COVID-19 Business and employers response toolkit

Businesses and employers can play a key role in preventing and slowing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 within the workplace. Employers’ COVID-19 preparedness, response, and control plans should take into account workplace factors such as feasibility of social distancing in the workplace, ability to stagger employee shifts, degree to which employees interact with the public in person, feasibility of accomplishing work by telework, geographical isolation of the workplace, whether employees live in congregate housing, proportion of employees at increased risk for severe illness, policies regarding sick leave for staff, and priority for continuity of operations. Employers should also consider the level of COVID-19 disease transmission in their communities.

Businesses and employers are encouraged to coordinate with state and local health officials to obtain timely and accurate information to inform appropriate responses. Local conditions will influence the decisions that public health officials make regarding community-level strategies.

As an employer, if your business operations were interrupted, resuming normal or phased activities presents an opportunity to update your COVID-19 preparedness, response, and control plans. All employers should implement and update as necessary a plan that:

  • Is specific to your workplace,
  • Identifies all areas and job tasks with potential exposures to SARS-CoV-2, and
  • Includes control measures to eliminate or reduce such exposures.

Talk with your employees about planned changes and seek their input. Additionally, collaborate with employees and unions to effectively communicate important COVID-19 information.

See the OSHA Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplaceexternal icon for more information on how to protect workers from potential exposures, according to their exposure risk. Plans should consider that employees may be able to spread COVID-19 even if they do not show symptoms.

All employers need to consider how best to decrease the spread of SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and lower the impact in your workplace. This should include activities to:

  • prevent and reduce transmission among employees,
  • maintain healthy business operations, and
  • maintain a healthy work environment.

Prevent and Reduce Transmission Among Employees

Monitor federal, state, and local public health communications about COVID-19 regulations, guidance, and recommendations and ensure that workers have access to that information. Frequently check the CDC COVID-19 website.

Actively encourage sick employees to stay home

Consider conducting daily in-person or virtual health checks (e.g., symptom and temperature screening) of employees before they enter the facility, in accordance with state and local public health authorities and, if available, your occupational health services. Screening and health checks are not a replacement for other protective measures such as social distancingmask wearing (unless respirators or facemasks are required), and engineering controls, including proper ventilation. Symptom and temperature screening cannot identify people with SARS-CoV-2 infection who are asymptomatic (do not have symptoms) or are presymptomatic (have not developed signs or symptoms yet but will later).

For virtual health checks, encourage individuals to self-screen prior to coming onsite. An electronic monitoring system could be implemented in which, prior to arrival at the facility, employees report absence of fever and symptoms of COVID-19, absence of a diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 infection in the prior 10 days, confirm they have not been exposed to others with SARS-CoV-2 infection during the prior 14 days, and confirm they are not undergoing evaluation for SARS-CoV-2 infection such as pending viral test (nucleic acid amplification test or antigen test).

For in-person health checks, conduct them safely and respectfully and in a way that maintains social distancing of workers in and entering the screening area. Workers should not enter the worksite past the screening area if any of the following are present:

  • Symptoms of COVID-19
  • Fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (oF) or higher or report feeling feverish
  • Undergoing evaluation for SARS-CoV-2 infection (such as pending viral test)
  • Diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 infection in the prior 10 days
  • Close contact to someone with SARS-CoV-2 infection during the prior 14 days

Follow guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission external icon regarding confidentiality of medical records from health checks. To prevent stigma and discrimination in the workplace, make employee health screenings as private as possible. Do not make determinations of risk based on race or country of origin and be sure to maintain confidentiality of each individual’s medical status and history.

Ensure personnel performing in-person screening activities are appropriately protected against exposure to potentially infectious workers entering the facility. Methods known to reduce risk of transmission include social distancing, physical barriers, and mask wearing. If social distance or barrier controls cannot be implemented during screening, personal protective equipment (PPE) can be used when the screener is within 6 feet of an employee. However, reliance on PPE alone is a less effective control and may be more difficult to implement given PPE shortages and training requirements. Ensure screeners are trained on proper use and reading of thermometers per manufacturer standards; improper calibration and use can lead to incorrect temperature readings.

