Returning To the Office During COVID 19

Now that vaccines are available for everyone 12 and older in Washington state, and cases of the coronavirus are down, many establishments are reopening for perhaps the first time in over a year. This means that employees who have been furloughed or have been working remotely may now be expected to return to their place of business, which could cause anxiety if they are high risk, or still unsure about re-entering the world.

In this post, we’ll share the most current recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); explain ways that businesses are protecting their staff; offer updated information as to when businesses are reopening; and provide guidance on what to do if you’re already back and suspect Covid-19 in your workplace.

What are the latest CDC safety recommendations?

The CDC encourages all eligible people to get vaccinated, but still remain home from work if experiencing any symptoms of Covid-19, or if exposed to someone known to have the virus. High risk employees and those who have not been vaccinated—or perhaps everyone, depending on the space of the location—may be required to wear masks at the office (at the discretion of your employer) to increase workplace safety. If needed, some employees may be eligible to take leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

When are businesses reopening?

Through June 29, all counties in Washington state will remain in Phase 3 on the roadmap to recovery. This means that professional, personal and worship services that take place indoors, as well as retail stores remain at 50% capacity. Outdoor social gatherings can include up to 50 people from outside the household and indoor can have up to 10. Spectators at sports competitions and outdoor entertainment establishments are allowed to reach a capacity of 400 people. As of June 30, barring any unforeseen spikes in virus cases, the state will fully reopen. This means if your office or facility isn’t already open, it will be able to open by the end of the month.

How are businesses protecting their employees?

It may be a relief to return to the things in daily life that bring us joy, such as seeing colleagues and collaborating in person, but many still wonder: When is it safe to return to the office and how are employers making sure we’re safe?

Of course each experience depends on the decisions made by the leaders of the organization for which you work, but the CDC has issued guidance for measures that can be taken by employers, which include:

  • Staggering shift times to allow social distancing.
  • Requiring masks be worn indoors.
  • Actively encouraging those who are sick to stay home.
  • Providing daily health checks (i.e. taking temperature, etc.).
  • Furnishing barriers for contact between employees and the public.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting common areas regularly.
  • Increasing ventilation indoors.

What should you do if you suspect Covid-19 in the workplace?

If you suspect that one of your colleagues has contracted Covid-19, let the proper supervisor or human resources representative know (if they don’t self-identify) to ensure that person is isolated from others as soon as possible.

Next, let whomever is in charge know that they should disinfect any surfaces and areas (wearing gloves and PPE) that the suspected infected individual has touched. Following the cleaning, they should inform fellow employees who have come within 6 feet of the infected person for 15 minutes or longer that they have been exposed in a confidential manner that adheres to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Finally, if you or any others who were exposed, be vigilant in taking your temperature and listening to your body. If you develop any symptoms, stay home and follow guidelines for when to get tested if your symptoms become severe.