After three months of COVID19 shut down, the nation is edging toward a re-opening of business. But this will be business 2.0, as we are not yet returning to the working world that existed prior to the pandemic. Much has changed, with many of the changes likely to be with us for some time.
Employers face significant challenges in resuming business operations. There is a long check list of new safety requirements involving the wearing of masks, social distancing, washing hands, etc. The physical environment may require re-working to accommodate the new standards. These are significant issues in themselves, but perhaps even more important from a workers compensation perspective is the status of the workforce: Are people ready to return to the workplace?
The Workers Compensation Challenge: A Safe Workplace
For many businesses, employees will be returning to work after a three-month hiatus that was both unexpected and highly stressful. Valued employees may approach the work environment with apprehension and fear: is the workplace safe? Have co-workers followed safety protocols? Are employees with compromised health issues side by side with asymptomatic carriers?
Employers face a dual challenge: making the work environment safe and making sure that workers feel safe and secure.
One on One
Each employee brings unique sensitivities to the return-to-work situation. It’s a good idea to meet with workers, one on one, to make sure that they are comfortable resuming their jobs. This can be a tricky conversation, as employers must be careful to avoid inappropriate questions about a worker’s health. (The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission offers detailed guidance in dealing with COVID19-related disability issues.)
- Have you been careful in public spaces, wearing a mask consistently and practicing appropriate distancing?
- Are you aware of any contact with an individual diagnosed with the COVID19 virus? (Any positive answers require further discussion!)
- Do you have any specific concerns about returning to work? And if so, are there ways we can help?
- Are there specific accommodations that would make you feel safer at work?
Do not ask:
- Are you vulnerable to COVID19 due to a pre-existing condition?
- Are you being treated for any condition that puts you at high risk for the virus?
- Are you depressed?
If the employee volunteers information in these areas, carefully limit your discussion to their ability to perform the work, with or without reasonable accommodation.
The COVID19 Challenge
Returning to work presents challenges to employers and workers alike. By keeping the lines of communication open and by staying alert to guidance from local, state and federal officials, we can ensure that re-opening will evolve into staying open.
Senior Workers Compensation Consultant
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