Recent CDC guidance offers businesses a framework for reopening while promoting workplace safety and operational continuity.

As businesses have begun to reopen across various states amidst the ongoing global health event, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidance on how to open office buildings safely. "COVID-19 Employer Information for Office Buildings" offers steps employers and building operators should take "to create a safe and healthy workplace and protect workers and clients." Employers are encouraged to review the CDC's guidance and incorporate its recommendations into their reopening plans.

The guidance is divided into four main areas: (1) building checks to make prior to reopening; (2) engineering controls that modify facilities in order to maintain social distancing; (3) administrative controls, including enhanced cleaning of facilities, employee health checks and staggered shifts/schedules to reduce the density of employees; and (4) training and ongoing communication about the need for employees to stay home when sick, maintain social distancing, practice personal hygiene and use masks/face coverings.

"You, as the employer, are responsible for responding to COVID-19 concerns and informing employees of the hazards in your workplace," the new CDC guidance explains. So, let's explore the guidance in more detail:

1. Building Checks

Before inviting employees to come back into office buildings, the CDC asks employers and building operators to "check the building to see if it's ready for occupancy." Specifically, make sure ventilation and HVAC systems are properly functioning and check for infestations of pests (e.g., rodents). In addition, employers should "[i]ncrease circulation of outdoor air as much as possible by opening windows and doors, using fans, and other methods."

2. Engineering Controls

Prior to reopening, employers should reassess their physical spaces and make appropriate adjustments of workstations, common areas, meeting rooms, etc. in order to support social distancing. This might mean removing half the chairs from a meeting room or installing protective shields in areas where social distancing is difficult to maintain. In addition, the CDC suggests facilitating more flow of outside air into the workspace, perhaps by opening windows where possible.

3. Administrative Controls

Employees who display symptoms of COVID-19 before they enter the workplace should be told to contact their supervisor immediately and not come into the workplace, while employees who show any symptoms at the office should immediately be "sent home with instructions and guidance." The CDC suggests enhanced cleaning and disinfecting of the workplace, as well as daily health checks for employees upon entrance.

In terms of scheduling, the CDC asks employers to allow more flexibility, letting employees "shift their hours so they can commute during less busy times." In addition, employers should stagger shifts, start times and break times "as feasible to reduce the density of employees" in the office. Finally, the CDC recommends office employees wear "a cloth face covering as a measure to contain the wearer's respiratory droplets and help protect their co-workers and members of the general public."

4. Training and Ongoing Communication

The CDC recommends enhanced training and ongoing communication in order to drive employee adoption of these new ways of working onsite such as: Displaying posters to remind employees to socially distance, to wash their hands frequently, stay home if they have COVID-19 symptoms, sneeze and cough in recommended ways, and more. Employers have an important role to provide "information and training on what actions employees should take when they are not feeling well (e.g., workplace leave policies, local and state health department information)," notes the CDC.

The extensive CDC guidance concludes with a list of links for employers wanting to access more information and support as they reopen their offices. Of course, while the guidance is helpful, each employer will have a unique return-to-work plan based on its own workspace, type of work/industry and employee base. Businesses clearly have a lot to do as they reopen offices amid COVID-19: the CDC's guidance offers them a valuable, practical and detailed framework for reopening in ways that promote workplace safety and operational continuity.

Get more insights and best practices on reopening your small business by visitng our COVID-19 Small Business Resource Center.

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