There's no denying that life, in general, has undergone some major changes in the last two years much less the business landscape. Both employers and workers have had to contend with an unprecedented pandemic at least in the modern world, and that was before the advent of the Delta variant, conflicts over vaccination status, and much more. Small business owners have been thrust into the forefront of Covid-19 prevention or forced to find a new way to make a living. Here are some Covid-19 workplace guidelines for 2021.
Safety Is the Priority
Obviously, the primary concern of most employers is the safety of their employees and guests. If you work in an industry where remote work is possible or virtual meetings and transactions can be accomplished, then that is always going to be the safest option. This is one of the advantages of telemarketing in that physical contact with your customers is limited, and employees can be spaced out or even work from home in some cases. However, the reality is that not every workplace or business can support operations in that manner.
Multiple Layers of Controls
Among the most important of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) recommendations, implementing multiple layers of controls is decidedly the most effective. As it is impossible to know exactly who you may come into contact with that is high risk or otherwise immunocompromised, multiple defenses such as vaccination, mask-wearing, social distancing, and increased ventilation provide the best source of protection for customers, visitors, or guests as well as your employees.
By utilizing a number of different methods to mitigate the risk that is inherent in operating a business during the Covid era, you can have some assurance that even if one or more of the prevention methods were to fail your employees and customers may still be protected by the others. There is no magic bullet, and the best that you can do is reduce the potential for any high-risk exposures.
To Mask Or Not to Mask
Guidance has been slightly confusing regarding mask status and recommendations, but the CDC recommends that all unvaccinated, high-risk, and fully vaccinated individuals in areas of a high rate of transmissions continue to wear masks. While the N95 provides a high level of protection, cloth masks, and surgical masks also afford some protection as well provided that the following rules are adhered to:
- Wear masks that contain a nose wire
- Make sure no gaps are present along the sides
- Do not wear wet or dirty masks
- Knot the ear loops to form a tighter fit
Most importantly, if you are providing masks that meet a standard to your workers such as the KN95, N95, or P95, make sure that the masks you have obtained are not counterfeit. Government estimates have shown that as many as 60% of the KN95 masks in circulation in the US may be counterfeit.
Covid-19 workplace guidelines in 2021 are a rapidly changing landscape. With vaccine mandates increasing in frequency, the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a clarification in September of 2021 regarding the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and its effect on proof of vaccination.
HHS has confirmed that HIPAA does not apply to employers or to employee records since this Act was designed the restrict only specific organizations. This means that fully vaccinated workers can be compelled to provide their proof of vaccination in order to continue working. Even covered entities such as healthcare providers and their business associates can collect proof of vaccination for employees and confirm vaccination status for visitors, guests, and customers.
For employers like assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and other similar healthcare locations. OSHA's Covid-19 Emergency Temporary Standard requires that employees be given paid time off in order both to receive vaccination and recover from it. A number of other requirements are placed on these employers like the installation of physical barriers where social distancing cannot be maintained or maintaining a written Covid-19 plan. It's important to note that these standards only apply to healthcare workers, and there are several exemptions to these requirements.
Places like California have taken things a step further. They instituted their own Emergency Temporary Standards that require nearly all employers with more than one employee to follow specific regulations. These standards require employers to provide two-layer face coverings at no cost to their employees and allow them to wear them at any time without fear of retaliation. Furthermore, any employee who is exposed to a Covid positive party with "close contact" must be provided with Covid testing free of charge.
Areas with Conflicting Guidelines
In states like Texas and Florida where Covid-19 has become a political issue, there is even greater confusion when federal mandates may be in direct conflict with state mandates, state laws, and even local health department orders or city ordinances. Every effort should be made to ensure that your employees are monitoring themselves for any symptoms and taking every precaution possible to keep themselves, other employees, and your customers safe.
What Does OSHA Have to Say?
Through their document Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of Covid-19 in the Workplace, OSHA still recommends that you provide your employees with:
- Face coverings
- Paid time off for vaccinations
- Training and education on Covid-19
- Flexible work environments like telework
- Flexible work hours and meeting schedules
- An anonymous system to report Covid-19 related concerns
While these are not mandatory, OSHA's guidelines provide a common-sense middle ground in which many of the critical areas of the pandemic are addressed without running afoul of some localities that have restricted outright mandates. It's important to remember that safety is the ultimate goal.
Marketing During the Pandemic
On top of all of these health and safety guidelines, you must find a way to remain profitable as a business, or all of these steps will be for naught. Customers, visitors, and vendors may have legitimate concerns about safety and business operations in the current landscape. E-Marketing Associates can help you find the tone that highlights your brand while also expressing the focus that you have placed on safe practices during these trying times.