As more and more businesses are cleared to resume some normal operations, we have been receiving an increasing number of calls from employees scared to return to work. Sadly, we have heard many stories from people whose employers are eager to open doors but are not taking the required preparedness measures for COVID-19.
Does any of this sound familiar?
“I’ve talked to my employer about COVID-19 measures they should take but they’re not open to it.”
“My employer is unwilling to implement a COVID-19 safety program.”
“I work in reception and asked for a Plexiglas divider (clear shield) and my boss said no.”
“Personal protective equipment (PPE) is on backorder but we’re still opening.”
“We don’t have any patient screening or social distancing policies in our office.”
“We don’t know what we should be doing.”
“I’m uncomfortable with the idea of returning to work.”
“I want to know what my rights are as an employee.”
If it does, you are not alone. And we can help.
So what can an employee do when returning to work?
This is a complex situation affecting employees and employers alike. The answers to the sense of worry in returning to the workplace are knowledge and taking meaningful action.
Let’s start with the sobering reality
Most workers in the US are employed “at will” meaning that an employer can terminate employment for any reason not deemed illegal. Therefore, simply refusing to come back to work is not the answer here. And being uncomfortable with returning back to work is likely not a legal basis for refusing to work. While the General Duty Clause requires employers to create a safe work environment for employees, alleging a violation of the clause is a high bar to meet – especially if an employer is taking some steps to prepare the workplace.
So what can you do?
1. It’s an obvious one but – talk to your employer.
You have a right to a safe workplace and it is reasonable to want to feel safe when in the office. In our experience, most employers do want to ensure employees are comfortable at work. While information is constantly changing, new guidelines being instituted, and this being a complex regulatory and legal landscape, it can be overwhelming to keep up and run a business at the same time. Oftentimes we find that employers are simply not aware of their obligations and resources available to them.
Here are some tips on what to cover with your employer:
- + Go over your specific concerns
- + Identify preparedness measures that can still be taken
- + Ask to see your office’s preparedness and response plan for COVID-19 (having one is a strong recommendation from both OSHA and the CDC. Lack thereof has even been a citable offense by OSHA)
- + Suggest you reach out to your OSHA vendor to see what preparedness resources they have available to you. For example, Gamma Compliance Solutions OSHA clients receive our 100+ page COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan free.
2. Share the 'Things Employers Should Do When Reopening Their Businesses During COVID-19' quick sheet.
We developed this toolkit to educate employees on what their rights are as well as to make it simple for employees to share COVID-19 preparedness requirements with employers. Included within the toolkit is the 'Things Employers Should Do When Reopening Their Business During COVID-19' quick sheet. Simply forward to your employer for their review.
3. If you feel you have no other recourse, you can submit an anonymous complaint to OSHA.
If you think your workplace is unsafe because of the coronavirus, and you have concrete, specific examples, you can file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The OSH Act also includes an anti-retaliatory clause, meaning you can’t be fired or demoted for asserting your right to a safe workplace — though a worker must file that claim within 30 days of any alleged retaliation.
How we can help
For over 20 years, we have worked with over ten thousand medical, dental, and veterinary practices to implement easy and comprehensive workplace safety programs to keep employees safe. That unique focus has given us the know-how to guide our clients during this pandemic situation on specific measures they can take to protect their staff and patients. Coming from a healthcare background, the action plans we institute are at a level of rigor that is easily translatable and adjusted for industries at all levels of exposure risk including:
- + General offices
- + Gyms and fitness centers
- + Hair salons and barbershops
- + Tattoo parlors
- + Manufacturing and industrial facilities
- + Transportation
- + Educational and daycare institutions
- + Retail
- + Restaurants
- + Medical and dental practices
- + Veterinary and animal care services
- + And more
In any industry…
If you are an employee concerned about returning to work or an employer not sure you are covering all the bases, give us a call at 800.492.6958 for a free, no-obligation 10-minute consultation. We are here to help.