As Covid-19 related restrictions are slowly eased across the country, many businesses face a new future of providing a healthy and safe workspace for both their employees and customers. Although the Centers for Disease Control and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have issued guidelines, along with many state and local authorities, there are few actual laws requiring how businesses behave, other than restricting people in a location or requiring masks. The rest is up to the business owner.
And what’s at stake? If you don’t provide a safe and healthy workplace, people will not come to your business. Employees will stay at home or eventually look for work elsewhere. Worst case, if customers or employees stick around and become ill with CV-19 and it’s related to your poor workplace practices, you could be facing liability.
So here are three things you must be doing.
1. Create a Policy
As an employer, you do have leeway to create policies for your workplace that ensure the safety and welfare of your customers and employees. That’s why many companies have strict policies regarding drug use, smoking, dress codes and professional behavior, among other things. When an employee is hired, they are informed of the policies and usually must agree to them as terms of their employment.
The same goes for your COVID-19 related policies. Take a look at the CDC and OSHA rules mentioned above and create your safety and welfare policies based on that information. The policies should have the objective of creating a safe and healthy workplace for all and should stick to those CDC and OSHA guidelines. Your employees must be informed (see below) and agree. Any employee who refuses to agree (which should be unusual, considering that those policies have the purpose of keeping them from getting sick), then you would follow the same process as if the employee did not choose to adhere to any of your corporate policies. Considering the complexity of this, it’s probably a good idea to involve a professional—a labor attorney or human resources consultant—to guide you in the process.
The most important thing is you put your policy down in writing. Be prepared for it to change and stay current on those changes.
2. Assign Someone to Ownership of the Policy
You won’t be able to do this on your own. You’ve got a business to run and many other things to worry about. The business owners I know who have been undertaking these steps—many of them are “essential” businesses that have been operating throughout the pandemic—have all assigned the responsibility to someone in their office.
Who is this person? Ideally it’s someone in charge of human resources or personnel, but it can be anyone in an administrative role who has some authority and comes into contact with enough people in your organization so that he or she can effectively manage the process. This person should be given the time to dig into the OSHA and CDC rules and tasked with writing the above-mentioned policy as well as carrying out its requirements. This person should be allowed to make changes as needed with the approval of management and given access to outside experts for any assistance or advice needed.
Some of my clients have formed committees to do this, and that’s also great because the more input the better, as long as things don’t get too bureaucratic. But it really depends on the size of your business. However, for these workplace rules to be effective, one person must own them and be the go-to contact for any issues, changes and updates.
The companies I work with that have created the most effective policies have also been transparent with the process, and they communicated frequently with both their employees and customers. That means posting rules on the wall and sending out frequent emails, messages and written communications to both groups informing them of the protocols they’re putting in place. In addition, the owners and senior managers of the business have been walking the walk. That means that they have been adhering to the rules themselves and making a show of how important it is to abide by the new company policies. Yes, they wear masks, practice social distancing and elbow bump. They don’t ignore the rules because they’re the boss. They set an example.
Many of my clients have found that all of this communication has created an opportunity to engage more deeply with both their employees and customers. It’s a reason to reach out and demonstrate how much you care about their welfare. If done right, this type of communication can help to further build long term relationships.
So those are the three big things you need to do to create a safe workplace. Of course, the devil’s in the details (and the details are part of all those government guidelines that I mentioned above). But if you don’t create policies, put someone in charge and then effectively communicate what you’re doing, then whatever “safety” procedures you’re implementing will not be as effective.
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