5 Ways to Work Safely in the Time of COVID-19

NNN has a new meaning these days: New Not Normal. Working from home, avoiding large groups of people, placing online orders for food and household items, cancelling non-essential travel, video calls with co-workers and friends—and the list goes on. Eventually, of course, the precautions everyone must take to stay healthy and avoid the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 will begin to ease. So when you return to the office, the store or wherever you work, what might be required to prevent the spread of infection? What will landlords, property managers, employers and employees need to do to stay safe and healthy? Here’s a look at some of the practices the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend.

#1 Slow the Spread of COVID-19

When the day comes for people to start working at work, precautions will still be necessary in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers may ask employees if they are experiencing fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath or a sore throat.
For those that have had such symptoms, but were not tested for COVID-19, they can only return to work after being fever-free for 72 hours without the use of fever-reducing medicine. Also, they must have improved respiratory symptoms and be at least seven days out from the start of symptoms.

What about an employee who tested positive, became mildly to moderately ill and was able to self-isolate and medicate at home? All of the above-mentioned restrictions apply and in addition, these employees must have two confirmed negative COVID-19 tests given by a medical professional that are spaced at least 24 hours apart.

For any employee with a confirmed case of COVID-19 that required hospitalization, the CDC recommends rigorous testing before returning to work, because they are at higher risk of spreading the infection. Each of these cases must be considered individually and require verified testing as well as authorization from a healthcare professional to return to work.

#2 Social Distancing at Work

According to the website hopkinsmedicine.org, “social distancing is deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness. Staying at least six feet away from other people lessens your chances of catching COVID-19.”

With this in mind, there are several steps businesses can take to help employees social distance including:

  • Continue to allow work from home
  • Introduce flexible work hours or staggered shifts
  • Increase the physical space between employees and between employees and customers
  • Postpone non-essential meetings or reschedule through videoconferencing
  • Implement delivery or curbside pickup of products

#3 Encourage Hand Washing

Frequent hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is recommended to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. If you can’t wash, then use a hand sanitizer with a minimum of 60 percent alcohol.

Create a culture of hand washing at work:

  • Keep soap dispensers full and make sure there are enough paper towels
  • Place hand sanitizer dispensers near entries and exits, elevators, inside and outside restrooms and in the kitchen area
  • Post signage in restrooms and kitchens reminding people to wash their hands

#4 Maintain a Healthy Work Environment

Keeping the workplace free of germs is everyone’s responsibility. Disinfecting wipes should be available so employees can wipe down their work surfaces, computer keyboards and phones. How often should you clean your workspace? Well, that depends on how often you wash your hands and whether or not you’re the only one working there. Most experts believe cleaning once at the end of the day is sufficient, and because computers and keyboards are touched constantly, now is the time to limit—if not eliminate—sharing.

Common areas in any work environment should be regularly cleaned and disinfected. What’s the difference between cleaning and disinfecting? According to the CDC, cleaning “removes germs, dirt and impurities from surfaces or objects… disinfecting uses chemicals to kill germs on surfaces or objects.”

Cleaning with detergent or soap and water removes particles that could carry coronavirus and other germs. The Environmental Protection Agency has a list of approved disinfectants, but the CDC also recommends a simple solution of 1/3-cup bleach per gallon of water.

#5 Be Prepared, Be Flexible

Even with everyone doing their best to reduce the spread of infection, there will still likely be cases of COVID-19. Be prepared to separate an employee that appears to have symptoms and have them go home immediately. If a case of COVID-19 is confirmed, inform other employees of possible exposure.

For recuperating employees or those needing to stay home to care for a sick family member, the CDC suggests flexible policies for sick leave. Some ideas include offering advances on future sick leave or allowing employees to donate sick leave to each other.

For more information on how to maintain a healthy workplace, please see the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).


The information contained in this article is general in nature and should not be construed as financial, tax or legal advice.  As with any financial or legal matter, consult your tax advisor and legal counsel.