Returning to Work: Guidance for Employers & Managers
As North Carolinians begin to return to work, many employers may be wondering about their legal requirements for maintaining the sanitation of the workplace while respecting employee rights. While many of the laws and regulations about workplace safety remain the same, employers should understand some new guidelines while preparing to integrate their employees back to the workplace.
OSHA Guidance: Under OSHA’s General Duty Clause, employees can refuse to return to work if they reasonably believe they are in imminent danger of death or serious physical harm that is likely to occur immediately or in a short period. Specific OSHA standards apply to the prevention of exposure to COVID-19:
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Employees are required to use gloves, face protection, eye protection, and respiratory protection if the job's hazards make it necessary. Specifically, when respirators are required, employers must implement a comprehensive respiratory protection program.
Employee Owned Equipment: If employees bring their protective equipment to work, employers are still responsible for ensuring that the equipment is adequate, properly maintained, and sanitary.
Both OSHA and the CDC have said that homemade cloth masks are not PPE.
CDC Guidance: The CDC recently provided guidelines for employers that are planning to reopen their workplaces. Below are some of the basic considerations the employers may want to think about implementing:
Employer Plan: All employers that are returning to the workspace should implement and update a plan that is specific to the employer’s workspace, identifies all jobs and tasks that potentially exposes employees to COVID-19, and puts in place measures that can reduce such exposures.
Reducing the Spread Among Employees: Encourage employees to stay home if they are feeling sick or unwell. Employers should also consider conducting daily in-person or virtual health checks. If employees appear to have the symptoms at work makes you separate them from other employees and then arrange safe transportation for them back home or to a medical facility. Shut down any work areas the infected person may have been in for a prolonged period. Wait 24 hours (or as long as you can) before cleaning and disinfecting the area.
Maintaining Healthy Business Operations: Have flexible sick leave policies and practices. Help workers that may be more susceptible to severe symptoms of COVID-19. Additionally, try to maintain social distancing when practical.
Maintaining a Healthy Work Environment: Consider improving the building ventilation system and/or increasing ventilation rates, improving air quality, and keeping systems running longer. Always ensure that employees and customers have the necessary products to clean their hands and cover their coughs and sneezes. Additionally, perform routine cleaning around the workspace.
Requirements: North Carolina is not requiring that employers or employees don masks at the workplace. (Rules may vary in each locality). Employers are encouraged to supply, educate, and promote their employees wearing masks. Employees have a legal right to wear their own mask if not supplied by the employer.
Requiring Employees to Wear Masks: An employer can require employees to wear a mask in the workplace. However, employers should also ensure that the employee does not have a disability which prevents them from wearing a mask. If so, the employer should work with the employee to find a reasonable accommodation.