Everyone is anxious to get back to “business as usual” after such a lengthy period of stay-home orders and business closures. But opening things up also carries the risk of triggering new outbreaks and surges, as has already been seen in some states that moved quickly. There’s a trick balance that needs to be found between sending people back to work to get the economy moving again and protecting workers, both from catching COVID-19 and helping spread it to others who may be at greater risk for complications and death.
Safer Labor Conditions to Stop COVID-19
There are plenty of people who fear the U.S. still doesn’t have the testing, reporting, or contact tracing capacity to truly contain the novel coronavirus as we push to open up the economy and get people back to work. No one is going to head back to office in full protective gear, so how can companies create a workplace with protections for the health and safety of workers? What are the protocols that make sense? What measures can help stop the spread of the virus throughout a workplace and beyond?
Each question asked above defies simple answers, but answer them we must because with no viable treatments or vaccines yet available, employers must take measures to protect workers. It’s been long recognized that workers have rights, and one of the most basic expectations is that the employer will provide a workplace that safe. In the midst of a global pandemic, that would necessarily include taking steps to protect workers from infectious diseases like COVID-19.
The Sticky Wicket of Legal Liability for Employers
Many companies are experiencing a legitimate amount of legal anxiety over all of this. When the pandemic was ratcheting up, some companies received a lot of criticism for not doing enough to protect their workers. It’s easy to identify cases of extreme neglect in this regard. But how far do companies have to go? And when you have the possibility of people who can carry, shed, and spread the virus without ever displaying any symptoms, all it takes is one infected person in the workplace to cause an outbreak. If that were to happen, could the people who get sick sue their employer? You can see how there could be a veritable tsunami of litigation against businesses by workers claiming they got sick because their employer didn’t do enough to protect their health.
This question of employer liability and what to do about it has become a hot topic in the United States Congress as it considers if another coronavirus relief bill should be passed. Painting with a broad brush, conservatives tend to be more pro-business than liberals, and liberals tend to be more pro-worker than conservatives. Most conservatives in Congress want to see liability protections for businesses in order to shield them from workplace lawsuits while liberals want to ensure workers have the right to sue when their complaint is legitimate. When additional emergency relief is needed to address skyrocketing unemployment and regain economic security, this liability conundrum could be what stymies it.
Some businesses are actually afraid about opening back up because of their fear of lawsuits brought by employees or even customers. Without the certainty of a law with clear guidance on what to expect, the threat of lawsuits and the costs of litigation are simply too much to risk.
Where is the United States Department of Labor and its Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in all of this? Nowhere to be found except when confronted, and strangely silent. Guidelines have been issued to employers, but none of them are required and there is no legal obligation for employers to implement any of them. The AFL-CIO actually petitioned the courts to force OSHA to establish an emergency standard around controlling infectious diseases in the workplace, but a federal appeals court denied the petition, so OSHA doesn’t have create any legally binding rules requiring employers to protect employees from COVID-19.
So the standoff continues. Workers are afraid to go back to an unsafe workplace, and employers are afraid of getting sued for not doing enough to protect workers. You can see why “sticky wicket” applies.
What Proactive Employers CAN Do
Setting aside all the political, bureaucratic, and regulatory shenanigans that may never work themselves out, there are plenty of businesses out there who do want to protect the health and safety of their workers during the pandemic, whether they are processing plants, factories, retail sites, or professional offices.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and OSHA have issued non-mandatory guidelines to help businesses reopen. The suggestions have an over feel of being cautious and sensible. Obvious protocols and measures include wearing face masks, social distancing, and a sick employee policy that everyone understands (i.e., staying home at any sign or symptom of illness), and stepping up sanitation as much as possible, including frequent hand hygiene with soap (which is generally more effective than hand sanitizer) and sanitizing workplace surfaces with disinfectant. Anything and everything a workplace does to minimize the spread of the virus helps protect public health and safety.
An Extra Step for Workplace Safety: Transparent Barriers
Companies that want to take additional measures can consider installing transparent barriers made of bulletproof glass in the form of clear acrylic windows. You’ve no doubt noticed how many supermarkets, convenience stores, and other establishments have installed glass or plastic barriers that provide a protective layer between staff behind the counter and customers in front of the counter. Can your workplace make use of such barriers to minimize potential virus transmission between workers? It’s a relatively simple measure that could go a long way toward making workers feel that much safer while at the same time keeping them safer and healthier so they can continue working.
Whether or not your company is interested in the bulletproofing feature of our products, there are a range of applications in which their use can be just what’s needed in the ongoing effort to get back to work even as the pandemic continues. If you’d like more information about how Creative Industries can help your workplace protect the health and safety of each worker and customer, explore the products on our website with the understanding that you’re not limited to standard products. We can custom design and install whatever kind of clear acrylic barriers will best meet the needs of your unique workplace. Give us a call toll-free at 800-776-2068 and we’ll be happy to assist you!