CDC Releases New Guidelines For Office Returns

New recommendations from the CDC provide a roadmap for businesses looking for the safest way to reopen their offices to prevent the spread of coronavirus. We’ve curated some of the most noteworthy highlights below.

All employers need to consider how best to decrease the spread of COVID-19 and lower the impact in their workplace. This should include activities to:

  • prevent and reduce transmission among employees,
  • maintain healthy business operations, and
  • maintain a healthy work environment.

Employers should follow the White House Guidelines for Opening Up America Again a phased approach based on current levels of transmission and healthcare capacity at the state or local level, as part of resuming business operations. Employers should also review the OSHA COVID-19 guidance for information on how to protect workers from potential exposures, according to their exposure risk.

Employers should be sure to monitor federal, state, and local public health communications about COVID-19 regulations, guidance, and recommendations and ensure that workers have access to that information. Frequently check the CDC COVID-19 website.

Prevent and Reduce Transmission Among Employees

Actively encourage sick employees to stay home:

  • Employees who have symptoms should notify their supervisor and stay home.
  • Sick employees should follow CDC-recommended steps. Employees should not return to work until the criteria to discontinue home isolation are met, in consultation with healthcare providers.
  • Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and follow CDC recommended precautions.

Consider daily in-person or virtual health checks (e.g., symptom and/or temperature screening) of employees before they enter the facility, in accordance with state and local public health authorities:

  • If implementing in-person health checks, conduct them safely and respectfully.
  • See the “Should we be screening employees for COVID-19 symptoms?” section of General Business Frequently Asked Questions as a guide.
  • Complete the health checks in a way that helps maintain social distancing guidelines, such as providing multiple screening entries into the building.

Identify where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work through a hazard assessment to determine if workplace hazards are present, or are likely to be present, and determine what type of controls or PPE are needed for specific job duties.

  • Determine what PPE is needed for their workers’ specific job duties,
  • Select and provide appropriate PPE to the workers at no cost, and
  • Train their workers on its correct use.
  • Encourage all workers to wear a cloth face covering at work even if the hazard assessment has determined that they do not require PPE
  • Remind employees and customers that CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. Wearing a cloth face covering, however, does not replace the need to practice social distancing.

Maintain Healthy Business Operations

Implement flexible sick leave and supportive policies and practices

  • Ensure sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of and understand these policies.
  • Maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member or take care of children due to school and childcare closures. Additional flexibilities might include giving advances on future sick leave and allowing employees to donate sick leave to each other.
  • Employers that do not currently offer sick leave to some or all of their employees should consider drafting non-punitive “emergency sick leave” policies.
  • Employers should not require a COVID-19 test result or a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick to qualify for sick leave, or to return to work.

Communicate supportive workplace policies clearly, frequently, and via multiple methods.

  • Communicate to any contractors or on-site visitors about changes that have been made to help control the spread of COVID-19. Ensure that they have the information and capability to comply with those policies.
  • Create and test communication systems that employees can use to self-report if they are sick and that you can use to notify employees of exposures and closures.
  • Consider using a hotline or another method for employees to voice concerns anonymously.
  • Train employees on stress management tools and support

Assess your essential functions and the reliance that others and the community have on your services or products.

  • Be prepared to change your business practices, if needed, to maintain critical operations (e.g., identify alternative suppliers, prioritize existing customers, or temporarily suspend some of your operations).
  • Identify alternate supply chains for critical goods and services. Some goods and services may be in higher demand or unavailable.
  • If other companies provide your business with contract or temporary employees, talk with them about the importance of sick employees staying home and encourage them to develop non-punitive leave policies.
  • When resuming onsite business operations, identify and prioritize job functions for continuous operations. Minimize the number of workers present at worksites by resuming business operations in phases, balancing the need to protect workers with support for continuing operations.

Maintain a healthy work environment

Since COVID-19 may be spread by those with no symptoms, businesses and employers should evaluate and institute controls according to the hierarchy of controls to protect their employees and members of the general public.

Consider improving the engineering controls using the building ventilation system. This may include some or all of the following activities:

  • Increase ventilation rates.
  • Ensure ventilation systems operate properly and provide acceptable indoor air quality for the current occupancy level for each space.
  • Increase outdoor air ventilation, using caution in highly polluted areas. With a lower occupancy level in the building, this increases the effectiveness
  • Disable demand-controlled ventilation (DCV).
  • Further open minimum outdoor air dampers (as high as 100%) to reduce or eliminate recirculation. In mild weather, this will not affect thermal comfort or humidity. However, this may be difficult to do in cold or hot weather.
  • Improve central air filtration to the MERV-13 or the highest compatible with the filter rack, and seal edges of the filter to limit bypass.
  • Check filters to ensure they are within service life and appropriately installed.
  • Keep systems running longer hours, 24/7 if possible, to enhance air exchanges in the building space.

Give employees, customers, and visitors what they need to clean their hands and cover their coughs and sneezes:

  • Provide tissues and no-touch trash cans.
  • Provide soap and water in the workplace. If soap and water are not readily available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol.
  • Ideally, place touchless hand sanitizer stations in multiple locations
  • Place posters that encourage hand hygiene to help stop the spread at the entrance to your workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen. This should include signs for non-English speakers, as needed.

Minimize risk to employees when planning meetings and gatherings:

  • Use videoconferencing or teleconferencing when possible for meetings and gatherings.
  • Cancel, adjust, or postpone large meetings or gatherings that can only occur in-person in accordance with state and local regulations and guidance.
  • When videoconferencing or teleconferencing is not possible, hold meetings in open, well-ventilated spaces continuing to maintain a distance of 6 feet apart and wear cloth face coverings.