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Return to the Office Invokes Fear

Updated: May 28, 2020

Just when we all got used to the "new normal" of working from home many states have reopened for business and need their employees to step back into public spaces such as the office. This invokes the fear of panic for some. Many small business owners are left on the hook for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans that were applied for with the intention of making employee payroll. In addition, many employer organizations are finding themselves having to rehire talent for positions which were once held by currently remote, furloughed or laid off employees.

The national unemployment rate as of May 8th was 14.7 percent according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and another 2.1 million unemployment claims were filed the week ending May 23rd according to Department of Labor (DOL). With the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in full effect Americans are able to receive an additional $600 in federal unemployment insurance on top of their state unemployment benefits through July 31st. This financial cushion mixed with the fear of contamination from symptomatic and asymptomatic coworkers is keeping people in their homes longer.

So what are employers doing about it? Many are calling on their human resources leaders to assist them with complying with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.This once tactical, overhead professional is now treated as a "front line" worker and strategic business partner tasked with providing the return to work (RTW) safety measures for their organization. These measures could include a phased or tier approach based on essential vs non essential roles, health risk factors, tenure or rank. Additional preventive measures could include, health screenings, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and symptom checking phone apps. Currently some organizations are utilizing biometric thermal temperature checks, Covid-19 testing kits, masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, extra hand wash stations and even barrier shields such as Plexiglass.

Enforcing social distancing will be a challenge but under the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act 1970 (view here) it is the employer's responsibility to provide and reassure their employees have a healthy and safe workplace. To do this employers may install no-touch time clocks, mark 6 ft distance quadrants on the ground, hold virtual meetings, as well as rearrange cubicles. Crowded break areas, lunchrooms, lounges, picnic tables or gazebos with more than 10 people gathering are a thing of the past and may now be monitored by infrared technology in order to maintain compliance. Whether employees fully embrace returning to work in the office or continue to work from home "Big Brother" is watching in hopes to ease the fear and keep everyone safe. Be responsible and do your part!

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