As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge in areas across the U.S., many businesses are looking for ways to protect themselves from potential employer liability. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for every company, employers must consider certain safety measures in order to avoid employees and visitors contracting the virus, as well as formal written measures needed to reduce the potential for liability and workers compensation claims.
While many states began reopening measures back in May despite coronavirus cases continuing to rise, businesses continue to make tough decisions surrounding the potential return to the office in order to avoid further economic ramifications. Returning to the office during and/or after a pandemic will necessitate many safety precautions to protect employees and avoid potential employer liability. Because of this, adhering to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidelines for reopening is incredibly important.
Some of the most pertinent steps employers can take to ensure a safe reopening process include:
Evaluating the Building Before Returning
The CDC recommends employers visit and evaluate office premises before returning to work. The building and its mechanical and life safety systems should be properly evaluated to determine if it is ready for employees to return. Any potential hazards associated with a prolonged shutdown should be rectified and an evaluation should be undertaken to look for mold, rodents, pests, and/or issues with water systems. The building’s ventilation system must be in proper working order and an increase in circulating the air from the outdoors should also be implemented, if possible.
Upgrading HVAC Systems
Since coronavirus particles travel through the air, upgrading HVAC systems to include the ability to more carefully filter air and limit widespread circulation can reduce disease spread. Because it is likely the building will control this when a tenant is leasing or subleasing space, it’s worth bringing it up when coordinating your company’s reopening with the building owner or landlord.
Identifying How Employees Could Be Exposed to COVID-19
Because it’s the employer’s responsibility to provide a safe and healthy work environment, it’s important to identify any areas of the workplace where employees could potentially be exposed to COVID-19. Identify all common areas where employees could potentially have close contact with others, such as meeting rooms, break rooms, cafeterias, check-in areas, waiting areas, as well as routes of entry and exit. These areas could potentially be closed off entirely; however, if they cannot, they should be sanitized regularly, with required mask wearing and social distancing measures in place.
Conducting Daily Employee Health Checks
Regular or daily employee health checks are incredibly important during the pandemic. Having employees take their temperature before entering the building can help determine if a person is beginning to display symptoms of COVID-19. If so, those employees should be sent home immediately. Hand sanitizer should be available throughout the workplace, as well as access to soap and water in bathrooms and sink areas. Though a common practice for most businesses, handshaking should be avoided to decrease the spread of germs. Any regularly used equipment (including computers) should be properly sanitized throughout the day.
Potential Workers’ Compensation Claims
One of the big questions surrounding returning to work during COVID-19 is how workers’ compensation claims will be handled in the event an employee contracts the virus on the job. According to the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act, an occupational disease is an illness arising out of and in the course of employment that causes damage or harm to the physical body. According to Texas law, the only employees who will have valid workers’ compensation claims are those placed at a higher risk of contracting coronavirus than the general public. Despite this, however, not all “essential workers” are deemed high risk.
Houston Employment Litigation Attorneys
Returning to work during the new normal of coronavirus can be incredibly frustrating for employers and employees alike. In order to best protect a business and the health and safety of its employees, proper safety measures must be taken to avoid potential employer liability. At Feldman & Feldman we work closely with our clients to understand the exact circumstances surrounding disputes so we can resolve employment cases successfully for those involved. If you’re facing an employment dispute, contact us today to schedule a consultation.