As businesses begin to reopen, business owners face numerous challenges regarding the safety of their employees and their customers and clients. There are several steps that can minimize these risks and help protect the business from claims made by employees or customers.
Health Screening for Employees
It is permissible, and advisable, to do a certain amount of screening of employees returning to the workplace. Employers may take employee temperatures and may ask questions regarding whether or not they have been exposed to COVID-19, are suffering from any symptoms associated with COVID-19, or have recently traveled outside the area to a COVID-19 “hotspot.” Employers should refrain from asking about any other medical condition unless the employee indicates that they have a medical condition that makes them more at-risk for contracting COVID-19.
All employers should put into place safety protocols that help to promote social distancing and enhanced sanitation. These protocols can include staggering work schedules, separating work stations either by distance or by providing physical barriers, limiting gatherings and meetings, limiting outside visitors to the workplace, requiring that face masks be worn in common areas, and providing enhanced cleaning and hand sanitizing products. Employee contacts should also be tracked in case an employee is exposed to or is diagnosed with COVID-19.
Employees Hesitant to Return to Work
Employees recalled to work may express an unwillingness to return to the workplace. If an employee has a health condition that makes them particularly susceptible to contracting COVID-19 you may be required to extend a “reasonable accommodation,” which could include permission to work from home or an unpaid leave. A request of this type should be handled like any other request for a reasonable accommodation and a medical certification from the employee’s doctor may be required.
If an employee is simply afraid to come back to work or does not want to come back because they are being paid more in unemployment compensation than they would earn working, an employer may insist that the employee return to work and, if the employee does not, treat the separation as a voluntary resignation. Any refusal to return to work, particularly if it is because the employee does not want to return because they are making more in unemployment compensation, should be reported to the Unemployment Compensation Bureau.
Employers who serve the general public may want to consider having customers or clients sign a liability waiver. In any event, customers/clients should be asked the same health screening questions posed to employees and should be required to wear face masks.
If you have any questions or need assistance drafting return-to-work policies or waivers, please contact Nancy Abrams at 215 241-8894 or firstname.lastname@example.org.