Below are examples that can be incorporated into the in-person screening process.

  • Social Distancing:Ask employees to take their own temperature either before coming to the workplace or upon arrival at the workplace. Upon their arrival, stand at least 6 feet away from the employee and:
    • Ask the employee to confirm that their temperature is less than 100.4F (38.0oC)
    • Make a visual inspection of the employee for signs of illness, which could include flushed cheeks, sweating inappropriately for ambient temperature, or difficultly with ordinary tasks
    • Screening staff do not need to wear PPE if they can maintain a distance of 6 feet; however, screening staff and employees being screened should wear masks.
  • Barrier/Partitional Controls: During screening, the screener should stand behind a physical barrier, such as a glass or plastic window or partition, that can protect the screener’s face and mucous membranes from respiratory droplets that may be produced when the employee sneezes, coughs, talks, or breathes. Upon arrival, the screener should wear a mask and wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or, if soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. For each employee:
    • Make a visual inspection of the employee for signs of illness, which could include flushed cheeks, sweating inappropriately for ambient temperature, or difficulty with ordinary tasks.
    • Conduct temperature and symptom screening
      • Put on disposable gloves.
      • Check the employee’s temperature, reaching around the partition or through the window. Make sure the screener’s face stays behind the barrier at all times during the screening.
      • Contact thermometers need to be cleaned and disinfected after each screened employee according to the manufacturer’s instructions and facility policies. Non-contact thermometers should be cleaned and disinfected according to the manufacturer’s instructions and facility policies.
    • Remove and discard gloves, and wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds between each employee. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
      • If disposable or non-contact thermometers are used and the screener does not have physical contact with the individual, the screener’s gloves do not need to be changed before the next check. Gloves should be removed and discarded if soiled or damaged. Gloves should not be worn continuously for more than four hours. After removing gloves, screeners should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available. Gloves should be removed and discarded anytime they are soiled or damage.
    • PPE: Screeners need to be trained on how to properly put on, take off and dispose of all PPE. Upon arrival, the screener should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol and put on a facemask or respirator, eye protection (goggles or disposable face shield that fully covers the front and sides of the face), and a single pair of disposable gloves. Extended use of a facemask or respirator and eye protection may be implemented. A gown could be considered if extensive contact with an employee is anticipated.
      • Make a visual inspection of the employee for signs of illness, which could include flushed cheeks, sweating inappropriately for ambient temperature, or difficulty performing ordinary tasks.
      • Conduct temperature and symptom screening
        • If performing a temperature check on multiple individuals, the screener should change their gloves and wash their hands or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol between each employee.
        • Contact thermometers need to be cleaned and disinfected after each screened employee according to the manufacturer’s instructions and facility policies. Non-contact thermometers should be cleaned and disinfected according to the manufacturer’s instructions and facility policies.
        • If disposable or non-contact thermometers are used and the screener does not have physical contact with the individual, the screener’s gloves do not need to be changed before the next check. Gloves should not be worn continuously for more than four hours. After removing gloves, screeners should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
        • Any PPE, including gloves, facemask, respirator, eye protection, and gown, should be removed and discarded if soiled or damaged.

Consider incorporating testing for SARS-CoV-2 into workplace preparedness, response, and control plans

  • Consider implementing an approach to testing based on the guidance for select non-healthcare workplaces.
  • Approaches may include initial testing of all workers before entering a workplace, periodic testing of workers at regular intervals, or targeted testing of new workers or those returning from a prolonged absence such as medical leave or furlough, or some combination of approaches. Several factors may be helpful in determining the interval for periodic testing, including the availability of testing, results of the previous testing, and level of community transmission.

