Susan Gross Sholinsky, Member of the Firm in the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practice, in the firm’s New York office, was quoted in Brushware Magazine, in “Bringing People Back for Work,” by Phillip M. Perry.

Following is an excerpt:

Working from home is over. Partly, anyhow. And after weeks of telephone conferencing and video chatting, many workers are doubtless eager to return to their offices. In managing this reverse migration, though, businesses must coordinate a patchwork of safety procedures and work area modifications while communicating effectively with employees. …

Cleaning Up …

Businesses may need to modify long-standing work procedures. A single-serve machine might replace a group coffee maker. Conference room chairs might be removed so people can sit far enough from one another. Hallways might be turned into one-way corridors. And the job of turning on the lights might be assigned to one person.

Signs posted throughout the facility can remind everyone to maintain proper social distancing, keep washing their hands and wear masks. “Employers should ensure their workers refrain from unnecessary touching or congregating in cafeterias and conference rooms,” says Susan Gross Sholinsky, Vice Chair of the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practice of Epstein, Becker Green in New York ( …

Gradual Returns

No safety plan can succeed if too many people crowd into the office, placing themselves and others at risk. Many businesses are moderating the flow of arrivals by bringing back people in stages, even going so far as to require eager volunteers to obtain clearance from their supervisors before returning. Others are separating their staffs into two or more teams and allowing one group in the office at a time.

“Employers should consider the feasibility of staggering employees’ shift times or of establishing an alternating workday or workweek schedule,” says Sholinsky. “They should be flexible and creative in developing policies that maximize productivity and ensure the highest levels of safety.” …

Avoiding Discrimination …

The law explicitly prohibits adverse actions against anyone who has taken time off as a direct result of the Covid-19 outbreak. “Employers may be subject to retaliation claims when employees are terminated or otherwise subject to adverse employment actions after they have taken sick leave, a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), or under a COVID-19-specific law such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA),” says Sholinsky. …

Accommodating Disabilities

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and equivalent state and local laws create an especially hazardous legal terrain. An employer should not deny a request to work from home if that arrangement would be a reasonable accommodation for a Covid-19 related disability. “There may be a charge that the employee should have been allowed to work remotely if that individual has a compromised immune system or a condition identified by the CDC as one that would make the employee more vulnerable to being sickened by Covid-19,” says Sholinsky.

Related reading:

Economic Development Growth Engine, "Successfully Returning to the Workplace Post-COVID."

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