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Mar 2020
27
March 27, 2020

Practical Tips to Make Your Workplace Safe for “Critical Infrastructure” and “Basic Minimum Operations” Workers

Many Michigan businesses have suspended operations under Governor Whitmer’s Executive Order 2020-21 Stay Home Stay Safe. But many have also continued operations as “critical infrastructure.” Still more have asked “basic minimum operations” employees to report to work, as needed, to maintain the value of inventory and equipment, ensure security or perform other permitted activities. In those instances, employers should consider and implement measures to ensure that they provide a safe work environment to employees. EO 2020-21 requires employers, at a minimum, to do the following:
 
  • Restrict the number of workers present on premises to no more than is “strictly necessary” to perform permitted functions or operations;
  • Promote remote work to the fullest extent possible;
  • Keep employees and patrons at least 6-feet apart, to the maximum extent possible;
  • Increase standards of facility cleaning and disinfection, to limit exposure to COVID-19;
  • Adopt protocols to clean and disinfect in the event of a positive COVID-19 case in the workplace;
  • Adopt policies to prevent employees who display respiratory symptoms or who have had contact with other COVID-19 patients from entering the workplace; and
  • Follow other “social distancing” recommended by the CDC.

But even this guidance may leave employers with questions. Every business will present its own unique set of challenges for how to comply with all of the foregoing requirements. However, some practical advice that all employers can follow:

A.    Be Vigilant, Be Careful
 
  • Instruct employees to stay home or go home if they exhibit any symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, chills, sore throat, cough, shortness of breath).
  • Instruct employees to stay home or go home if they have had close personal contact within the last fourteen (14) days with anyone who exhibits symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, chills, sore throat, cough, shortness of breath).
  • Employers are permitted to screen employees each day for symptoms, including taking body temperatures with a touchless thermometer. Consider whether an employee screening process is manageable for your operations.

B.    Be Flexible
 
  • Be flexible in the application of sick leave policies and make sure your employees know your sick leave policies.
  • Permit employees to stay home and care for sick family members and require them to stay home if their sick family members exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, chills, sore throat, cough, shortness of breath).
  • Require employees to self-report all of the foregoing conditions.
  • Permit employees who are vulnerable (because of disability, known respiratory conditions or other threatened underlying medical conditions) to stay home if they wish, even if they do not currently exhibit symptoms.

C.    Implement Social Distancing Measures
 
  • Require all employees who are able to work remotely to do just that.
  • Require employees to place at least 6-feet of physical distance between them to the maximum extent possible. 
  • Place physical marks where possible throughout the workplace (e.g., floor tape, paper signs) to both indicate safe locations and appropriate work distances, as well as provide a ready gauge for employee reference.
  • Stagger work days/shifts/hours whenever possible or consider going to more frequent but smaller shifts to minimize direct interaction and allow people to enter/exit and be present in the facility at different times.
  • Require employees to use technology whenever possible to conduct virtual meetings rather than meet in person.
  • Appoint someone to check the CDC webpage daily and report any additional recommendations/protocols that are suggested. Act promptly to implement any recommended measures that apply to your workplace.

D.  Encourage Best Practices for Personal and Environmental Hygiene
 
  • Encourage employees to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing their nose, coughing or sneezing.
  • Place and fill hand sanitizer stations throughout the workplace and encourage employees to use them when soap and water are not readily available.  
  • Place and fill dispensers for sanitizing wipes throughout the workplace and encourage employees to regularly wipe down frequently touched surfaces. 
  • Provide tissues.
  • Provide no-touch trash receptacles.
  • Post “Best Practices” reminders in the workplace:
    • Maintain 6-feet distance.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
    • Avoid shaking hands with anyone.
    • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, or use the inside of your elbow. 
    • Throw used tissues in a no-touch trash receptacle and immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or clean your hands with hand sanitizer.
  • Post reminders in the break room that personal hygiene rules apply even on break – maintain 6-feet distance, wipe down all surfaces on which you plan to place any food and wash your hands before you eat.

E.   Implement Increased Cleaning/Disinfection Protocols
 
  • Provide readily accessible cleaning supplies (disinfectant wipes, paper towel, disinfectant sprays) and encourage employees to use them.
  • Adopt and monitor a schedule for cleaning frequently touched surfaces (countertops, bathrooms, doorknobs) at least twice daily.
  • Adopt and monitor a schedule for cleaning frequently touched work devices/surfaces (e.g., tools, touch-pads, keyboards, digital interfaces), particularly at shift change or between employees.
  • Adopt and distribute to all supervisors a protocol to clean and disinfect a work area in the event of a positive COVID-19 case in the workplace. A recommended protocol can be found at the CDC website.
  • If you have a case of COVID-19 in your workplace, notify all employees who may have had contact with the affected employee of their possible exposure, but do not disclose the identity of the affected employee.

These are strange times, and employers must be both proactive and practical to ensure a safe work environment in the world of COVID-19. If you have any questions or need clarification about any of the tips recommended above, please call any member of Warner’s Labor and Employment Practice Group. 

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