Compliance Advice When Reopening the Workplace
The last few months have presented small businesses owners with a variety of challenges. From protecting their workforce and loved ones to adapting their business model, employers of all industries have been put to the test with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although we must continue to focus on ways to mitigate the spread of the virus and provide a safe workplace, business owners must consider other critical components of their business model as well. Unfortunately, one area significantly impacted for employers is the fact that the pandemic has drastically shifted the compliance landscape. As businesses reopen, employers will need to do everything in their power to protect workers and implement practices that reduce liability.
In North Carolina, Governor Roy Cooper recently signed a new Executive Order that eased restrictions on May 29, 2020, as the Tarheel State kicks off Phase Two of its reopening process. As restaurants and salons move to 50 percent capacity, residents will transition from a stay-at-home order to a safer-at-home order and the majority of nonessential businesses will begin to reopen their workplace and welcome back workers.
Although most construction professionals never left the jobsite, many construction business offices will begin their reopening process in the near future (if they haven’t already). As workplaces reopen, a Charlotte construction lawyer offers educational advice on ways you can ensure compliance and reduce risk for your construction business. You can successfully do this by following federal, state, and local guidelines and utilizing a thorough checklist to ensure compliance. For any of your employment law needs, consult a Charlotte construction law firm committed to the industry.
Related: COVID-19 Resources Section
Begin With the Federal Guidelines
To ensure a successful reentry into your workplace, employers need to first pay close attention to federal, state, and local government plans. Employers can begin this process by reviewing the federal government's resource: Opening Up America Again. With the advice of public health experts, this government resource explains the three-phased approach to reopening workplaces and getting Americans back to work.
Some of the topics covered in this federal resource include:
- Reopening Criteria: The federal resource explains the data-driven criteria each community should undergo before proceeding with their reopening plan.
- State Preparedness: The document explains how states should prepare to meet these challenges as they reopen communities.
- Phase Guidelines: The resource provides specific instructions of the responsibilities of employers through each phase of reopening.
Along with this federal guideline, a Charlotte contractor attorney encourages you to read a few other helpful federal guidelines, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) guideline, Planning Considerations for Organizations in Reconstituting Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic. For public health information related to COVID-19, we encourage you to review the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Businesses and Workplaces guideline.
Phase 2 in North Carolina
All of these above guidelines are great learning tools for employers to utilize to learn the basics about mitigating COVID-19 in the workplace and maintaining a safe and sanitary work environment; however, it’s equally important that employers closely track the latest news in their location and pay close attention to the state and local plans being implemented in their community. For North Carolina residents, we encourage you to visit the state’s government site to prepare your business to stay ahead of the curve. As the Tarheel State enters Phase Two of reopening, employers should know the following things:
- Gatherings remain limited to 10 people indoors, but are extended to 25 people outdoors
- Vulnerable individuals should continue to shelter-in-place for the time being
- If vulnerable individuals return to work, employers should consider special accommodations for them
- Teleworking is encouraged for all employees that can perform their essential functions remotely
- Face coverings are encouraged for all residents in public areas and workplaces
- Common areas within workplaces should remain closed
- Schools and youth activities can reopen
- Elective surgeries, gyms, and bars can reopen with social distancing measures in place
Creating an Administrative Checklist
With the above information in mind, employers that plan to reopen their office should consider several administrative tasks to perform before their staff returns to the workplace. From mitigating risks in the work environment to employee scheduling and company policy adjustments, there are a variety of areas employers should focus to reduce liability. Here is a helpful checklist for each area of liability. Remember, this checklist does not cover all forms of liability. For comprehensive legal advice, consult an Asheville construction lawyer.
