As stores and restaurants are set to reopen in Phase 1 of Florida’s reopening plan, employers of all industries will begin to implement a strategy for reopening their businesses. Although most construction jobsites have remained active under the statewide stay-at-home order that was issued in early April, construction businesses may begin to transition their operations back from remote work to brick-and-mortar locations within the next few weeks.
In this brief article, a Jacksonville construction lawyer will discuss several of the factors that need to be considered when creating a post-COVID reopening plan. Although we haven’t quelled the COVID-19 outbreak completely yet, there is light at the end of the tunnel. For employment law advice for every aspect of your business, consult the Jacksonville construction lawyers with Cotney Construction Law.
It should come as no surprise that the primary responsibility of employers is to provide a safe work environment for their employees, especially in the midst of a pandemic. When employees return to work, social distancing requirements are expected to remain in place for the foreseeable future. Employers will need to consider not only social distancing requirements for their employees but also both scheduled and unexpected arrivals of clients and vendors to their location.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently published COVID-19 Guidance for the Construction Workforce. This document can provide some insight into the new COVID-19-related health and safety requirements for construction businesses. For jobsite safety initiatives, we encourage you to read our article, COVID-19: Preventing Workplace Exposure in Construction.
Here are a few pointers for how you can mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in an office space when you reopen your construction business:
Changing the Layout of Work Spaces
To comply with the six feet of space social distancing requires, businesses will need to alter the layout of their operations. If you have an open floorplan with a bullpen of desks, these work spaces will need to be spread apart. Reception desks will need to be moved away from entrance doors or elevators, and conference rooms will need to be rearranged and have only three or four employees in them at a time. Along with changing the work space layout, common areas and break rooms should continue to be either closed off or allow only one or two employees to access them at the same time. Employers should consider putting up signs to direct foot traffic and ensure that proper social distancing is maintained.
Investing in Resources
If you are wondering whether or not employees are allowed to wear masks and gloves in the workplace, a Florida construction attorney advises that you should allow employees to do so. In fact, employers should invest in disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, gloves, and masks for both their employees at the jobsite and in the office. Consider installing hand sanitizer dispensers in heavily trafficked areas and provide your workforce with training courses on how to properly wear PPE to ensure their safety.
Cleaning the Workplace
Frequently touched surfaces around an office space need to be disinfected regularly. Computer keyboards, door handles, chairs, desks, phones, light switches, toilets, and common surface areas like countertops are all areas that need to be consistently cleaned. We encourage employers to review the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidance for cleaning and disinfecting the workplace when reopening a business.
Creating a Culture of Cleanliness
Employers need to consider workplace practices specific to their office space to reduce potential exposure. This can include leaving doors open and closing all common areas. Some other things to consider, include:
- Encourage your employees to practice respiratory etiquette like covering sneezes and coughs
- Promote personal hygiene like regular handwashing
- Advise employees to avoid physical contact when they can
Reinforcing the above practices will only ensure a safer work environment for your team.
Although it’s probably best to use a video conferencing system like Zoom when possible, when client’s visit the office, offer them hand sanitizer and practice social distancing requirements. After they leave, wipe down the door handle and any surfaces they touched. You may want to feature signage outside your office that directs visitors on where to enter and exit the premises to ensure social distancing is adhered to.
Along with health and safety initiatives in the office, employers will need to continue to initiate work policies and procedures that can minimize exposure and ease their workforce back into performing their daily tasks in the office again. First and foremost, developing an effective return to work program requires employers and supervisors to closely monitor the most recent news in their location along with the most recent state and local regulations. As the news and laws in your location change, so will the company policies and procedures.
A Jacksonville contractor lawyer covers a few areas of administrative work that need to be covered for a seamless return to the workplace:
Even as we enter Phase 1 of reopening businesses, employers have a legal right to ask employees COVID-19-related questions to determine potential risk factors in their workplace. If your business recently altered sick leave policies, it’s best to keep them as-is for now and continue to monitor the news. Remind any sick workers to stay home, and if any employees show COVID-19 symptoms, send them home immediately. Continue to monitor the most recent health and safety advice from OSHA and the CDC on a daily basis.
Most employers will want their team to shift back to the office as soon as possible even if the transition to flexible work hours remotely was a success. Determining whether to continue to provide telework or move activities back to the office is a difficult decision for employers and will need to be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Here are a few questions employers should ask themselves to determine if they should continue to allow telework as an option moving forward:
- Was the shift to telework successful?
- What were the potential drawbacks of telework?
- Is it reasonable to consider telework an option moving forward?
- What risks would your employees face if you required them to come into work?
- Do any employees have a preexisting condition?
- Are there any security risks or network vulnerabilities with your current telework system?
- Are new employees missing out on crucial in-person training initiatives?
- Could the flexibility of telework be key in retaining employees?
- Will your employees have children at home due to school closures?
Business owners will need to evaluate their operations and determine if it’s viable to continue allowing their staff to telework. As employee retainment is crucial during an economic downturn, listen to the concerns of your employees and consider their feedback along with evaluating the business needs and potential risks of requiring your staff to return to the workplace.
A Jacksonville construction attorney advises employers to make certain that they are consistently applying telework policies for all employees moving forward. For example, if one employee is allowed to telework for 20 hours a week and a similarly situated employee is not allowed to do so, this could result in a discrimination claim. As many company policies have been adjusted in the last few months, it’s important to address these policy changes with our Jacksonville construction attorneys and consider which policies should be revised or kept intact within your employee handbook.
Staggering Shift Times
To comply with social distancing requirements, employers will need to creatively find ways to reduce the number of employees in the workplace at one time. Employers may want to extend their office hours and allow employees to alternate work days or shift times. Along with keeping common areas less frequented, employers should implement new policies that stagger break times, especially during lunch. Whether it’s rotating shift times or allowing employees to have some remote work, there are several ways employers can have less employees near each other during the workday.
Related: A Message from Trent Cotney
Developing a Strategy for the Future
The last few months have been challenging for businesses across the country. Hopefully, we will continue to see a positive trend and restrictions will continue to be lifted in the near future. Over the last month or two, employers have had the opportunity to evaluate their business model and address areas of their operations that can be improved. Many businesses will emerge from this pandemic better organized and more efficient because they implemented the following practices:
- Increased productivity through telework opportunities
- Improved communication through video conferencing systems
- Enhanced project collaboration skills by utilizing cloud-based systems
- Improved scheduling processes for both jobsite and office-related positions
Although there have been many setbacks in the last month, as many businesses reopen their workplace, they can implement these improved processes to increase productivity in the future.
Understanding a Potential Shift in Your Market
Another issue employers will need to closely evaluate as they return to work is the market demand for their existing services. We have seen news stories about some industries like retail stores and restaurants that have seen dramatic shifts in their market demand as consumers are now relying on online ordering or curbside pickups. Even though most construction jobs have remained active during the pandemic, we will see some significant changes when operations return to full swing and the majority of jobsites reopen in the coming months. Some projects will continue on as they did before the pandemic, while others will remain shut down. Some businesses will shift their services to focus on one specific area of construction, while some businesses will merge with others to offer an array of services.
As this pandemic has given us all time to reflect, many businesses will take this time to evolve and come out of this pandemic stronger than before. At Cotney Construction Law, our Florida construction attorneys partner with construction companies to better their business. To learn more about our monthly subscription plan services, consult the Florida construction lawyers with Cotney Construction Law.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.