As Virginia starts to get back to business, employers are understandably concerned about making sure they keep their workers and customers as safe as possible.

Creating a safe workplace should always be a priority, but the element of COVID-19 adds complexity to the business’s operations.

Forward Virginia, a guide from the governor’s office, offers guidelines for all business sectors:

» Physical distancing: Employers should develop policies for distancing between customers and employees and offer clear signage for distancing where people may congregate, such as entrances or checkout counters.

Organizations need to limit occupancy and encourage telework where possible.

Where telework is not an option, employers should stagger work stations and employees should wear face coverings.

Employers should limit in-person work-related gatherings, including conferences, trade shows and training.

When employers hold in-person meetings, they should keep them as short as possible, limit the number of attendees and use physical distancing practices.

» Enhanced cleaning and disinfecting: High-contact areas are the biggest concern for a business.

Employers need to practice routine cleaning and disinfection of these areas and hard surfaces, such as checkout areas (including payment pads), handles, dining tables/chairs, light switches, handrails, restrooms, floors and equipment.

The Virginia guide refers businesses to the “CDC Reopening Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfection.”

The guide recommends cleaning every two hours, with some high-touch areas (such as shopping carts) being disinfected after each use.

In addition, shared tools need to be cleaned between use, and employees need to have a place to wash hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizers.

The guide recommends additional short breaks to increase the frequency of hand-washing.

» Enhanced workplace safety: First and foremost, every employer should know whom to contact at the local health department in case an employee tests positive or for guidance in general.

The Virginia Department of Health has been very active and engaged throughout this pandemic.

Employers should screen every employee prior to the start of work by asking about symptoms and taking temperatures.

Many companies are coming out with innovative heat sensors and other devices, but most employers don’t have the resources or time for implementing those advanced screening methods. It’s fine to keep it simple and develop a manual process.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers a person with a fever to be measured at a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher, but employers who are taking daily temperatures will be able to notice if an employee who typically tests around 98 suddenly is above 99. Employers can check the Virginia Department of Health’s “Interim Guidance for COVID-19 Daily Screening of Employees” for screening guidance.

Employees who are sick should not come to work. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission considers anyone with symptoms of the virus to be a direct threat to the workplace.

The Virginia guide recommends employers post signage telling people not to come to work if sick.

» Employers should develop flexible sick leave policies: The biggest concern among employers involves those who are currently healthy but high risk for greater complications or death from the virus.

Based on current statistics, Virginians under the age of 60 who tested positive for the virus had a survival rate of 99.59%.

The Virginia guidance recognizes that those over the age of 65 and those with underlying health conditions are high risk. The guidance recommends that those individuals be encouraged to self-identify, and thereafter employers should assist those individuals to accommodate their needs.

Employers need to be careful about not discriminating against older workers or those with disabilities, and should not assume that anyone is unable to come to work.

Employers should remind all workers of its efforts to maintain a safe workplace and comply with government guidelines.

Employers should offer help to anyone who needs it, inviting employees to discuss their concerns about returning to work directly with someone designated in your organization to do so and accommodate, if possible, those who are high risk.

Karen Michael is an attorney with Richmond-based KarenMichael PLC. She can be reached at kmichael@karenmichaelconsulting.com. This column first appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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