Identify where and how workers might be exposed to individuals with COVID-19 at work

Employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace external icon. Conduct a thorough hazard assessment of the workplace to identify potential workplace hazards related to COVID-19. Use appropriate combinations of control measures from the hierarchy of controls to limit the spread of COVID-19, including engineering controls, workplace administrative policies, and PPE to protect workers from the identified hazards (see table below):

  • Conduct a thorough hazard assessment to determine if workplace hazards are present, or are likely to be present, and determine what type of controls or PPE are needed for specific job duties.
  • When engineering and administrative controls cannot be implemented or are not fully protective, employers are required by OSHA standard to:
    • Determine what PPE is needed for their workers’ specific job duties,
    • Select and provide appropriate PPE to the workers at no cost, and
    • Train their workers on its correct use.
  • Ensure all employees wear masks in accordance with CDC and OSHA guidance as well as any state or local requirements. This applies if the hazard assessment has determined that they do not require PPE, such as a respirator or medical facemask for protection.
    • CDC recommends wearing a mask, that covers the nose and mouth and fits snugly against the sides of the face, as a measure to contain the wearer’s respiratory droplets and help protect their co-workers and members of the general public. Masks should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
    • Masks are meant to help prevent workers who do not know they have the virus that causes COVID-19 from spreading it to others; however, masks might provide some protection to wearers.
    • Masks do not provide the same level of protection as a medical facemask or respirator and should not replace PPE required or recommended at the workplace.
  • Remind employees and customers that CDC recommends wearing masks in public settings and when around people who do not live in their household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. Wearing a mask, however, is not a substitute for social distancing. Masks should still be worn in addition to staying at least 6 feet apart.
  • See the OSHA COVID-19 web page for more information on how to protect workers from potential SARS-CoV-2 exposures and guidance for employers, including steps to take for jobs according to exposure risk.

Separate sick employees

  • Employees who appear to have symptoms upon arrival at work or who become sick during the day should immediately be separated from other employees, customers, and visitors, and sent home.
  • Have a procedure in place for the safe transport of an employee who becomes sick while at work. The employee may need to be transported home or to a healthcare provider.

Take action if an employee is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19

Follow the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations:

  • Clean dirty surfaces with soap and water before disinfecting them.
  • To disinfect surfaces, use products that meet EPA criteria for use against SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and are appropriate for the surface.
  • Always wear gloves and gowns appropriate for the chemicals being used when you are cleaning and disinfecting
  • Ensure there is adequate ventilation when using cleaning and disinfection products to prevent from inhaling toxic vapors.
  • You may need to wear additional PPE depending on the setting and disinfectant product you are using. For each product you use, consult and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use.

Determine which employees may have been exposed to the virus and may need to take additional precautions:

  • Employers have an obligation to manage the potentially exposed workers’ return to work in ways that best protect the health of those workers, their co-workers, and the general public.
  • Inform employees of their possible close contact(within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period) with someone with confirmed or suspected SARS-CoV-2 infection in the workplace, but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Most workplaces should follow the Public Health Recommendations for Community-Related Exposure. The most protective approach for the workplace is for exposed employees (close contacts) to quarantine for 14 days, telework if possible, and self-monitor for symptoms. This approach maximally reduces post-quarantine transmission risk and is the strategy with the greatest collective experience at present.
  • Although CDC continues to recommend a 14-day quarantine, options are provided for shorter quarantine that may end after day 7 or after day 10 based on certain conditions. Alternatives to the 14-day quarantine are described in the Options to Reduce Quarantine for Contacts of Persons with SARS-CoV-2 Infection Using Symptom Monitoring and Diagnostic Testing. Shortening quarantine may increase willingness to adhere to public health recommendations. However, shortened quarantine may be less effective in preventing transmission of COVID-19 than the currently recommended 14-day quarantine.
  • Workplaces could consider these quarantine alternatives as measures to mitigate staffing shortages, but they are not the preferred options to mitigate staffing shortages. Workplaces should understand that shortening the duration of quarantine might pose additional transmission risk. Employers should also consider workplace characteristics when considering if this additional transmission risk is acceptable (e.g., level of community transmission, ability to maintain social distancing, proportion of employees at increased risk for severe illness, and priority for continuity of operations). Employers should counsel workers about the need to monitor for symptoms and immediately self-isolate if symptoms occur during the 14 days after their exposure and the importance of consistent adherence to all recommended mitigation strategies (e.g., mask wearing, social distancing, hand hygiene, cleaning and disinfection, and proper ventilation).
  • Implementation of testing strategies can supplement measures to reduce transmission in the workplace. Repeated testing over time, also referred to as serial testing, may be more likely to detect infection among workers with exposures than testing done at a single point in time.
  • Critical infrastructure workplaces should follow COVID-19 Critical Infrastructure Sector Response Planning and guidance on Testing Strategy for Coronavirus (COVID-19) in High-Density Critical Infrastructure Workplaces after a COVID-19 Case is Identified.

