After two and a half years, we would all like to be done with the day-to-day issues of COVID in the workplace. Policy update after policy update, waves of sickness, scares, installing (and taking down) barriers, cleaning protocols, helping employees deal with worries and downright fears…..it’s enough. We all just want it to go away!
And the CDC finally released guidance in August that more or less caught up to where we all are mentally with the whole business:
- Contact tracing….gone!
- Quarantine for exposure….nope!
- Social distancing….never heard of it!
And now a new round of boosters is right around the corner, which (even if fewer people get it than earlier rounds of boosters) promises to help move the country forward in terms of resilience.
The outlook is bright.
SO WHY ARE WE STILL TALKING ABOUT COVID IN THE WORKPLACE?
- The CDC does not set state or local laws: If your business is based in a state or city that is more restrictive when it comes to COVID laws (yes, there are still some laws in place), then employers are not all off the hook. New York State still has – and just extended through 2023 – paid leave for employees to get vaccinations and for orders of isolation or quarantine. New York City adds leave so that employees can take additional paid time off for their children to get vaccinated. Oh, and New York City still officially mandates vaccination for all employees in the city (it’s still on the books, even if the mayor is not committed to enforcing it). California is just about to extend its Covid paid sick leave through the end of the year.
- Employers still have an obligation to keep employees safe: OSHA regulates all workplaces, and employers have an obligation to provide a safe work environment. And while COVID is by and large no longer seen as an urgent deadly threat (at least not in the US), it’s still a workplace hazard and all hazards have to be dealt with appropriately (whether by policy, procedure, or both).
- Employees still want to feel safe: Your employees are just as tired of COVID as you are, and many of them are probably back to pre-pandemic habits of coming to work sick (and likely not even testing themselves). But not all of your employees may be mentally where you are and may be very worried (and some out of legitimate health concerns). It’s best practice to ensure you are still paying attention to those concerns and responding to them. Even if COVID laws have mostly gone away, an employee may have a concern that falls under a workplace accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). So, you shouldn’t ignore issues of COVID if an employee raises it.
There seems to be little doubt that we are almost there. COVID is becoming a “normal” part of life and a normal part of the workplace – just like the flu. And most laws have sunset across the country. However, some COVID-related laws are still in place, basic workplace safety obligations remain, and employers always have obligations to watch out for potential issues of workplace accommodation.
I’m confident that we will win the race. But as every runner knows, you don’t slow down until you cross that finish line!
David Freedman, SHRM-SCP
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