promote social distancing within their work environment which may include:

  • Moving workstations and furniture to achieve at least six feet of social distancing for office employees.
  • Signage at each public entrance to inform customers and clients to maintain a distance of at least six feet apart and to refrain from entering if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Installation of plexiglass in conference or intake rooms where interaction with clients is ongoing and required.
  • Limiting the number of employees in the workplace by implementing staggered work shifts and/or workdays.
  • Continue to promote the use of video conferencing, especially for recurring meetings, even if your teams are physically located in the office, to encourage social distancing and reduce the chance of exposure.

 

In order to promote proper hand hygiene and sanitation, businesses must ensure that handwashing or sanitation stations are available throughout their office/facility. High contact items such as kitchen appliances and office equipment, should be sanitized regularly throughout the day. Increased support from your janitorial partner/vendor is expected and will be needed for the foreseeable future.

 

 

Still using traditional time clocks?  Consider moving to an attendance tracking system housed on an employee’s individual computer or mobile device. Managing a large volume of daily mail? Consider switching to paperless billing and utilizing online services wherever possible. And if your employees are still congregating in the breakroom, implement protocols to limit capacity or consider closing the breakroom all together (Yes, we know that will be an unpopular decision, but very helpful in combating community spread).

 

Conclusion

Reopening and maintaining a safe working environment during a pandemic is a huge concern for business owners as well as the employees and clients/customers that they serve. Lower-risk businesses with the ability to open during this phase should prepare, implement, and post the required reopening protocols applicable to their business.

However, no matter how prepared a business may be, some aspects of reopening may be more difficult than expected, and quick decision-making skills will be required to overcome these obstacles. If something goes against your plan, quickly acknowledge the mistake and let your employees and clients/customers know how you are making it right. Listening to them during this time will be critical for future success.

Experts predict that a vaccine is still many months out so employers must prepare for the long haul.  And what if – after you return to normal business – an employee tests positive for COVID-19?  What are your obligations and responsibilities?  We’ll cover that on our next blog post.

 

For more information, or to keep up with the rapidly-changing variances, please visit the following resources:

Center for Disease Control (CDC) Employer Resources

California Department of Public Health

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Business Reopening

To learn more about Exalt Resources and how we can assist your business, please contact us at info@exaltresources.com or (562) 920-2853.

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