Due to the threat of the novel coronavirus, thousands of offices shut down back in March. Employees could work at home and stay inside to help protect themselves during the pandemic. Many of these employees still work at home. However, numerous people have since returned to the workplace. A great number of these people work in the hospitality industry.
Servers, front desk employees, and other customer-facing employees are particularly at risk, as they often interact with the public. This brings up the question of whether or not employers should provide PPE. A growing number of companies have provided face masks, gloves, and shields for these employees.
But are there other obligations that employers have for their workers during the pandemic? We’ll explore everything that companies should know about protecting their employees now.
OSHA Guidelines on COVID-19
The OSHA offers guidance on protecting workers during the pandemic
Right now, employers are facing challenges in the workplace that they never had to consider before. Protecting workers is crucial for ensuring their operations continue to run smoothly and their reputation is protected. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have both provided guidelines on providing worker safety during the age of COVID-19.
Creating Effective Safety Guidelines for Employees
To start, employers need to develop thorough and effective safety guidelines for their workers. These safety policies should provide information on different practices employees need to follow, such as wearing a mask or keeping restaurant guests separated by a table. Training employees on these new guidelines is important for ensuring everyone is on the same page.
Examples of New Guidelines
The guidelines should also offer insight into how the company itself will protect workers. Maybe it will install hand sanitizer stations around the workplace or limit the number of employees allowed inside the office at a time. Implementing guidelines for keeping everyone at least six feet apart should also be made. For instance, if you run a restaurant, you might have to close down certain server stations or turn off point of service systems to prevent servers from having to work in close proximity to each other. Offices might have to leave space between desks.
If a worker feels sick or shows symptoms of the coronavirus, they should stay home. Should they need to take care of a sick relative, your policy should permit them to stay home for the time being. Following this is crucial for protecting everyone else in the workplace. Conducting daily health checks can help companies keep track of workers and any symptoms they might be experiencing.
Providing PPE for Employees
Some states, including Michigan, New York, Rhode Island, and New Jersey, issued executive orders requiring state-covered businesses, such as restaurants and bars, to provide employees masks at their own expense. However, not all states have issued the same order.
But since most states do require people to wear masks whenever they leave the house, it can be seen as a courtesy for employers to provide face masks for their employees. After all, their workers face an increased risk of contracting the virus while they are at work. The least a company could do is offer them a complementary mask or a small stipend to purchase one for themselves.
Do Employers Need to Protect Employees Who Work From Home?
As of now, OSHA has not weighed in on offering protection for people who work at home. In general, the organization does not hold companies liable for workers in home offices. However, it will inspect a home office if an employee files a complaint about a piece of equipment their company sent them.
Cleaning and Sanitizing the Workplace
Companies need to follow strict cleaning protocols to protect both employees and guests
In addition to providing masks for their employees, companies should update their business operations to help protect everyone in the workplace.
Checking the Building for Safety Before Opening
Before opening up, employers should also evaluate their buildings for any safety hazards associated with a prolonged shutdown, such as mold, pests, or stagnant water systems. They should also check the ventilation systems. If they had to shut down their heating and HVAC systems, they will need to review protocols before starting them up again. Checking the water systems such as the sink faucets and drinking fountains will also be crucial. When a facility has been shut down for a long amount of time, the water supply could become contaminated.
Improving Ventilation in the Building
Maximizing air ventilation by opening windows and doors can help reduce one’s chances of contracting COVID-19. If possible, try to avoid air recirculation. Even though it is energy efficient, it poses an extra risk during a time when an airborne illness with no cure or vaccination is still at large.
Theoretically, air purifiers should help as well. However, you shouldn’t purchase them with the hopes that they will filter out every air particle containing the COVID virus. You will still need to follow CDC guidelines for wearing masks and keeping a six foot distance from others.
High Risks That Different Industries Face
Employees who work for airlines, restaurants, grocery stores, and hotels face the risk of contracting COVID from customers
Aside from healthcare workers, who face the highest risk of contracting COVID-19, employees in the following industries face a moderate risk of developing it themselves.
- Grocery stores
- Retail outlets
Because they work with the general public, companies should ensure that both employees and guests are wearing masks at all times. If a guest attempts to enter without a mask, the company can offer to provide one for them.
Places such as restaurants and shops can also offer pick-up options for customers to help minimize the number of people inside. Speaking of limiting people in a small place, some airlines have started keeping their middle seats vacant. Not only does it cut down on the number of people inside the plane, but it also helps passengers keep a reasonable distance from each other. Since the start of the pandemic, hotels have also made changes to protect both guests and employees. If you visit a hotel nowadays, you might notice that extra amenities such as the pool or bar have been temporarily closed.
How Employees Can Protect Themselves
Remember to follow CDC guidelines on protecting yourself from the virus whenever you are at work
As an employer, you can educate your employees on how they can best protect themselves during a pandemic. A growing number of companies have instituted COVID-19 training programs in their employee curriculums. If you decide to make one yourself, make sure you include these tips and guidelines.
Wearing a Mask and Gloves
We probably sound like a broken record from harping on the importance of wearing a mask. But wearing one is one of the best ways you can protect yourself and those around you. If you are a cashier or server, you may also benefit from wearing gloves. Of course, you shouldn’t let this give you a false sense of security. You still need to avoid touching your face.
Keeping Your Distance From Others
When speaking with customers or other employees, try to maintain a six foot distance from them. Your company should be limiting the number of people allowed inside the store at once, so this shouldn’t be too challenging.
Cleaning and Sanitizing
You will want to clean frequently touched surfaces, such as counters and registers. You should clean them before, during, and after your shift with antibacterial wipes. In addition to this, washing your hands with soap and water or sanitizing them with hand sanitizer throughout your shift will also be important.
Working in the age of the coronavirus poses more dangers than ever before. As of now, there is no cure or vaccine for the virus. For now, we can only protect ourselves by wearing masks, keeping a six foot distance from each other, and staying home whenever possible. If you do have to go into work, make sure your employer is doing everything it can to protect you during this stressful time.