Workplace Safety Changes Business Owners Should Make Before Reopening

For the safety of their employees, customers, and the business, lawyers say owners should have new safety and sanitation protocols because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper said some businesses might be able to start reopening next week. The governor’s executive order extension expires on May 8, but before the state officially reopens, employment law and human resources experts say it won’t be business as usual for owners, their workers and customers.

They urge business owners to factor in the changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and implement extra safety and sanitary measures for employees ad customers as they plan to reopen the workplace.

“A lot of them are asking, what do I need to do to bring them back as far as should they wear a mask, should I have a policy for the public to wear a mask,” said Karen Mckeithen Schaede, a partner attorney with Revolution Law in Greensboro. Schaede focuses on employment and health law and said she has been speaking with many clients who are concerned about what issues they may face as they pan to reopen.

She has advised that employers may need to make certain considerations to ensure that sick workers are not coming to work because they are afraid of either being fired or losing pay and employees should know what their work place’s sick and paid time off policy is.

The experts said that as the state gets ready to possibly start reopening, businesses will have to do more than just deep cleaning and frequently wiping down surfaces. They will have to provide more personal protective equipment.

“If you can provide it, it’s a small cost. This is uncharted territory and everybody is going to have to be a little bit flexible and do the best you can do,” Schaede said.

Lawyers said businesses may also consider discussing with their landlords if they need to make structural changes to their building or floor plan. Landlords or managers of communal office buildings may also need to increase the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting buildings.

Places like restaurants and offices may need to rework their seating plan and workflow to create an enabling environment for workers and customers to continue to safely practice social distancing.

“That may be staggered work shifts, it may be allowing some employees to continue to work remotely,” said Patti Ramseur an attorney with Fox Rothschild LLC.

They said these measures, though they may appear cumbersome initially, will help make customers, as well as employees, feel confident in the safety of their establishment.

“Folks are concerned and they are not necessarily just worried about their health they’re worried about their family and their livelihood. It’s just a very anxiety-driven time,” Schaede said.

The lawyers also added that improved safety plans and protocols will also help business owners avoid expensive litigation because it would be evidence they have carried out due diligence in making safety provisions.

“Equally as important, it helps reassure employees that they are returning to a workplace that is safe as it can be. If you see that your employer is prepared and has been thoughtful and thought through these processes, that goes a long way in helping employees feel comfortable,” Ramseur said.

According to the North Carolina Department of Labor, there is no occupational safety and health standard about COVID-19. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of North Carolina, it is the employer’s duty to provide a safe work environment.

Author: Adaure Achumba
Published: 8:45 PM EDT April 30, 2020
Updated: 9:08 AM EDT May 1, 2020
“Workplace safety changes business owners should make before reopening, Triad Legal Experts say.” Accessed 4 May. 2020.