Top Questions about Returning to the Workplace

As New York and the rest of the country are entering different phases of reopening business, here are some of the answers to top questions we have heard from speaking with our clients.

1. Does the company have the right to ask about my health history and take my temperature?

Employers are allowed to ask about coronavirus-related symptoms and take the temperatures of employees under guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

If temperature-taking at the workplace is the organization’s new policy, the time spent being tested and waiting for a test is considered part of the workday, and the process should be well thought out to eliminate crowding.

2. Will everyone wear a mask? Do I have to wear one?

Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines, individuals should wear face masks to slow the spread of the virus. Many employers are making face coverings part of the work uniform, especially for jobs that require physical proximity. Employers are required to provide for the masks and other protective equipment, depending on the nature of the work.

3. What happens if an employee or if someone in an employee’s family gets sick? Will employees get paid for time off?

Employers need to understand state and federal sick laws fully. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which provides paid sick leave for people affected by COVID-19, as well as paid emergency family leave, can provide paid time off for most employees.

Employers should make changes in their existing leave policy to accommodate such requests.

4. What social distancing protocols should employers follow?

As offices reopen, employers will comply with federal, state, and local directives on social distancing. Employers may need to consider staggering work hours and alternating days of work for different groups, shifts, or teams of employees to reduce the number of employees on site. Employers may want to:

  • Evaluate layouts of working space and consider making sure hallways and stairs have one way marked with arrows if social distancing guidelines cannot be met.

  • Use plexiglass shields or other barriers to minimize distances in the workplace, as recommended by the EEOC.

  • Develop protocols to avoid crowding in elevators.

  • Close or modify certain common areas, such as lunchrooms, time clock stations, and workplace fitness centers, so that employees can socially distance as per OSHA guidelines.

  • Provide additional sharing equipment and supplies before beginning to bring employees back onsite to avoid gathering in one place.

5. What policies need to be updated as employees return to work?

Employers should consider whether their existing policies need modification to ensure compliance with all newly enacted laws. Remote and telework policies may also need to be reviewed or added. Employers might consider a COVID related handbook for all employees.

This handbook should have detailed policies on what to do when an employee becomes symptomatic, tests positive, or is potentially exposed to COVID-19. The policy should inform employees of the measures taken to ensure employee safety, regarding containment measures such as mandatory temperature monitoring, hand washing, and face mask usage also need to be implemented and provided to employees prior to their return to work when possible.

Employers should also proactively suggest new forms of greeting each other to avoid handshaking, hugs, back slaps, and other forms of physical contact in which people may engage out of longstanding habit. Offer non-contact ideas such as hand waves or other such gestures that signal positivity without touching each other.