Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Do You Need a Return to the Workplace Policy?

Now that many employers are comfortable with employees teleworking, it’s time to plan a return to the workplace.

The Governor as well as the CDC, Illinois Department of Public Health, OSHA, and a variety of other public agencies have issued guidelines for health and safety requirements in the workplace for various industries. Employers need to follow those guidelines and in turn, employees need to know the new guidelines for their behavior. After all, whether employees have been teleworking, or on furlough or laid off for these last few months, or even if they have been going to a modified workplace, the workplace is different than it was three months ago.

This is the purpose of the Return to the Workplace Policy. A number of new rules now exist in the old workplace, from hygiene and social distancing requirements to notification requirements by employees. You can’t effectively enforce the new rules unless your employees first know what they are.

Let’s first address what a return to the workplace policy is not. It is not necessarily the place to identify the employer’s obligations, such as more frequent cleaning of the worksite, or installing better ventilation. While this is likely information that may set employees’ minds at greater ease and should be conveyed to them, it does not belong in the policy. Rather, employees want to know about their workday and what they have to do. So, the policy should include the employer’s expectations on hygiene protocol in the workplace, social distancing, use of common areas and equipment (i.e., the copy machine and the coffee machine), visitors, and reporting when an employee or family member is sick, believes to be exposed or has received a positive COVID-19 test and what will happen if any of those situations occur. The policy should also address concerns of employees or family members who are at higher risk of exposure. Those with underlying disabilities are entitled to a reasonable accommodation which might be as simple as reassigning their desk, creating more of a barrier from others, or allowing them to telework a while longer, provided that the accommodation does not create an undue hardship on the employer.

Equally as important as the particulars of a return to workplace policy is the commitment to modify it as we understand more about avoiding exposure to the virus. One thing is certain, though; almost everyone feels better once they know the rules.

The labor and employment attorneys at Ancel Glink can help you prepare a Return to the Workplace Policy that fits your particular workplace. For assistance, contact Margaret Kostopulos at; Bob McCabe at; Matt DiCianni at; or the Ancel Glink attorney with whom you regularly work.