Here are 4 steps HR professionals can take to help ensure employee safety during COVID-19.
Here's what you need to know:
- Your employees will expect you to have clear policies around PPE and conduct. Communicate guidelines and instructions well ahead of time
- While some roles will have to remain “in person,” there are others which can be easily done from home if your technology is set up to support digital work
- Consider who you’re calling back into the office. If it’s someone who’s the primary caretaker of a family and they have nobody to watch their children and no available daycare, you may face risk and liability
- Companies that are ready to have people back in the office should contract or hire healthcare staff to take care of temperature testing and other safety precautions
- Seek legal counsel from someone who specializes in employment law if needed
- Follow OSHA guidelines and act with compassion and flexibility
As many companies begin to have their employees return to the office, COVID-19 outbreaks continue to remain high across the United States. Naturally, your employees may feel nervous about coming back into a physical work space. As an HR professional, it is your responsibility to listen to the voices and concerns of your employees. Let’s discuss how you can help them feel better and safer about returning to the office.
Create policies around PPE and office safety
Your employees will expect you to have clear policies around personal protective equipment. They’ll also want instructions on how they should be conducting themselves in the office. For example, will wearing a mask in the office be mandatory? Or, if an employee tests positive for COVID-19, what will the protocol be for the rest of your employees? Office guidelines and instructions should be communicated well ahead of time. This way, employees know that you’re considering their safety as top priority.
If you’re creating policies around returning to the office, involve your employees and get a better understanding of:
- Their health needs and concerns
- How their working habits have changed
- What they really need from the office upon return
Anessa Fike, CEO and Founder of Fike+Co says to “consider what will allow your employees to feel safe. Roll out one or several employee surveys to gather this information from your workforce. Allow them to tell you what will work for them. Now is not the time to develop top down policies and procedures. If your company can support it — try to be as flexible as you can during the next year.”
By creating open dialogue and addressing your employee’s concerns directly, you may be able to mitigate problems before they arise.
Assess the actual need for employees to return to the office
This has been a unique test for organizations that may have been resistant in letting their employees work from home. While some roles will have to remain “in person,” there are others which can be easily done from home if your technology is set up to support digital work.
Fike says “If employees can do their jobs virtually, there is absolutely no reason that you should have them return to work until there is a vaccine and more widely available testing.”
“If employees can do their jobs virtually, there is absolutely no reason that you should have them return to work until there is a vaccine and more widely available testing.”
If you do decide to have people return to the office, Fike suggests you “Allow people accommodations when you can, and try to be flexible and creative with what you can provide for them.”
As a member of the HR team, you need to take into consideration who you’re calling back into the office. If someone is the primary caretaker of a family and they have nobody to watch their children and no available daycare, you may face risk and liability if you call them back, employment law expert Adam Savaglio said in an interview with CBC.
Consider your organizational capacities
If your HR team does not have the bandwidth to enforce new policies around safety, then you should reconsider having people return to the office.
In the interview with CBC, Savaglio recommended delaying having people return to workspaces as long as you can. He said that “If you are in an essential business then you have to return. It’s easy to call back employees but now you have to make sure the workplace is safe for everyone who is returning.”
“Companies that are ready to have people back in the office should also be ready to contract or hire healthcare staff to take care of temperature testing and other COVID-related safety precautions.”
Fika says that “Companies that are ready to have people back in the office should also be ready to contract or hire healthcare staff to take care of temperature testing and other COVID-related safety precautions. Small companies that may only have a people team of 1 or 2 members should ask themselves if those people are able to fully do their jobs well — and have the additional burden of COVID-related tasks.”
Remember that as an HR professional, you are not a healthcare worker and should not be asked to act as one.
If you’re not sure what your organization is capable of, or liable for, seek legal counsel from someone who specializes in employment law. What is required from you as an employer, and what your employee’s rights are may vary from state to state so it’s important to consult help when needed.
Follow OSHA guidelines
This time is challenging for both sides. Remember to act with compassion and flexibility as you transition your team back to the office. Based on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines, your role as an organization is to:
- Take basic infection prevention measures
- Encourage people to stay home when they are sick
- Stay flexible with your employees
- Remove any hazards
- Educate your team on how you can all be safe together in the workplace
If you’re unable to meet the above guidelines, you may be pulling the trigger and returning to the office before you’re ready to deal with the risks.