With South Dakota COVID-19 cases still on the rise, employers and businesses around the state are making plans to get back to work or to determine what the new work environment will be and what it will look like. South Dakota businesses were never mandatorily forced to shut down, although many did and are now planning on reopening.
Governor Kristi Noem has unveiled South Dakota’s “Back to Normal Plan” which covers guidance for individuals, employers, enclosed retail businesses that promote public gatherings, schools, health care providers and local governments. See: https://covid.sd.gov/docs/COVID_SDPlan_BackToNormal.pdf
As to employers and the physical workspace, it is essential that good hygiene and sanitation practices are continued to be followed, especially in high traffic areas.
The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has tips on cleaning and disinfecting facilities, as well as guidance for individual employees, including the following:
- maintaining social distance of 6 feet between coworkers;
- washing hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds;
- avoiding touching one’s eyes, nose or mouth;
- cleaning shared surfaces often; and
- staying home when sick.
Employers can develop policies surrounding its rules for employees, such as requiring them to stay home when they are sick, prohibiting employees from coming to work if they have symptoms of COVID-19, and sending employees home if they are sick. As mentioned in my previous article, employers can screen employees and can even test them for COVID-19 if it makes sense for that business and the screens and tests are conducted in a fair and reliable manner. While the South Dakota government has never prohibited travel to or from other states, or within the state, employers can consider what travel restrictions it wishes to impose on employees, so long as it does so in a reasonable and equitable manner.
If employees were operating via telework or remote arrangement, employers can consider continuing the telework setup, or can require employees to return to the workplace.
While fear of COVID-19 is not covered under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, employers may want to reassure employees by articulating the reasonable steps the employer takes to protect the safety of employees returning to and working in the workplace.
Other ideas that employers can implement are:
- educating employees on the proper hygiene protocols, and consider posting guidance around the workplace on stopping the spread of germs at work;
- limiting non-essential business operations to the extent possible;
- limiting areas where employees typically gather, such as the coffee or break room;
- ensuring handwashing and disinfecting stations are available and the supplies are maintained;
- consider supplying masks to employees, depending on the nature of the business;
- continuing remote meetings, such as ZOOM or teleconference;
- minimizing non-essential business travel as necessary;
- adhering to state and federal/CDC guidelines.
Employers are well-advised to balance both the health and safety of its employees with the business and economic needs of the organization. While the pandemic has certainly presented challenges for employers and employees alike, a well-thought out plan is essential in this stage of America’s reopening.
Please contact attorney Jennifer S. Frank at (605) 791-6450 for further information or questions.