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Colin Barnacle, partner with Akerman LLP, provides details of the firm's Return to Work Resource Guide.
Akerman’s new Return to Work Resource Guide consists of some 60 documents that address multiple issues relating to the reopening of workplaces after the coronavirus pandemic. Employers will need to institute a number of accommodations for returning workers, although the effort could be complicated by confusion over the word “disability.” It’s unclear whether that would legally apply to a malady with a finite duration. Moreover, the Americans With Disabilities Act has its own definition of disability, which might not square with employers’ understanding.
Nevertheless, accommodations will need to be made, with a strong emphasis on ensuring employee safety in the workplace. Each state has its own guidelines for return-to-work protocols, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can serve as a template for implementing safety measures.
Redesigning the workplace will prove challenging, Barnacle says. It could mean mandating space between employees, or even dismantling the cubicles that invariably lead to close contact on the job. Masks will be needed if distancing isn’t viable. And proper disinfecting procedures will be a must.
The post-pandemic era, whenever it arrives, will likely see a redefinition of some work roles and locations. Businesses could find that a number of their employees can work from home or somewhere else offsite on a permanent basis. The change might even have the additional advantage of reducing unnecessary overhead.
Management training is essential to ensuring a safe workplace, Barnacle says. It can take many different forms, but needs to address privacy issues raised by the need to obtain workers’ health information and current condition. Liability for illnesses contracted in the workplace is also an issue, without much legal precedent to guide businesses.
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