Ready or not, many businesses across the U.S. are reopening. If you’re among those returning to a workplace, it’s best to be prepared by learning how to avoid exposure to COVID-19 and how to avoid exposing others. You and your employer both have important roles to play in the “new normal” of operating a business amid a pandemic, and you have legal rights when it comes to your health and safety.
Some businesses may choose to change working environments to encourage social distancing, or implement other measures, such as taking employees’ temperatures or requiring face coverings, as part of their reopening plans. And your employer may ask you to take further precautions when returning to work. The CDC recommends that workplaces encourage employees to follow these safe practices:
- Stop shaking hands! A smile, a nod, a peace sign, a Vulcan salute — do whatever it takes to resist the instinct to extend your hand.
- Wash or sanitize your hands when you enter your workplace and repeatedly throughout the day, and keep it up after you get home.
- Make it a habit to cover coughs and sneezes, but not with the hands you just washed. Use a tissue or the inside of your elbow.
- Disinfect surfaces and frequently touched areas regularly.
- Use touchless pay systems or online payments and transactions whenever possible to limit cash handling.
- Increase ventilation. Open a window if you can.
- Avoid large gatherings. Use video conferencing instead of in-person meetings when possible. When It’s not possible, hold meetings in open, well-ventilated spaces.
- Stagger appointments and schedules to reduce crowding.
- Handle food carefully. Avoid sharing food and promote strict hygiene practices for food handlers.
- Stay home if you or a family member feel sick.
If your work requires respirator use, check out this video or these posters (available in English and Spanish) from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on respirator best practices.
If you use public transportation or ride-hailing services, reduce your risk of exposure by keeping the windows open when possible, increasing ventilation, and disinfecting surfaces. You can also reduce your risk by following social distancing guidelines on public transportation, and by traveling in non-peak times.
Addressing safety concerns
Concerned that your workplace isn’t safe? Talk with your employer about the safety standards being put in place. Employers are generally required to take reasonable action to keep the work environment safe. If you feel your concerns aren’t being addressed, consider filing a formal complaint with OSHA, but first write down the reasons why you feel unsafe and collect evidence to support your claim. Visit the OSHA website for more information.
By law, your employer can’t retaliate if you file a complaint. FindLaw.com, a consumer resource that provides legal information and tools, addressed that and other workplace safety and employee rights issues in this recent blog post, including your options and what you can expect if you decide it’s unsafe to return to work.
The bottom line is that some safety measures for employers are required, and some are just recommendations. The best way to stay safe is to do your part to protect yourself and stand up for your rights.
Check with your Health Advisor if you have questions about protecting yourself and others as businesses reopen and social distancing becomes more challenging. We’re here to help!