Fact Finders: Businesses need a plan to reduce the spread of COVID-19

Fact Finders: Businesses plan for reopening after COVID-19

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - As Arizona businesses start to reopen, legal experts say it’s important for owners to create a plan to keep COVID-19 from spreading at their workplace.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires companies to keep a safe work environment, which has changed during COVID-19.

“What do we do to minimize our exposure to our employees and to minimize for the customer?" said Jessica Post.

Post is the director of employment and labor at Fennemore Craig. She said issues can be complicated and deserve significant thought and discussion with legal counsel.

Partial list provided by Post and Fennemore Craig:

1. Social Distancing. Companies need to implement social distancing policies. OSHA and the CDC have issued a variety of recommendations for how social distancing can be accomplished in particular industries. At a general level, employees should not work within six feet of each other, if possible. Employers should also think about areas where employees congregate (e.g., a breakroom) and shut down those areas. Employees who are able to telecommute should continue to do so. Businesses need to consider which other steps to take to reduce human-to-human contact in the workplace (e.g., plexiglass, identifying where customers stand, creating walking lanes, etc.).

2. Cleaning and Disinfecting. Comprehensive cleaning regimens need to stay in place for the foreseeable future. The CDC recently provided new guidance on cleaning and disinfecting workplaces as part of the reopening process. Businesses should review this guidance.

3. Employee Hygiene. Businesses need to make good hygiene easy to accomplish. This means encouraging employees to frequently wash hands, providing hand sanitizer in a variety of places, and making sure that bathrooms and sinks remain well stocked with soap. For example, if an employee interacts with a customer and touches the employee’s credit card, the employee should be able to use hand sanitizer after the contact. Employers should post reminders to employees about the importance of best hygiene practices.

4. Personal Protective Equipment. The guidance on the use of PPE outside the healthcare industry has changed. The CDC now recommends that masks be worn to help prevent the spread of the virus from asymptomatic people. Businesses should consider whether their employees should be allowed to use PPE or be required to use PPE. If an employer is going to require employees to use PPE, OSHA requires that employees be trained on safe use.

“Employers need to encourage how to do this stuff, but also train it and I think customers are expecting it much more, as are employees," said Post.

5. Screening Measures. The EEOC has authorized the use of COVID-19 tests before employees enter the workforce. Employers should adopt screening measures. However, they need to make sure to do so in a legally compliant manner because there are a variety of potential legal pitfalls with each different measure. There are a variety of screening measures available to help ensure an employee is not infected and will not spread COVID-19 upon their return to work. They range from taking an employee’s temperature before entering the workplace to requiring employees to fill out certifications before coming to work confirming that the employee doesn’t have a temperature.

6. Keeping Sick Employees Out of the Workplace. Businesses need to focus on keeping sick employees home. This can be difficult because employees are used to working through illness to keep their paycheck. Nevertheless, it is imperative to keep sick employees out of the workforce or else business owners will see their operations temporarily shut down or potentially find themselves the subject a news story if another employee or customer contracts COVID-19 tracible back to the business.

“Certainly bad publicity for an employer to be accused of having an environment that resulted in COVID-19, a customer catching it," Post said.

There are tools to help employees be paid for time while they are home sick or quarantining, including Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Arizona Paid Sick Leave. Businesses need to be familiar with the laws.

Employees who feel that their employer is not following protocols and have concerns with COVID-19 can file a complaint with OSHA.

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