Employers are now confronted with the next COVID-19 challenge: safely bringing employees back to work. The recent federal guidelines for “Opening Up America Again” specifically refer to recommended practices for employers. As the ultimate power to ease restrictions will be at the state and local level, employers will also need to navigate modifications to stay-at-home orders that will likely return employees to work in phases based on the nature of their industry, local data on COVID-19 measures, and other factors.
The checklist below addresses both how to manage increased crowding in the workplace as employees return to work and how to onboard new hires or formerly-furloughed employees. An employer should review and update our recommended procedures based on the then-current information about COVID-19. This will certainly be an ongoing effort as multiple studies are currently under way regarding strategies such as contact tracing, antibody testing and rapid, broad-scale COVID-19 testing. While the ultimate import of these efforts is currently unclear, it will be critical to monitor whether any of these are authorized for implementation or recommended as a workforce protection strategy.
Issue One: Are there still state or local stay-at-home or other pandemic-control restrictions in place?
If an employer is an essential business, or now permitted to operate given modifications to state or local stay-athome orders despite guidance in the local area that the pandemic remains severe, such employers should consider the following action items:
For teleworking employees returning to the office, new hires or reinstatements (returning furloughed employees): The steps below involve collecting and managing sensitive health information. All information collected for the purposes below must be treated as separate, confidential information and maintained in a confidential medical record
Screen for symptoms. An employer may ask specific questions about COVID-19 and screen job applicants for symptoms of COVID-19 after making a conditional job offer, so long as it follows the same practice for all offerees in the same type of job.
Ask. The company may implement screening questions as to whether an employee has experienced flu-like symptoms associated with COVID-19 in the past 14 days and ask whether an employee has traveled in the previous 14 days.
• Consider using a written questionnaire, which should be maintained as any other confidential medical record.
• According to the EEOC, employers should rely on the CDC, other public health authorities, and reputable medical sources for guidance on emerging symptoms associated with the disease. o Follow Post-Illness Guidance. For employees who report having COVID-19 (whether confirmed by a test or diagnosed without a test), follow CDC guidelines regarding the appropriate time to discontinue isolation and return to work.
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