Preparing the Workplace
We previously discussed some tasks employers can perform to prevent exposure when reopening a workplace. Some key tasks to perform to reduce liability include:
- Change the layout of work spaces to meet social distancing requirements
- Thoroughly disinfect the entire office space before reentry
- Provide PPE, hand sanitizer stations, alcohol-based wipes, and other resources
- Train the workforce through toolbox talks and create a culture of cleanliness
- Change office procedures for clients and other visitors and inform them of these changes
- Close all common areas and ensure social distancing requirements are maintained at all times
- Provide instructions on when PPE should be worn in the workplace
- Add signage and markings to provide social distancing guidelines in frequently trafficked areas
- Map out areas of the workplace where temperature screening and other mitigation procedures can be conducted
Additional Mitigation Strategies in the Office
Along with physically improving the work area to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, a few additional Phase Two considerations for employers to consider include:
- Although not required, it’s best to perform a daily temperature check for all employees before entry
- Instruct any employees with a fever to immediately return home
- Continue to restrict work-related travel
- Provide vulnerable employees with the option to telework or special accommodations
- Implement contact tracing procedures
- Maintain confidentiality of any infected workers
- Speak with an Asheville contractor attorney about developing and implementing an infectious disease preparedness and response plan
Absenteeism and Employee Scheduling
There are a number of tasks related to absenteeism and scheduling that employers must consider when they reopen. Some tasks employers should implement include:
- Plan for absenteeism by cross-training employees for essential functions
- Create a reporting system for employees concerned with infection
- Adjust sick leave policies to encourage sick workers to remain at home
- Stagger shift times and break times
- Extend office hours
- Prohibit community gatherings of any kind
- Consider having employees gradually return to the workplace
- Adjust family and medical leave policies to feature FFCRA requirements
- Continue to manage standard FMLA leave requests
- Allow a grace period for workers that are hesitant to return to work
- Designate managers responsible for managing sick leave initiatives
Although telework isn’t an option for all employees in the construction industry, businesses with offices will need to consider the process of welcoming employees back from remote work to the workplace. Here are a few things to consider when reopening:
- Consider allowing employees to telework if they can perform the essential functions of their position remotely (Phase Two criteria “encourages” telework)
- Encourage employees with a disability or pre-existing condition to continue to telework
- Evaluate your time tracking process and other criteria
- Assess how effective communication and teamwork has been for employees teleworking
- Communicate with your IT staff and mitigate any potential threats like data breaches
- Ensure your telework policy is consistent for all employees that may be eligible for this work — employees in similar roles should have the same option to telework
As you return to regular office hours, you will need to review your roster of employees, evaluating payroll and worker classification statuses of all your employees. Here are a few tasks to perform:
- Review the status of all employees — some employees may experience reduced hours, whereas others may be moved back to full time positions
- Review the employment agreement and personnel file before proceeding with separation of employment of any employee
- If your company has to permanently layoff employees consider the most effective and professional process of conducting layoffs
- Evaluate if active projects are impacted by layoffs and ensure active employees are trained on a terminated employee’s job responsibilities
- Prepare for inquiries regarding unemployment and benefits
- Encourage a terminated employee to sign an acknowledgement during their separation meeting
- Ensure any confidential information or company property is secure at the time of separation
- Comply with employment laws and provide notice to employees
- Review your employee roster to ensure everyone is covered for workers’ compensation
- Reach out to any subcontractors and ensure their workers are also covered
- Consider promoting your most valuable employees
- Ask a construction attorney about eligibility rights regarding FMLA
- Ensure you are complying with discrimination laws governed by the EEOC
- Learn more about worker’s qualifications under the ADA
- Make sure that your workforce has signed employee acknowledgements for any changes to company policies
- Review any company policy changes with your employees
Record Keeping Tasks
Along with maintaining standard employment documentation, employers will need to maintain any documentation related to the pandemic, including:
- OSHA recently provided revised enforcement guidelines, so all work-related cases of infection need to be reported in the OSHA Form 300 log
- Other preventative practices like temperature screenings should be logged in a daily report with notes regarding any infected workers
- Any policy changes (temporary or permanent) should be recorded as well as signed amendments of these changes
- Paid leave for both FFCRA and FMLA reasons should be tracked by employers
- Employers need to keep a roster of the employees infected with COVID-19, including logging the date they started showing symptoms to 14 days after infection
- Employees should be encouraged to keep daily contact forms stating what other employees, clients, vendors, or bystanders they had been in contact with
- The expenses for all PPP loans need to be closely tracked on a spreadsheet to ensure that the federal relief funds were spent appropriately
- Any cleaning initiatives performed by the business should be documented, including what dates vendors visited the workplace, the frequency of these visits, and the tasks they performed
A Few Final Things to Consider
Although this is a long list of tasks your construction business should consider performing as you reopen your business this summer, it’s not a complete list. we know that there will always be unexpected issues that arise as you manage your employees. That is exactly why our Greensboro construction law lawyers are here to help. Our attorneys can review your contracts for key provisions. We can also review your employee handbook and recommend provisions to strengthen company policies. From contract review services to employment law and safety advice, a Greensboro contractor attorney is here to help you every step of the way as we overcome the challenges this pandemic has presented to the industry.
If you would like to speak with a Charlotte construction litigation lawyer, please contact us today.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.