Educate employees about steps they can take to protect themselves at work and at home

  • Encourage employees to follow any new policies or procedures related to illness, cleaning and disinfecting, and work meetings and travel.
  • Advise employees to:
    • Stay home if they are sick, except to get medical care, and to learn what to do if they are sick.
    • Inform their supervisor if they have a sick household member at home with COVID-19 and to learn what to do if someone in their home is sick.
    • Wear a mask when out in public and when around people who do not live in their household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. Masks should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
    • Wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or to use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available. Inform employees that if their hands are visibly dirty, they should use soap and water instead of hand sanitizer. Key times for employees to clean their hands include:
      • Before and after work shifts
      • Before and after work breaks
      • After blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing
      • After using the restroom
      • Before eating or preparing food
      • After putting on, touching, or removing cloth face coverings
    • Avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
    • Cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of their elbow. Throw used tissues into no-touch trash cans and immediately wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol. Learn more about coughing and sneezing etiquette on the CDC website.
    • Practice routine cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched objects and surfaces such as workstations, keyboards, telephones, handrails, and doorknobs. Dirty surfaces can be cleaned with soap and water prior to disinfection. To disinfect, use products that meet EPA’s criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2external icon, the cause of COVID-19, and are appropriate for the surface.
    • Avoid using other employees’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment, when possible. Clean and disinfect them before and after use.
    • Practice social distancing by avoiding large gatherings and maintaining distance (at least 6 feet) from others when possible.

For employees who commute to work using public transportation or ride sharing, consider offering the following support

  • If feasible, offer employees incentives to use forms of transportation that minimize close contact with others (e.g., biking, walking, driving or riding by car either alone or with household members).
  • Ask employees to follow the CDC guidance on how to protect yourself when using transportation.
  • Allow employees to shift their hours so they can commute during less busy times.
  • Ask employees to clean their hands as soon as possible after their trip.

Maintain Healthy Business Operations

Identify a workplace coordinator who will be responsible for COVID-19 issues and their impact at the workplace.

Implement flexible sick leave and supportive policies and practices

  • Ensure that sick leave policies are flexible, non-punitive, and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of and understand these policies.
  • Maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member or take care of children due to school and childcare closures. Additional flexibilities might include giving advances on future sick leave and allowing employees to donate sick leave to each other.
  • Some workers may be eligible to take leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
  • Employers with fewer than 500 employees are eligible for 100% tax credits for Families First Coronavirus Response Act COVID-19 paid leave provided through March 31, 2021, up to certain limits.
  • Employers that do not currently offer sick leave to some or all of their employees should consider drafting non-punitive “emergency sick leave” policies.
  • Employers should not require a COVID-19 test result or a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick to validate their illness, qualify for sick leave, or to return to work.
  • Review human resources policies to make sure that your policies and practices are consistent with public health recommendations and with existing state and federal workplace laws (for more information on employer responsibilities, visit the Department of Labor’s and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’sexternal icon websites).
  • Connect employees to employee assistance program (EAP) resources, if available, and community resources as needed. Employees may need additional social, behavioral, and other services, for example, to help them manage stress and cope.

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