COVID-19 Recovery FAQ
Have questions about legal options, testing and screening, or employee and customer safety? We have answers! If you have any further questions, please reach out to us.
Are we required to develop a written infectious disease preparedness and response plan?
While you are not required to do so, it is a prudent course of action and highly recommended by OSHA. The elements of such a plan can be found here. OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens standard (29 CFR 1910.1030) applies to occupational exposure to human blood and other potentially infectious materials. While the Bloodborne Pathogens standard does not apply to all workplaces, the provisions may be helpful in controlling some sources of the virus. A good way to satisfy your obligations under these conditions is to prepare the hazard assessment required by OSHA’s standards.
What other OSHA standards apply to reopening our facility?
The most important standards to consider, in addition to the PPE regulation referenced above, are OSHA’s bloodborne pathogen standard, which applies when employees work near human bodily fluids as part of their job and requires an exposure control plan and training, among other things, and the agency’s hazard communication standard, which governs employee exposure to chemicals. The “HazComm” standard is especially important to follow when employees work with sanitizers and cleaning agents to help disinfect the workplace. It also requires training and other considerations with which employers should familiarize themselves.
Finally, if there is no OSHA standard directly on point, the agency can resort to the catch-all general duty clause, which requires all employers to provide employees with a safe work environment. The agency will use this standard to cite employers in unusual situations, like the COVID- pandemic, when hazards are present.
Can employees refuse to return to work?
Here were the initial criteria for a worker to refuse to return to a job and maintain unemployment benefits outlined earlier this week by Iowa Workforce Development.
- Diagnosed with COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms of the disease
- Recovered from COVID-19 but had debilitating medical complications
- Living with a household member with COVID-19
- Caring for household member with COVID-19
- No available child care due to COVID-19
- No transportation due to COVID-19
A section of Iowa’s unemployment code says that employees may decline work and continue to receive unemployment benefits if working conditions would be unsafe, intolerable or detrimental. Iowans seeking unemployment or with questions about unemployment may visit Iowa Workforce Development online or call at 1-866-239-0843.
Testing and Screening
Should we screen employees for COVID-19 symptoms (such as temperature checks)? What is the best way to do that?
Screening employees is an optional strategy that employers may use. There are several methods that employers can use such as verbal screening to determine if an employee has felt feverish in the past 24 hours, has been coughing, or had chills. You can also take temperatures but remember to provide screeners with proper training and PPE. You should also post signs that individuals who have a fever, cough, or any sign of sickness should not enter.
When employees return to work, can I administer a COVID-19 test before permitting employees to enter the workplace?
The FDA has not yet officially approved any antibody testing kits which are commercially available and which provide instantaneous results. Up to 70 or more companies have marketed some form of such tests. Unfortunately, the validity and effectiveness of some of these testing kits have been called into question which, in turn, has led to concerns about whether the kits may, among other things, create a false sense of security, or insecurity.
It is also not currently clear whether this type of testing can be performed outside of a clinical setting; this analysis may ultimately turn on individual state laws. With this backdrop, and given the rapidly evolving nature of this issue, you should consult with counsel before implementing this type of on-site testing.
When tests are available, an employer may choose to administer COVID-19 testing to employees before they enter the workplace to determine if they have the virus.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that any mandatory medical test of employees be “job related and consistent with business necessity.” Applying this standard to the current circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers may take steps to determine if employees entering the workplace have COVID-19. That’s because an individual with the virus will pose a direct threat to the health of others.
Consistent with the ADA standard, you should ensure that any tests you administer are accurate and reliable. For example, you may review guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about what may or may not be considered safe and accurate testing, as well as guidance from CDC or other public health authorities. Make sure to check for updates, as this is a rapidly developing field.
You may wish to consider the incidence of false-positives or false-negatives associated with a particular test. Remember that accurate testing only reveals if the virus is currently present; a negative test does not mean the employee will not acquire the virus later.
Keep in mind, also, that these are medical exams that must be conducted in a confidential way and the results need to be maintained in a separate medical file. PPE should be provided to employees administering the test, as well as training on how to properly use the PPE. For those that may have an exposure to bodily fluids as part of their job, you should provide proper training on blood borne pathogens.
What do I do if an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19?
If a worker is confirmed to have COVID-19:
• Employers should instruct employees to follow CDC Guidelines.
• Employers should inform anyone they have come into contact with that they could have possible exposure in the workplace but
should maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Reintegrating an employee who has been exposed, but is asymptomatic into the workplace should follow CDC Guidelines.
Reintegrating an employee who has tested positive for COVID-19 but is no longer showing symptoms should follow CDC Guidelines.
Employee and Customer Safety
What should I do if an employee comes to work with COVID-19 symptoms (fever, cough, or shortness of breath)?
Please refer to the CDC-recommended steps for what to do if you or a colleague may be sick. It is essential that they immediately go home to isolate until they are healthy and will not transmit the virus. The CDC has detailed information for those recovering from COVID-19 and when to discontinue home isolation.
How do I keep employees who interact with customers safe?
- Consider options to increase physical space between employees and customers such as opening a drive- through, erecting partitions, and marking floors to guide spacing at least six feet apart.
- At least once a day clean and disinfect surfaces frequently touched by multiple people. This includes door handles, desks, phones, light switches, and faucets,
- Consider assigning a person to rotate throughout the workplace to clean and disinfect surfaces.
- Consider scheduling handwashing breaks so employees can wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
- Consider scheduling a relief person to give cashiers and service desk workers an opportunity to wash their hands.
Should I provide personal protective equipment for my employees and customers?
CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, especially in areas of significant community transmission. Cloth face coverings may prevent people who don’t know they have the virus from transmitting it to others. These face coverings are not surgical masks or respirators and are not appropriate substitutes for them in workplaces where masks or respirators are recommended or required.
Employees should continue to follow their routine policies and procedures for PPE (if any) that they would ordinarily use for their job tasks. When cleaning and disinfecting, employees should always wear gloves and gowns appropriate for the chemicals being used. Additional personal protective equipment (PPE) may be needed based on setting and product.
CDC does not recommend the use of PPE in workplaces where it is not routinely recommended. Facilities can use the hierarchy of controls, such as administrative, and engineering controls – these strategies are even more effective at preventing exposures than wearing PPE.
How can I create social distance at work?
Social distancing means avoiding large gatherings and maintaining distance (at least 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible. Strategies that businesses could use include:
- Allowing flexible worksites (such as telework)
- Allowing flexible work hours (such as staggered shifts)
- Increasing physical space between employees at the worksite
- Increasing physical space between employees and customers (such as a drive-through and partitions)
- Implementing flexible meeting and travel options (such as postponing non-essential meetings or events)
- Downsizing operations
- Delivering services remotely (e.g., phone, video, or web)
- Delivering products through curbside pick-up or delivery
How can I clean and disinfect my workplace?
To help you with cleaning and sterilizing your workspace you may think about using an experienced contractor that uses both EPA approved disinfectants and methods, as well as using an established commercial janitorial company or disaster response company for these services. Here are a few additional resources for you to help you plan.