Over the last several months the Covid-19 pandemic has shut down many businesses across the country-slowing down the world's entire economy. However, with decreases in the number of cases and government mandated safeguards, businesses are re-opening again all over the country. Before you reopen your business, you should consider what steps you need to take to minimize employer liability when your employees return to work. Despite a lot of uncertainty, there are a few easy steps that employers can take to protect their employees and protect themselves from potential liability during the Covid-19 crisis.
Few things make employees more anxious than a lack of information from management. Some events necessitate providing as much information to your employees as possible, to help keep morale high and risk of liability low. First, if you have put new procedures in place, like requiring a temperature check or offering telecommuting options, draft clear and easy-to-understand guidance and provide it to all employees. Communicate clearly when policies and procedural changes will take effect. Second, if an employee tests positive for Covid-19, let employees know that someone has tested positive for Covid-19 and explain what steps you are taking to sanitize necessary areas and limit additional exposure. (See the CDC’s Guide for Cleaning and Disinfection here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/cleaning-disinfection.html). Conduct contact tracing and notify employees who have been in close contact with the employee who tested positive. Lastly, assure employees that you care about their health and safety, and remind them of all the measures you are taking to make the work environment as safe as possible.
- Implement Screening Procedures.
Screenings such as a daily temperature and symptom check can help identify individuals who may be infected before they come into contact with co-workers. This can be easily accomplished with a no-touch thermometer and a few simple questions. If an employee has a fever or is exhibiting symptoms of Covid-19, they should go home until they are well. You should also encourage employees who are not feeling well to stay home, even if they don’t believe they have been exposed to Covid-19. Keep an eye on the CDC’s Travel Health Notices (https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel) and ask employees who have traveled to destinations with particularly high risk of Covid-19 to stay home as much as possible, and implement other safety measures such as wearing a mask, monitoring symptoms, and distancing at least six feet when staying home is not an option.
- Stay in the Know.
When feasible, appoint a member of your organization to spend time staying up to date on state and local regulations, and assure that your organization is in compliance. If you do not already have a compliance team, call one of our experienced attorneys at Andrews, Crabtree to help make sure you are up to date with current mandates and regulations related to Covid-19 policies and procedure, and to ensure compliance with the ADA, ADEA, FMLA, FLSA, and FFCRA. Stay on top of best practices and guidance from the CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html), EEOC (https://www.eeoc.gov/coronavirus), OSHA (https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf), and other state and local health authorities. Of course, if you have a question, ask! We are all in uncharted territory. Gathering information and staying up to date is an important step in protecting the health and safety of your employees and protecting yourself from liability. Reach out to your local health authority or the Florida Department of Health (https://floridahealthcovid19.gov/) when appropriate.
If you would like assistance shielding your business or organization from liability, feel free to reach out Andrews, Crabtree, Knox & Longfellow. We are a team of experienced advocates and advisers who are here to help with any labor and employment needs that may arise, during Covid-19 and beyond.