How Companies Can Keep Their Employees Safe During a Pandemic and Civil Unrest

Ivan Samkov (Pixels)

This is a year unlike most we have ever seen. Few could have predicted the continuous impacts of the coronavirus, a struggling economy, the civil unrest in the streets, and deeper conversations about race and civil liberties. On top of all of that, our businesses are beginning to reopen, and the masses are returning to work.

This is not a process that will happen overnight and for good reason. Before a business can reopen, considerations need to be made regarding the employees. They are going to have a lot on their minds, and to prioritize their health and continue effective business practices, new processes should be enacted to ensure the safety of every worker and manager in your organization. Here are some considerations that all businesses should make during these strange times.

Communication is Key

To make this return to work as smooth as possible, your company will have to be in constant communication with the workers. This can start before the employees even return by sending a communication to their home that details how the transition back to work will flow and the safety measures that have been put in place. Once you do open for business, continue these briefings on a daily or weekly basis.

It is also important to listen to employee feedback. Human Resources should have an open-door policy where employees can come in and express any health issues or ask questions about the pandemic or any safety policies/problems in general. Some workers may not feel comfortable coming to management in person, so consider sending out anonymous surveys where they can list their concerns and questions without feeling like they are in the spotlight. Don’t just go through the motions here. Review all received surveys and take action, so the workers know you are listening.

If you work with customers daily, communication will also be a necessary tool for them as well. If your state requires face masks in your establishment, put a sign at the front door, so customers know before they enter. Once inside, put stickers on the ground or signs around that inform customers of the need for social distance at six feet apart. Taking these precautions will protect your employees as well.

Manage Employee Stress

While people are excited about the prospect of returning to work, many external factors may be in the back of their minds. After all, it is almost impossible to just go about your day without thinking about the prospect of getting sick or watching the news and losing sleep thinking about what tomorrow will hold. Because of all of this, it is important that a company accounts for employee stress and creates a helpful environment, so everyone feels comfortable at work.

Your policies should allow two breaks and a lunch every day because this gives your staff a chance to recharge their batteries and come back energized for the next task. In some states, these breaks are legally required. In the case of a pandemic, an overcrowded workplace can cause additional stress, so your company may have to consider adding different shifts throughout the day and night so fewer people are working at once. Keep in mind that your company will have to pay accordingly, especially with overnight shifts where a wage increase may be necessary.

A business doing its part to ensure a stress-free and safe environment is not only the right thing to do, but it may also be a legal necessity. For instance, if an employee says that they feel sick or their child is ill, and they have met certain requirements, they have the right to a leave of absence for family support. If the employee cites this need, do not fight back. Instead, show your support and guide how to set up the leave. This way, you will have an employee who will come back when things are settled instead of a worker who is over-stressed in a potentially unhealthy environment.

Preparing Your Work Environment

While mental health and communication are essential, you also need to provide a safe physical environment during these tough times. If the pandemic has kept you out of your office for a while, then you must ensure that the structure is maintained properly for the return. If the water lines haven’t been used in a while, they may have to be flushed to avoid dangerous toxins. You should also consider deep cleaning the upholstery, drapes, and carpets to remove dust and debris.

In the case of a pandemic like COVID-19, you will want to follow the guidelines provided by government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control. This begins with having health and temperature checks before anyone enters the building, and if you are requiring masks, ensure that they have them before starting work. If anyone reports that they feel sick, they should be sent home until they are medically cleared. If you can afford to do so, offer paid sick days, and hold off on attendance violations during these trying times.

Finally, provide a clean workspace for your employees and ensure that they have the tools they need to remain as germ-free as possible. Every night, all desks and common break areas should be cleaned and disinfected. The bathrooms should have full soap dispensers, and there should be hand sanitizer stations throughout the office.

The health and safety of your employees should be the priority of every corporation, especially during times of unrest. When you have happy and successful employees, your business will thrive.

Beau Peters is a freelance writer based out of Portland, OR. He has a particular interest in covering workers' rights, social justice, and workplace issues and solutions. Read other articles by Beau.