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How to Return to Work Safely During COVID-19 (with Checklist)

Preparing to bring your team back into work?
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Return to Work Checklist

Key Points about returning to work during COVID-19:

  • New policies and practices will help you face the new normal, stay compliant, and keep your employees and customers safe.
  • A comprehensive return to work plan includes policies for cleaning and sanitizing, social distancing, interacting with customers, and more. 
  • Download our Return to Work Checklist. It includes best practices for safely reopening your business during COVID-19.

As the United States eases COVID-19 business restrictions and stay-at-home orders, many businesses are taking the opportunity to reopen their doors and return to work. If your company is planning to reopen soon, a return to work plan will help you navigate business continuity and limit safety risks. Your plan will vary depending on your business and industry, but our Return to Work Checklist outlines best practices to help you stay compliant and, most importantly, keep your employees safe. 

Cleaning & Sanitizing

According to the latest information from health officials, the virus that causes COVID-19 can linger on surfaces for days. However, contact with shared surfaces is not the main way the virus spreads. Regardless, regular cleaning and sanitizing can reduce the risk of spreading the disease. 

Follow CDC guidance to properly disinfect your workplace and inform your employees of the measures they can take to do their part. You should:

  • Limit the sharing of personal items (staplers, pens, etc.)
  • Reduce contact with shared surfaces, machines, and equipment (lunch room refrigerators, printers, etc.)
  • Clearly outline cleaning procedures, such as who needs to clean the surface, when it needs to be cleaned, and how to clean it
  • Place cleaning stations stocked with sanitizer, wipes, and other supplies around the workplace
  • Improve ventilation in closed rooms to reduce virus transmission
  • Train employees on COVID-19 and how to prevent it (proper handwashing, good hygiene, etc.)
  • Post notices that detail your COVID-19 cleaning procedures and expectations

Social Distancing

The CDC recommends maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet between people to limit the spread of, and exposure to, COVID-19. This can be difficult in the workplace, especially ones with limited space. Use these tips to help your workplace follow social distancing guidelines:

  • Move desks or workstations so they’re at least 6 feet apart
  • Construct temporary partitions between desks or workstations
  • Limit the number of people allowed in one room at a time
  • Discourage physical contact, including handshakes
  • Avoid in-person meetings by conducting virtual meetings and online interviews
  • Continue remote work for nonessential employees
  • Create flexible schedules or staggered shifts to limit the amount of people in the workplace at one time
  • Allow time off flexibility so employees can use available leave as needed
  • Pause all nonessential business travel

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is required in some regions and industries. Check your local guidance to see if it’s required for your business. Even if it isn’t, you may still want to develop your own PPE policies to help keep everyone safe. Include the following in your return to work plan: 

  • If you will require employees to wear PPE
  • What types of PPE employees must wear (face masks*, face shields, sneeze guards, gloves, etc.)
  • When employees must wear PPE
  • If you will supply PPE for your employees

*Please note that cloth face masks or coverings are not considered PPE. However, the CDC and WHO recommend cloth face masks and coverings for the general public.

Interacting with Vendors, Clients, & Customers

How often you interact with vendors, clients, and customers varies depending on your industry and business. The following practices can help you balance operations and safety:

  • Prohibit non-employees from entering your workspace
  • Ask vendors to leave deliveries outside the door instead of inside
  • Hold virtual meetings or conference calls with clients (instead of in-person ones)
  • Arrange pick-up, carry-out, or drive-through services to limit exposure to non-employees
  • Construct temporary barriers (like sneeze shields) between employees and customers
  • Limit the number of customers in your workplace at one time
  • Place arrows on the ground to direct customers through your facility and enforce social distancing
  • Place tape or other markers 6 feet apart to help customers maintain healthy distance while waiting in lines
  • Post notices detailing your COVID-19 operating procedures in a visible place

Monitoring Employee Health 

Even under normal circumstances, sick employees should stay at home and return to work only when they’re fully recovered. Now it’s even more important to keep track of your employees and whether they’re coming to work sick. These practices can help you ensure healthy employees stay safe and sick employees stay home to get the rest they need:

  • Provide psychological and emotional support for all employees
  • Assess your employees’ health status with the help of medical and legal professionals. Options include antigen testing, antibody testing, body temperature checks, etc.
  • Send sick employees home immediately
  • Develop an infectious disease management plan
  • Develop a response plan in case an employee tests positive for COVID-19

*Please note provisions under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC).During a pandemic, they cannot restrict employers in their efforts to limit the spread of an infectious disease. 

Additional Compliance

Safety is the top priority when developing a return to work plan, but compliance is essential as well. Your plan should comply with local, state, and federal laws. It should also accommodate Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) recommendations. When drafting your return to work plan with your legal advisor, you should:

  • Comply with local, state, and federal laws (especially for any employees you rehire or recall from furlough under the CARES Act)
  • Post your new policies and expectations for all employees to see and acknowledge
  • Implement OSHA recommendations for COVID-19
  • Consider ADA and EEOC requirements
  • Develop a policy for dealing with accommodation requests from employees who may not want to return to work

Employee Appreciation

Lastly, thank your employees. These times are tough on everyone, and all of your employees are probably feeling some strain. Take the time to thank them and acknowledge them for their work before, and after, you reopen your doors.

Click here to download our handy Return to Work Checklist, which has everything you need to create your own return to work plan.