This Too Shall Pass: and Then What? Part 1 - Logistics of Returning Employees to the Workplace

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Spilman Thomas & Battle, PLLC

Many businesses have been shuttered or have reduced their operations to an on-site skeleton crew supporting droves of teleworkers. At some point, most will reopen and bring their employees back into the workplace. Though the process will vary from industry to industry, every single employer will need a return-to-work plan that accounts for myriad logistical, personnel, legal, and safety issues associated with the post-pandemic return to normal. As you will no doubt appreciate, such a plan cannot be thrown together the day before the resumption of normal operations. Careful planning is necessary to make certain your company resumes operations safely, efficiently, and effectively.

This article is the first in a series of pieces that will address the components of an effective return-to-work process. This initial installment outlines many of the logistical considerations facing companies and best practices for dealing with those logistical matters.
 
1.         Establish a Team with a Team Leader

  • Create a working group and appoint a leader with a singular focus on methodically and broadly addressing the logistics of return-to-work.
  • The team should be composed of a broad range of individuals (e.g., HR, Safety/Hygiene, Operations).
  • Notify the entire workforce of the team and provide a singular point of contact for questions/suggestions/concerns.
  • Enterprises with multiple locations need site-specific protocols.
  • Develop a comprehensive working safe playbook. 

 
2.         Determine What You Have and What You Need

  • Identify volume of supplies needed for an adequate amount of soap, disinfectants, hand sanitizer, paper towels, and tissues and confirm on-hand amounts of each.
  • If supplies are inadequate, plan for lead time for restocking.
  • Confirm stock of face masks, face shields, gloves, and glasses on-site and on order with lead time.
  • Have “non-touch” thermometers on-site for employee screening. 

 
3.         Existing Required Personal Protective Equipment

  • Determine whether it can be sanitized and reused.
  • If not, reorder.
  • Factor in ordering with lead time for PPE. 

 
4.         Disinfect the Workplace

  • Disinfect office/plant/warehouse etc. prior to anyone returning to work.
  • Replace HVAC air filters or clean/disinfect.
  • Develop and implement disinfection protocol (and publish the same).
  • Document all efforts to disinfect. 

 
5.         Inbound Parts/Materials/Packages/Supplies

  • Develop a protocol to limit pre-disinfection interaction with inbound parts, materials, mail, packages, supplies, etc.
  • Consider new drop areas that limit third-party access to the workplace.
  • Develop a disinfection protocol for receipt of such items. 

 
6.         Company and Third-party Transportation Issues

  • Hold meetings with third-party transportation providers (trucking companies, UPS, Fed Ex, etc.) to establish, confirm, and document protocols for deliveries.
  • Consider new drop-off locations to minimize contact with outside vendors/workers.
  • Include company vehicles in sanitizing process.
  • Post prohibitions on fraternization, accessing internal areas of the facility, etc. 

 
7.         Develop, Implement and Train on Isolation Protocol & Coordinator Training

  • Establish or update your Infectious Disease Control policy and related policies.
  • Develop protocol for isolating medium- and high-risk employees on-site.
  • Develop a protocol to isolate employees if symptomatic on site.
  • Develop a protocol to identify other employees with whom any symptomatic employee interacted prior to symptom onset.
  • Consider designating an employee as the Isolation Coordinator (volunteer). 

 
8.         Social Distancing Protocol

  • Develop site-appropriate social distancing protocol.
  • Restrict high-congregation areas and times (e.g., break areas, cafeteria).
  • Make certain all employees (prior to returning to work) review and understand protocol.
  • Document (e.g., require an electronic acknowledgement from employees). 

 
9.         Consider On-Site Health Screening

  • Develop protocol for pre-shift screening prior to workplace entry, including but not limited to taking temperatures.
  • Ensure barriers are in place to prevent anyone from missing screening protocol.
  • Ensure employee privacy is protected during screening (e.g., separate room, pop up tent with walls).
  • Establish separate, confidential, and secure storage for employee health information. 

 
10.       Consider Implementing a Daily Self-Screening Protocol

  • Develop and deliver daily self-screening protocol to all employees for voluntary, home self-screening.
  • Set up hotline to HR team for inquiries or reports of symptomatic employees. 

 
11.       Visitors, Vendors, and Contractors Self-Screening

  • Develop written protocol for screening visitors, vendors, and contractors.
  • Post notice conspicuously.
  • Contact vendors and contractors in advance and provide with written protocol to avoid surprise.
  • Request protocols that venders, contractors, and other third parties have implemented to help ensure safety of their employees who will perform services in your workplace.
  • Consider limiting or restricting visitor, vendor, and contractor access to worksite, including restrooms and other facilities. 

 
12.       Employee Education

  • Host pre-return webinar/Zoom meetings to educate employees on return-to-work protocols.
  • Review working safe playbook with managers.
  • Conduct training for health screeners and isolation coordinators.
  • Conduct training for disinfection team and HR team.
  • Host first-day training orientation for all staff.
  • Post appropriate notices regarding disinfection and cleanliness throughout facility, including areas of potential infection such as breakrooms, restrooms, and water fountains.

 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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