With the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic slowly ebbing in India, people are looking at life and work eventually going back to as they used to be. Meanwhile, vaccination efforts have been ramped up across the country and a large majority of the population has taken at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.
On the basis of these factors, many companies are considering calling their employees back to the office. However, the pandemic is far from over, and employers will have to ensure that the employees are able to feel safe and productive in an office setting after working from home for a large part of the last two years.
What protocols can be put in place to ensure a smooth transition for people about to start working from the office? Read on to find out.
Can COVID-19 be Transmitted in The Workplace?
Yes, COVID-19 transmission at the workplace is possible if physical distancing and masking rules are not followed.
An employee or visitor infected with COVID-19 (symptomatic or asymptomatic) could spread the infection to others through close contact or by contaminating commonly used surfaces.
What Are The Responsibilities of The Employer?
If and when an employer requests employees to come back to the workplace, the following things should be taken into consideration:
1. Return to the workplace should be in a phased manner, with the total number of people in an office setting not exceeding the current guidelines.
2. Safety of the employees during commute should be ensured, and the threat of exposure to COVID-19 minimised. Business-related travel should be limited to only essential cases.
3. Protocol for regular COVID-19 testing of all employees should be in place. Employees could get tested outside office premises or onsite testing could be made available.
4. Physical distancing and masking rules should be displayed at accessible points. The seating arrangement for employees should be in accordance with the physical distancing rules.
5. Safety essentials should be made available in the office and should include masks, gloves, personal protective equipment (PPE), sanitisers, and hand wash liquids.
6. Vaccination of all employees is of primary importance. The employer should:
Have a record of the COVID-19 vaccination status of all employees.
Put a plan in place to get all unvaccinated employees a vaccine at the earliest.
Refrain from inviting unvaccinated and partially vaccinated employees back to the workplace.
7. Daily cleaning and disinfection of all commonly used areas such as toilets and surfaces such as elevator buttons, doorknobs, light switches, office furniture, coffee maker, microwave, and vending machines should be ensured.
8. Provisions for increased ventilation and improved indoor air quality should be made to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading indoors. The air-conditioning should be run as per the established safety guidelines for COVID-19.
9. In-person meetings should be discouraged and if held, all safety regulations should be followed. Telecommunication media should be encouraged for meetings if possible.
Meeting room doors should be kept open to minimise transmission of infection through shared contact.
10. If any employee tests positive for COVID-19, the employer should:
Have a detailed and updated response plan for the event.
Ensure a protocol is in place for contact tracing and isolation of employees.
Establish a leave and/or work-from-home policy for the COVID-19 positive employee.
11. Hygienic arrangements of food and beverages for employees should be made in the office cafeteria or through outside vendors.
Employees should be encouraged to bring their own water bottles, mugs, cutlery etc., to prevent transmission of infection from sharing items.
12. Mental health support for all employees should be in place, including counselling and therapy services.
Remember, safety and productivity at the workplace during COVID-19 depends on a continuous loop of understanding and collaboration between the employee and employer.
The employee should follow COVID-appropriate behaviour and abide by all workplace rules.
Each employee should also watch their health, and inform the employer at the earliest if they show any symptoms related to COVID-19.
1. SHRM. 2021. Checklist: Return-to-Work (COVID-19). [online] Available at: <https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-forms/pages/covid-19-back-to-work-checklist.aspx> [Accessed 17 September 2021].
2. CIPD. 2021. Coronavirus (COVID-19): returning to the workplace guide | CIPD. [online] Available at: <https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/fundamentals/emp-law/employees/workplace-guide-returning-after-coronavirus#gref> [Accessed 17 September 2021].
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