Hi ho hi ho – it’s back to work we go

Employers need to prepare before employees return to the office

By Natalie Brandt

Many employers are re-opening their doors and bringing employees back. Some companies will make physical attendance optional, others mandatory. Either way, it is crucial that employers take measures to protect their employees and themselves. And to do that well, employers need to be nimble and informed about the fast-evolving landscape around Covid-19, including laws, regulations, and medicine.

Today, no Covid-19 vaccine exists that’s ready to be administered to the public. But what happens when a vaccine is available? Should you – the employer – demand workers get vaccinated? What if someone objects? What happens when you make an exception for an employee when everyone else got vaccinated? What if a worker has a negative reaction to the vaccine you made them get?

These are not esoteric queries. The EEOC requires that you treat folks fairly. And workers’ compensation insurance may cover a worker’s claim for an allergic reaction to a mandatory vaccine. The ADA requires that you accommodate employees who may have some unexpected Covid-related impairment.

The good news is that none of these vaccine-specific issues is a problem anyone must solve today. The bad news, of course, is that no population-ready vaccine exists yet. But the above enumerated questions underscore just how vigilant employers will need to be as this landscape continues to rapidly change.

Here are some at-your-fingertips things to consider and put into practice as you welcome back employees:

Brush up on current regulations

  • OSHA
  • EEOC
  • ADA

 

Get to know the new regulations

  • FFCRA, which provides for paid leave for certain Covid-related circumstances
  • FMLA leave policies extended related to Covid-19

 

Know the policies about mandatory screening

  • It is ok to require a negative Covid-19 test, but not the antibody test
  • The Department of Labor has a helpful and current online resource: https://www.dol.gov/coronavirus

 

Have solid and widely visible policies about Covid-related safety protocols

 

Consider appointing a Covid-19 task force

  • Ensure employees have open lines of communication about concerns and questions

 

If occupying shared space, such as an office building, employers must shore up communication with building management or the landlord about safety precautions in common areas. After all, your employees are YOUR employees.

 

Worker safety is priority one. Full stop. But employers should be mindful of new avenues of liability. This is uncharted territory, and some things will simply get worked out through future litigation. If you must bring people back, do so carefully and thoughtfully. If you can continue to embrace remote work, then do it. Be willing to operate in new ways.

As Wright Connatser goes back to the office – cautiously – we will continue to share what we learn, how the legal landscape changes, and tricks of the trade. Check back soon for more, and please consider sharing with us your wisdom on this important matter.