Window to the Law: Making Your Workplace COVID-Safe: Transcript
With the COVID-19 vaccine bringing renewed hope that the pandemic may soon be over, many businesses are considering re-opening workplaces to workers, clients and the public. As reported cases of coronavirus continue to rise, however, now is not the time to lessen safety practices. A re-entry plan will help ensure the health of those in your office and also protect your business from potential liability related to virus exposure in the workplace. Continue watching to learn more about implementing a plan for your business.
Your re-entry plan should incorporate a multi-faceted approach to minimizing the threat of exposure to the virus, including:
- Updating cleaning protocols to comply with CDC guidance;
- Promoting social distancing by restricting the number of people allowed in the office, modifying workspaces, and limiting access to common areas;
- Requiring all individuals entering the office to wear a mask and submit to temperature checks;
- Updating and creating workplace policies to incorporate COVID-19 safety protocols, including how to address reports of COVID-19 symptoms, diagnoses and exposure in the workplace;
- And finally confirming your policies and re-entry plan comply with federal, state and local laws and regulations and CDC guidance.
With over 1,500 workplace safety lawsuits related to coronavirus exposure filed since the start of the pandemic, implementing a COVID-19 re-entry plan may help lower the risk of such liability for your business. First, compliance with a comprehensive plan should reduce the chance of COVID-19 exposure in your workplace. Second, some states have enacted laws that grant businesses immunity from certain COVID-related claims. For example, Kansas affords temporary immunity from potential exposure claims to businesses acting pursuant to and in substantial compliance with applicable public health directives, and in North Carolina, businesses will not be held liable for COVID-19 contraction claims absent gross negligence, willful or wanton conduct or intentional wrongdoing. In states where immunity is based on acting reasonably, such as North Carolina, or in states without an immunity law, a re-entry plan that adheres to federal, state and local orders will help demonstrate that a business acted reasonably in reopening its office.
In addition to reopening workplaces, businesses are now contemplating how to address vaccination for COVID-19. According to guidance from the EEOC, employers may require individuals entering the premises to show proof of vaccination. Work closely with your legal counsel and human resources team to develop and implement a vaccination policy for your business. For mandatory vaccination policies, remember to consider exceptions based on disability or religious beliefs. Also, to avoid worker classification issues, be sure that a mandatory policy is consistently applied based on exposure risk rather than employment relationship. You may want to consider other factors, such as employee hesitation regarding the vaccine, effect on employee morale, and how your business is prepared to respond when an employee refuses to receive the vaccination in determining whether the vaccination will be mandatory or strongly encouraged. Whether mandatory or voluntary, remember to clearly communicate the policy terms to the necessary individuals.
While you may be eager to return to your workplace, doing so in a way that prioritizes the health and safety of your staff, agents, and clients is of the utmost importance. For more tips and considerations regarding your COVID-19 re-entry plan, check out NAR’s Workplace Re-Entry Checklist and Guidance for Workplace Vaccination Policies, both available on nar.realtor.