Reopening Guidelines for Businesses

In the next few months, many businesses in Maine will begin to allow employees to return to their offices, stores, and buildings following the Maine Reopening process. However, with COVID-19 cases still increasing daily, we must keep in mind the safety of our employees. With the help of information through the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commision (EEOC), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), we’ve created some general guidelines to help businesses reopen along with Restarting Maine’s Economy plan.

Organizational Plans

For an owner of a smaller business, you can use the information from the organizations above to create a COVID-19 Response Checklist or Plan that is personalized to your business. While the information we have can be used for general workplaces, keep in mind that there may be certain intricacies of your industry that you will want to keep in mind while you are reopening~ especially if that includes keeping the safety of your clients and visitors in mind.

For larger businesses, consider creating a COVID-19 Response Committee or Task Force with people throughout the various sections of your business. This can include representatives from human resources, facility operations, administrative, and legal departments to help delegate the planning process for reopening, as well as monitoring the progress and protocols once reopened. These representatives can also be tasked with keeping up to date on news and updated methods to inform and implement as the environment around COVID-19 evolves.

Before Employees Return

You’ll want to make sure you have your building/workspace prepared before employees:

  • Identify and procure sanitation supplies as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) for employees as well as any visitors.
  • Place these supplies in locations that are easily accessible and readily available.
  • Post signage and information posters that elaborate on the cleaning procedures as well as personal hygiene protocols from the CDC. Also include signage that helps locate where supplies can be found easily.
  • Restrict access to larger common areas (such as cafeterias, break rooms, meeting rooms, shared work-spaces, gyms, etc.), and/or change the layout of these rooms to encourage social distancing.
  • Use floor decals or stickers to mark out social distance spacing in areas with high traffic, as well as signage that expresses a room’s occupancy limit for safety.
  • Decide on the ideal points of access to your building that can easily be monitored so that all employees and visitors can be accounted for.
  • If possible, update high-touch areas such as light switches and plumbing fixtures to have a hands-free alternative. Also if possible, consider high-efficiency air filters for your HVAC systems.

Maintaining Safety

Once employees are back in the workspace, you’ll want to establish protocols to maintain safety:

  • Make sure employees aware of the ongoing protocols and locations of supplies, updating as needed, and giving any training as necessary.
  • Have a plan in the event of a local outbreak. Keep track of the news in case
  • Encourage the use of remote technology to help reduce exposure and employee contact.
  • Stagger scheduled breaks to minimize the number of employees in break/common rooms.
  • Decide on regular cleaning guidelines that correspond with the CDC’s recommendations, including guidelines before the building is open, throughout the day, and after the building has closed.
  • Establish regular scheduled supply checks to make sure all sanitation items are fully stocked.
  • Make sure any in-person meetings are limited in size.
  • If an instance of an employee contracting COVID-19 happens in the workplace, have a protocol in order to have them sent home immediately, cleaning and disinfecting the office/workspaces, and informing others who have had potential exposure. Remember throughout this to keep the identity of the individual with COVID-19 completely confidential.
  • As any new laws or updated protocols change in the workspace, remember to update or add any signage that addresses these changes, along with reaching out to employees via meeting, email, or other messaging systems.
  • Restrict non-essential travel in and out of the office to reduce exposure.

Employee Value and Protection

Along with safety protocols in relation, keep in mind the needs of your employees navigating through these times.

  • Establish a contingency plan if employees are feeling possible COVID-19 symptoms in the past 14 days, including testing in accordance with medical guidelines.
  • Hold regular, virtual meetings that gain your employees feedback throughout this process. Be open to critique and feedback.
  • Prepare for leaves and absences in accordance to federal, state, and local laws. Follow the 14-days free of COVID-19 symptoms (at least) for any one experiencing symptoms, and
  • Keep in mind that employees that contract COVID-19 in the workplace may file a workers’ compensation claim.
  • Review and implement reasonable accommodations for employees with ADA-qualifying disabilities as well as pre-existing mental conditions that might be aggravated by COVID-19.
  • Remind employees of their value, safety, and security, as well as your commitment to their privacy.
  • Do not ask employees if they have any underlying medical condition that makes them more susceptible to COVID-19. At the same time, if an employee with higher susceptibility offers that information, provide accommodations and more flexibility for them, while not compelling them to stay at home.
  • Keep track of whether schools or daycare facilities are open for employees with family, providing flexibility for employees with child or elder care responsibilities.
  • Also be aware of the availability of safe public transportation for employees who might need this.

These guidelines are by no means a complete list, and depending on your business, you may need tailor some of these to fit your needs. We hope these can help you keep in mind the protection and well-being of your employees as businesses begin to reopen. And remember to review the sources through WHO, CDC, EEOC, and OSHA for updated guidelines as the situation changes.

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My brother Jack and I co-own The Real Estate Store. I grew up and live in Scarborough, ME. I became a real estate broker in 2005, but Real Estate is a family business for us. We are second generation Real Estate Brokers. My experience working with apartments and with residential construction has given me insight into cost-aware construction and green construction and design.

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