HR Insights 8 min

How to Create a COVID-19 Safe Workplace for All

February 22, 2022

As we enter year three of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses in the U.S. have two delicate and complex considerations to take into account for providing a safe work environment: employee choice and COVID-19 regulations.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently blocked a national COVID-19 vaccination mandate for organizations with over 100 employees, but it allowed the mandate for federally-funded healthcare facilities. This puts business and HR leaders in the difficult position to either:

  • Choose the specific safety measures they’ll put in place
  • Or roll out a mandatory vaccination policy, if they’re an affected healthcare facility 

In both cases, you have tough decisions ahead of you, which will need to factor in employee choice while ensuring effective communication. In this article, we’ll cover: 

  • The different safety options and their possible consequences
  • How to communicate your final decision with employees
  • The benefits of vaccination tracking software, if you mandate vaccinations or testing 
  • How to best address employees who don’t comply with safety policies

4 Ways Companies Can Create a Safe Workplace During the Pandemic

Leadership and HR need to create clear workplace safety policies to keep employees healthy during the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. But there’s not just one right way to do it.

Here are four ways to ensure a safe workplace:

  • Require vaccination or weekly testing for infection: This policy gives employees more choice, allowing them the option to vaccinate or take weekly tests to prevent the spread of infection. You’ll need to decide if your organization will be paying for and providing tests or if that responsibility falls on employees.
  • Go fully remote: While some organizations chose this path temporarily in 2020, some have decided to make the switch to remote work permanent. But unless your organization is truly able to work 100 percent remotely, 100 percent of the time, you’ll still need to come up with some kind of safety policies. Are there any roles that will still need to be customer-facing or on location? What should employees do if they need to meet in person?
  • Open back up with no requirements: While the federal mandate only enforces vaccinations for medical facilities that take Medicare or Medicaid funding, that doesn’t mean a company can’t incur potential liabilities if they proceed without any safety requirements. Companies can face high healthcare costs, negative brand perception, or even civil action if a customer or employee gets infected on premises.
Get an HR expert’s advice on navigating masks in the workplace.

Communication Is Key to Create a Safe Workplace

Whichever option an organization chooses, it’s essential to clearly communicate the decision to all employees. Some effective ways of going about this include:

  • Creating a page on a corporate intranet or private social network that specifically outlines the guidelines, rules, and benefits of the policy
  • Opening a Slack or similar channel for any quick questions or points of clarification
  • Appointing an employee advocate who can answer questions and bring concerns to management
  • Hosting “town hall” meetings where employees can talk with HR and senior leadership to share news, updates, questions, and concerns in an open and honest format

It’s vital to communicate all options to employees and support each choice being offered. This way, employees will understand the rules have a purpose, and they won’t feel as though they’re being dictated to by leadership. 

Building trust with employees requires as much transparency as possible, so leadership needs to take the time to explain how they arrived at their decision and the burdens it places upon the employees and business as well.

Mandating Vaccines and Tests? Take Advantage of Vaccination Tracking Software

If your organization decides or is required to mandate COVID-19 vaccines or testing, that adds an additional recordkeeping burden on HR, not to mention enforcement. Vaccination tracking software can help organizations keep track of employee vaccination statuses to ensure they’re following COVID-19 safety regulations. Vaccination tracking software can also help organizations comply with any regulations.

For example, BambooHR recently launched a COVID-19 vaccination tracking feature, allowing employers to collect the following information:

  • COVID-19 vaccination history (including employee vaccination status, type of vaccine, proof of vaccination, and date of last dose)
  • Exemptions
  • Testing
  • Exposure

This type of tool can make it easier for your organization to follow federal or local requirements, create safer work environments, and adjust current health and safety plans in real-time as needs and situations change.

Put Employees at the Heart of Safety Policies and Compliance

If any non-compliance issues come up, here are some final recommendations to diffuse the tension of the situation: 

  • Do your best to acknowledge the employee’s concerns.
  • Try to find common ground where possible.
  • Remind the employee of their responsibility to the health and safety of their coworkers.

Providing all employees with the same options and access under a given policy—whether it’s testing, masks, remote work opportunities, etc.—will establish stronger trust and create an equal, safe playing field and workplace for all.

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Marie-Reine Pugh

Marie-Reine Pugh is focused on making HR simpler for HR professionals and workplaces a better place for everyone. She pulls from her previous experiences as an educator and six years of writing and researching to explore how to create inclusive company cultures that help businesses succeed.