Best Practices for Returning to Work in a Vaccinated World: Getting Back to Business


INTRODUCTION

For more than a year, the world has reacted to and adjusted for COVID-19. Now, with the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, there is light at the end of the tunnel and individuals and companies can start moving forward and planning for a new normal. As companies in all industries have undoubtedly been affected, employers must remain cognizant of various issues as offices and facilities reopen and employees return to work.

At this critical juncture, it is important to recognize that guidelines and best practices are still changing. Regulatory agencies have issued protocols and guidance, and local, state, and federal governments have passed laws and issued executive orders to guide this process. Identifying and incorporating various safety precautions based on those recommendations may help protect employers and employees alike.

This Best Practices “Guide” is not meant to be an exhaustive analysis; rather, it should be used as a starting point for employers to create or update their policies and practices in conjunction with a thorough analysis of all applicable laws, ordinances, and guidance. This guide covers the following key topics to consider when opening back up or continuing operations:

UNDERSTANDING COVID-19: One Year Later

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. At that time, everyone knew much less about the symptoms, transmission, and impact associated with the virus. One year later, while there are still unknowns about COVID-19, there is more developed data on the effects, a more robust understanding of how it spreads, and more options for minimizing its transmission.

Transmission of COVID-19

COVID-19 Vaccines

CONSIDERATIONS FOR REOPENING

As restrictions are lifted, employers face the critical task of balancing reopening against reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Understanding that there is no perfect equilibrium with this complex scale, this section outlines various suggestions for employers to consider when opening or reopening the workplace.

Set up a Task Force

Develop a Plan for Opening or Reopening

PREPARING FOR REOPENING A FACILITY

For companies and facilities that were closed and have not reopened, or companies and facilities that have been operating at limited capacities, it is important to consider various sanitation procedures and future processes that will make reopening (or expansion of operations) as safe as possible. These processes and procedures should be communicated to the workforce prior to reopening.

Sanitize and Disinfect

Selecting and Using Cleaning Products

Face Mask Use

Social Distancing Measures

Workplace Reconfigurations and Changes

Allowing Visitors, Contractors, and Vendors

WORKING WITH EMPLOYEES

Due to companies allowing employees to work from home, operating at reduced capacities, and temporarily closing, many employers will be confronted with different return-to-work scenarios. In all scenarios, employers should clearly inform employees of expectations, and should refer to local and state orders and regulations, and any of the employer’s existing policies, for additional guidance.

Returning to Work

Employees Who Would Rather Stay Home

Permanent Teleworking Requests

Employer Policies on Safety, PPE and Face Coverings

Additional Considerations for Changes to Existing Policies

VACCINATIONS

With vaccinations becoming increasingly available, employers face unprecedented questions regarding their ability to require vaccinations and what corresponding documentation an employer can request. Employers should review CDC and other federal, state, and local public health guidelines regarding vaccines in connection with the specific considerations discussed below.

INDEMNIFICATION LAWS/DEVELOPMENTS

Employers should also be aware of statutory changes in many states creating indemnification from liability for COVID-related claims associated with employees who contract COVID-19 in the workplace.

OPERATING IN A CHANGING REGULATORY ENVIRONMENT

Executive orders, ordinances, guidelines, and laws at all levels are regularly issued and passed to respond to the changing circumstances of COVID-19. These laws and guidance are constantly changing, and it is imperative for employers to stay current on changing obligations. Also, there may be industry-specific requirements (e.g., restaurants and bars, health care, manufacturing, etc.) that employers must follow.

In addition to using this Best Practices Guide as a starting point, employers should continually monitor applicable guidelines, including those issued by the WHO, the CDC, and OSHA; and federal, state, and local laws and orders. Foley’s Coronavirus Resource Center: Back to Business is another resource to monitor, as it effectively addresses the short- and long-term impacts on business interests, operations, and objectives.

Other resources that may be helpful include the following:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-covid-spreads.html

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/effectiveness-research/protocols.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/keythingstoknow.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/vaccine-benefits.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/returning-to-work.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-covid-spreads.html

https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-forms/pages/covid-19-back-to-work-checklist.aspx

https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-coronavirus-covid-19

https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/pandemic-preparedness-workplace-and-americans-disabilities-act

https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/people-managers/pages/managers-and-covid-vaccine.aspx

http://www.eeoc.gov/wysk/what-you-should-know-about-covid-19-and-ada-rehabilitation-act-and-other-eeo-laws

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/recommendations/essentialworker/workplace-vaccination-program.html

https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus

https://www.osha.gov/news/newsreleases/national/11182020

https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus/faqs

https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus/safework


© 2024 Foley & Lardner LLP
National Law Review, Volumess XI, Number 103