The Way Forward: The Workplace

By Lianne Jacobs
Woman at workplace using phone wearing a face mask - Vitality

As states begin to reopen, employers must navigate a complex set of factors to determine how and when to reopen the workplace. Vitality has put together a holistic framework to help guide our clients through those decisions centered around their communities, their workplaces, and their people.

As businesses and employers begin to think about returning to the workplace, it’s essential that they take precautions to protect the safety and health of their employees and customers. While state and local guidelines should be consulted regarding return to work in one’s specific area, it is also important to consider one’s specific workplace when implementing a return to work plan to ensure that appropriate measures are being taken for individual circumstances.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have outlined three key areas when thinking about returning to the workplace:

Prevent and Reduce Transmission Among Employees

  • Employers should routinely ask employees if they are experiencing any COVID-19-related symptoms, including cough, shortness of breath, and fever. Sick employees should be encouraged to stay home, monitor their symptoms, and not return to the workplace until they meet the CDC’s criteria for the discontinuation of home isolation and are cleared by their healthcare provider. Employers should also consider conducting temperature screenings and diagnostic testing if resources are available before employees can enter the workplace.
  • Employers should consider implementing updated cleaning and disinfecting policies of work areas, common spaces and frequently touched surfaces, and employees should be provided with additional cleaning supplies like disinfectants and hand sanitizer.
  • Employers should enforce social distancing by adjusting workspaces to ensure employees can always maintain a six-foot distance from the nearest individual, taking into consideration the implementation of one-way hallways, entrances and exits with clear signage and other visual cues like decals or colored tape on the floor. Employers should also encourage employees to wear face coverings and should consider further protections like sneeze-guard barriers between individuals to further reduce the risk of spread.
  • Meeting rooms and other shared spaces should be closed to discourage groups of individuals from gathering. The number of employees in elevators and restrooms at one time should be limited.
  • Employees should also be encouraged to minimize carpooling and the use of public transportation, if possible.
  • Protocols should be in place for how to respond if an employee does become sick. Sick employees should be separated and sent home, their work areas should be cleaned and disinfected, and individuals who may have come into contact with the sick employee should be notified.

Maintain Healthy Business Operations

  • Employers should ensure that flexible leave policies are in place to ensure that individuals can take care of themselves or family members. These include emergency sick leave policies and policies that encourage options such as remote work or flexible work hours to limit the number of employees in the workplace at one time. These policies should also protect high-risk individuals or those who live with high-risk individuals.
  • Employers should also have a plan in place for how business will continue to operate should there be a spike in absenteeism due to employees becoming sick or needing to stay home to take care of sick family members. Employers should also anticipate challenges with demand of goods or services as well as issues with supply chains, which could hinder the production and delivery of goods.
  • Employers should also consider having a staggered workforce, where employees work in shifts to limit the number of people in the workplace at a time – whether those shifts are weekly, daily or hourly.
  • Travel policies should be re-evaluated to consider postponing any future travel. Events and meetings should be postponed or take place virtually until large gatherings are allowed per local and state regulations.

Maintain a Healthy Work Environment

  • Employers should communicate regularly with employees regarding the steps they are taking to ensure the safety of the workforce. Posted placards, signs throughout the workplace, and regular communications are essential.
  • Employers should work with building managers to increase air ventilation and make sure air filters are replaced in a timely manner. Tissues and no-touch trash cans should be stationed near doors and restrooms so to minimize contact with commonly touched surfaces. Hand sanitizer stations should also be placed in multiple locations to encourage hand hygiene.
  • Employees should be discouraged from using each other’s phones, desks and other work supplies. Disinfecting wipes should be provided so employees can wipe down commonly used items and surfaces.
  • Make the workplace a welcoming environment. Celebrate the return to the workplace while reminding employees of the new guidelines in place.

Navigating the return to the workplace is a complex, multidimensional challenge. In addition to the above recommendations, Vitality has put together an Employer Toolkit to help support our clients and help you in your planning. As always, Vitality is here for you. We are all in this together.


Lianne Jacobs, Product Analyst, has a master’s degree in public health from Yale University. She is the only indoor cycling instructor who can’t ride a bike. She enjoys traveling the world, laughing at her own jokes, and tricking her husband into eating baked goods made with hidden vegetables.

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