Turning the Lights Back On: Preparing for Office Reopenings and Other COVID-19 Resources

Even with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout beginning to accelerate, for the majority of companies—those that aren’t taking the ‘virtual-only workforce’ leap—transitioning employees safely back into an office setting, even on a part-time basis, likely won’t happen for many months. However, there are steps companies should be taking now to prepare, and Fenwick has several resources available, highlighted here, for our clients and other friends.

Staying informed of the latest news and the most recent guidance from your area is important in order to gauge when to ask employees to return to the office once they can safely do so, and for working parents, once their children are back in school or daycare. Companies are continually evaluating timelines for return-to-work protocols.

From preparing the physical workplace for return, general health and safety considerations, establishing employment and employee leave policies, and planning for employee health and testing procedures, there are myriad considerations and emerging best practices to implement before re-opening the office doors or more fully populating offices that have remained open on a limited basis.

Fenwick’s Return to Work Checklist, compiled by our Employment Practices group, is a helpful tool when considering these issues, as employee health and well-being must be a company’s absolute highest priority.

Best practices outlined in the checklist include:

  • Create a company taskforce—consisting of representatives from no less than senior management, legal, HR/people, facilities, payroll and IT departments—to oversee planning, implementation and troubleshooting of return-to-work activities.
  • Conduct a thorough hazard assessment of the physical workplace, in accordance with federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommendations, to identify all potential COVID-19 hazards and formulate a plan accordingly.
  • Establish open and transparent communication with employees around COVID-19 issues (e.g. employer efforts to maintain a safe workplace, employee rights under applicable sick and safety leave policies). Encourage employees to voice concerns and ask questions.
  • Establish a designated point person (or department) to whom employees should report all COVID-19-related issues. This should be a human resources professional, or someone in a similar role, who is trained to maintain employee confidentiality.
  • Consider proactively inquiring whether employees are experiencing COVID-19 related symptoms through a questionnaire issued to all employees on a non-discriminatory basis.

Our employment group is also keeping close track of important decisions by government agencies related to the workplace and hosting webinars aimed at keeping businesses informed. Also check out Fenwick’s COVID-19 Resource Center, which offers legal, regulatory and commercial insights that can help companies understand and navigate the pandemic and its impact on the economy and business.

Many uncertainties remain as we continue to learn more about COVID-19, new variants and vaccine availability. Navigating such a rapidly-unfolding situation may feel daunting, especially considering the “unknowns” affecting families, businesses and communities. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or another member of the Fenwick team if we can assist with your return-to-work planning or provide other resources that may be of help.

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Originally published March 11, 2021, on Fenwick's Life Sciences Legal Insights blog​.