THE NEW NORMAL « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles


Organizing for Post-Pandemic Workplace Revival

“Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.” Emmanuel Kant

Once upon a time (not too) long ago, our current of state business and workplace hibernation was unimaginable. As management plans for return to full operation, best practice in whatever the form – letter, notice posting, policy – will acknowledge a new definition of normal, welcoming “respiratory etiquette,” “hand hygiene,” “personal protective equipment” (PPE), and “effective social distancing” into daily interchange.

The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919 infected some 500 million people – about one-third of the world’s population – and killed an estimated 50 million,  more by far than perished in the World War I horrors that preceded it and in the World War II slaughters, combined. The Spanish Flu came in three waves of varying intensity that correlated directly with preventative measures taken. With no vaccine to protect against influenza infection and no antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections, globally uncoordinated control efforts were limited to isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and limitations of public gatherings.

That flu’s two major recurrences over some 18 months should impart wisdom enough for adequate COVID-19 precautions even after any upcoming “all clear.”

California requires all employers to adopt and maintain a written injury and illness prevention program (IIPP). With aid of Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) COVID-19 standards, new and expanded IIPP standards might well include:

● Standards for Maintaining a Healthy Work Environment: These could start with a thorough professional disinfection prior to a workplace reopening. Executives should also explore hiring a professional safety consultant for a one-time engagement to make sure the workplace is properly configured to minimize risk of virus outbreak.

Management should consider appointing a staff point person to oversee all pandemic-related programs and actions.

Standards should include sound respiratory etiquette, hand hygiene, and adequate social distancing for all employees and others present at the worksite as well as an intensified routine of ongoing cleaning and disinfection.

Following the example of food stores and other outlets that have stayed open through the pandemic, an employer should consider marking floors with one-way arrows to limit close physical proximity in frequently-used aisles and hallway. It could also be sound practice to enhance separations by plexiglass between cubicles or workstations, removing some of the chairs from the lunchroom, and so forth.

● Standards to Prevent the Pandemic’s Return: Overlapping with environmental actions, management must adequately incorporate federal and applicable state and local health prevention protocols as those continue to evolve. A sufficiently educated workforce can help limit recurrence to a minimum.

An employer must judge and clearly document its adequate screening procedures for workplace entry and reentry. Options include questionnaires for entering personnel and visitors, required negative COVID-19 tests, temperature taking, symptoms reporting and continued isolation and quarantine actions. See,  When the Show Must Go On; Key Protection Protocols for an Essential Industry Employee’s COVID-19 Diagnosis/Symptoms.

● Standards to Promote Productivity: Perhaps more important than ever, employers should consider incentives for rewarding production and initiative. Management also ought to reiterate its anti-discrimination, harassment and retaliation policies, e.g., pandemic-fueled racial or national origin hostility will not be tolerated.

Good practice would include updated contact information for all personnel.  Employers should consider in advance what to do with employees who want to continue teleworking out of fear or just out of personal preference.

Management must also maintain flexible leave and other policies to accommodate workers experiencing the ongoing effects of the pandemics. See, Federal Coronavirus  Workplace Relief;  New Paid Sick Leave, Family Leave And Tax Credits Effective April 2, 2020)

These points are of course not intended as comprehensive. Government has undertaken to address particular conditions for particular industries. See, e.g. OSHA’s COVID-19 Guidance for the Construction WorkforceCOVID-19 Guidance for the Manufacturing Industry WorkforceCOVID-19 Guidance for the Package Delivery Workforce; and COVID-19 Guidance for Retail Workers. Ultimately, a company’s scope and degree of such new standards depend heavily on its operations and circumstances.

See also:

Our firm is helping its employer clients develop the policies and protocols needed to match these extraordinary times. For more information, contact Tim BowlesCindy Bamforth or Helena Kobrin.

Tim Bowles

April 30, 2020