Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, employers are required to ensure that their workplaces are free from recognized hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to their employees. Therefore, businesses that are reopening need to reduce the risk of employees contracting Covid-19 in the workplace.
OSHA recommends that businesses follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, including implementing social distancing when possible, limiting the number of people in break rooms, and consistently disinfecting frequently used areas and items. The CDC recommends wearing cloth face masks when social distancing is difficult to maintain. Attorney Lucy Li at Fox Rothschild in Princeton, N.J., says employers can also use EPA-approved disinfectants to “show their employees, customers, and potentially OSHA that they are taking workplace safety seriously by following recommended guidelines.”
While federal, state, and local guidelines about reducing coronavirus exposure are constantly changing, businesses should also establish and implement their own workplace safety policies, says attorney Gina Fonte at Holland & Knight in Boston. She recommends that employers take a layered approach when writing Covid-19 workplace safety policies: “Start with the federal, overlay state, and then overlay locality, and the more protective, the more applicable.”
If there is a discrepancy between guidelines, Fonte says employers should follow the more-protective measure. For example, at the federal level, OSHA doesn’t require retail workers to wear masks, but many states do. So, Fonte says, follow the state requirement.
Workplace safety policies can address topics such as the use of personal protective equipment, sick leave policy, personal hygiene, alternating shifts and teleworking. Employees also need to be trained on these workplace safety policies and procedures and how to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Training can include sending emails that address proper handwashing or in-person training with demonstrations on disinfecting surfaces and wearing PPE.
Employers should keep a record of their COVID-19 workplace safety policies to document their efforts to keep the workplace safe and comply with local guidelines. Because COVID-19 workplace safety guidelines are frequently changing, employers should also print out copies of the guidelines that their workplace policies are based on, says Fonte. Keeping copies of relevant documents may help employers protect their business from future litigation.