Returning To Work? Here’s What Your Employer Must Do To Protect You From The Coronavirus.
Carlee Sutera Student, Rutgers Law School
Kirsi Kataniemi from Pixabay
States around the country are reopening nonessential businesses.
If you are going back to work, it is important that you know your rights and what precautions your employer should be taking to protect you from the transmission of COVID-19.
Steps all employers should take:
1. Developing an infectious disease preparedness and response plan that can guide employees on how to protect themselves against COVID-19. Your employer should be aware of guidance from federal, state, local, tribal, and/or territorial health agencies, and incorporate those into workplace safety plans.
It is important to ask your employer what level of exposure they think you will have. This should consider:
- Where and how you could be exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace
- Non-occupational risk factors such as at home and in community settings
- Your personal risk factors such as age and preexisting health conditions
2. Implementing basic infection prevention measures in the workplace such as promoting frequent handwashing and encouraging employees to stay home if they become sick.
3. Developing policies and procedures for prompt identification and isolation of sick people.
4. Communicating about workplace flexibility and protections. This means doing things such as encouraging sick employees to stay home and making sure that sick leave policies are flexible, consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of them.
Before you return to work, ask your employer if you are considered low-risk, moderate-risk or high-risk.
If your employer can’t answer this question, this should be a red flag that they may not know enough to safely reopen.
How low risk employees should be protected:
Low risk employees are those who do not have frequent contact with the general public. In order to protect a low risk employee, an employer should follow the general guidelines mentioned above.
Additional engineering controls and personal protective equipment are not recommended for low risk workers but administrative controls such as monitoring public health recommendations about COVID-19
How medium risk employees should be protected:
Medium risk employees are those who have frequent and/or close contact with people who may be infected with COVID-19, but who are not known or suspected COVID-19 patients.
Medium risk employees should be protected by following the general guidelines mentioned above.
This includes engineering controls such as: installing protective barriers where needed, administrative controls such as providing face masks to sick employees and customers until they are able to leave, keeping customers informed about COVD-19 symptoms, limiting public access to the workplace, and minimizing face to face contact in the workplace.
Employers should also provide medium risk employees with PPE. They may need to wear a combination of gloves, a gown, a facemask, and/or a face shield or goggles.
How high risk employees should be protected:
High risk employees have potential to be exposed to known or suspected sources of COVID-19. Very high risk employees are those with high potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of COVID-19 during specific medical, postmortem, or laboratory procedures.
In order to protect high risk employees, employers should follow the general guidelines as mentioned above.
Engineering controls should be implemented such as installing and maintaining appropriate air-handling systems in healthcare facilities, and having isolation rooms available for patients with or suspected of having COVID-19 and for performing aerosol-generating procedures on patients with known or suspected COVID-19.
Administrative controls should also be put to use including: implementing policies that reduce exposure, posting signs requesting patients and family members to immediately report COVID-19 symptoms and to wear face masks, offering enhanced medical monitoring of workers, providing job-specific education and training on preventing the spread of COVID-19, and ensuring that psychological and behavioral support is available to address employee stress.
Personal protective equipment is essential to protect high risk employees. They will likely need to wear gloves, a gown, a face shield or goggles, and either a face mask or a respirator, depending on their job tasks and exposure risks.
What to do if your employer isn’t meeting these guidelines:
If your employer is not taking the proper precautions to protect you from COVID-19 or if you feel your work place is unsafe you may anonymously file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Organization (OSHA). For more information on workplace safety during the pandemic see OSHA’s guide on preparing workplaces for COVID-19 and the CDC’s resources for businesses and workplaces.
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