The new rules for welcoming employees into your office
A few months ago, you could rest assured your employees would be safe coming to the office. You would have given them an access badge on their first day and encouraged them to stay home when they were sick. Due to the coronavirus, now welcoming employees into the office carries greater consequences and requires more consideration than before.
Flash forward to today, and your focus should be making sure that people don’t leave your office sick. Not only do you face a very unhappy and unproductive workforce if everyone is ill, but you could be issued a citation and held liable in a court of law.
Keeping your workplace safe means asking your employees the right questions before they come into the office. Knowing more about an employee’s health status and office plans can help you get ahead of any issues. There are also guidelines from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and local laws to follow, as well as your employees’ personal privacy.
Here’s what you need to consider as you start surveying and screening employees who come into the office.
1) Know if they’re sick before they come in
The most important information to get from an employee before they come in is their state of health. As recommended by the CDC, it is best if an employee can share these details before they come in to prevent the spread of disease.
The CDC recommends asking anyone who plans to come to your office if they have a fever or any of symptoms consistent with COVID. However, you may want to ask other questions to help you determine if they may have been exposed to COVID-19. For example:
- Have you traveled out of state recently?
- Have you been in close contact with anyone who has COVID in the past 14 days?
An employees’ state of health is considered protected health information. Companies must take special care to keep this information private in accordance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Different states have different rules about how this information should be handled. Be sure to adhere to your state’s requirements as you phrase your questionnaire.
2) Ask when and how they’ll use the office
Preparation is key to making sure your workplace is safe. That’s why it’s important to find out if and when an employee plans to come in and how they plan to use the office. Additional questions could include:
- What time do you plan to come into the office?
- How long do you plan to stay?
- Will you require use of a meeting room or desk?
- Do you plan to eat the office-provided lunch?
Knowing what time they plan to come in and how long they’ll stay can help you better manage office capacity and make sure there aren’t too many people in the office at once. It can also help to know if they need a desk or specific meeting room when they come in. That way, you can make plans to clean the area before and afterward. If you plan to provide lunch, this is also the perfect place to ask if they will have any, so you can order accordingly.
3) Take care of employees’ data
Your employees likely won’t mind if your team knows what time they plan to come in and if they want lunch. That said, they may not feel comfortable sharing more personal information like their recent travel history or an abnormally high temperature. Maintain your employees’ trust by keeping their data private and being transparent about how long you store their data and who can access it.
Local privacy regulations should be your guide; however, here are some things to consider when you collect and handle employee data:
- Only ask for the information you absolutely need. For instance, if an employee self-reports that they don’t have COVID and you feel confident in their response, then consider not asking for their temperature. We’ve also seen companies choose to ask employees if they “agree” that they don’t have the symptoms of COVID before they come on-site. This way, the company only captures if an employee agreed or disagreed with a statement, rather than specific data on their symptoms or temperature.
- Anonymize data so it can’t be tied to an individual. If you choose to ask employees for health information, decouple their responses from their name, email, and any other identifiable information. You reduce the risk of private information falling on the wrong eyes and can still see at a high-level how many people are sick and cannot come on-site.
- Only keep data as long as you need it. If you’re using employees’ responses to determine if they should come in tomorrow, keep their data only as long as it takes to make that decision. Once you’ve notified them not to come in, make note of the decision, then delete the data that led to that decision.
4) Act on responses quickly to keep your workplace safe
Your employees’ responses may tell you that an employee is sick and shouldn’t come in or that too many people are planning to come in at a certain time. When these situations arise, you need to know what to do and take immediate action to prevent an unsafe situation.
First, make sure your team knows exactly what criteria employees must meet to come on-site as well as your workplace’s max capacity. For instance, if an employee responds that they’ve been in contact with someone with COVID recently, are they automatically denied entry? What if they have a fever but it’s below a certain threshold? Getting clear on this criteria now lets you act faster when a situation arises.
Second, have a way to immediately notify employees who are not to enter the office. This could be because the employee is sick or you’ve reached your occupancy limit. In either case, know who and how you’ll message employees, whether that be via email, text, a mobile app, or a Slack message. This will save your team time and rescue the chance for human error in the moment. It also ensures employees see the message and don’t turn up at the office only to be turned away.
Third, when you notify an employee, also disable their access badge to make sure they can’t access the office. Make this automatic and foolproof by connecting your access control system directly to the system you’re using to screen employees.
Inviting employees into your workplace requires a new level of trust. Give employees the confidence to return to the office by creating processes that put their experience on equal footing with office security.