From vaccine requirements to plexiglass dispensers, your workplace may look different when the pandemic begins to subside. Here's what you need to know.
The end of the pandemic may be in sight now that over 74 million people and bills are fully vaccinated in the United States (as of press time), and some states are planning to open vaccine eligibility up to someone 16 or older. But the transition back to "normal life" may feel anything but normal after we have been in lockdown and social distancing for more than a year.
If you have been working remotely for several months, you may be worried about returning to work. After all, there are many unknowns. Can employers require tests? What safety measures will employers take? Is it possible to continue working remotely if that is your preference?
Here are things to expect when starting an office resume:
In this article:
1. Employers Can Perform Health Examinations
According to the UEOC (U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission), employers can choose to do a health check when you get to work. This may include asking if you are coughing and taking your temperature in the office. People with symptoms can be sent home.
Depending on where you work, a COVID-19 test may also be required. If you ever have a question about what may be required and what questions your job is or may not ask about your health, the EEOC describes guidelines that employers must follow.
2. COVID-19 Vaccines May Be Required (With Some Exceptions)
As countries are considering vaccination passes and sports arenas are adding special seating for vaccinated fans, you may be wondering if vaccinations might become a condition of working in an office. The answer: It depends.
"Reaching a conclusion regarding COVID and employment rules is difficult because of the rapidly changing nature of the legal and business environment," said Robert C. Bird, Professor of Business Law at the University of Connecticut. "With that said, employers can generally demand that their employees be vaccinated."
However, there are exceptions to the rule. If you cannot be vaccinated due to disability or health problems, you may be protected under the American Disability Act (ADA). The company may need to offer you accommodation, such as allowing you to work remotely if your inability to be vaccinated endangers others.
3. Social distancing measures are unlikely to go anywhere
Unfortunately, welcome hugs and handshakes may have to wait. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines still recommend keeping a distance of six meters from others. This means that virtual meetings can last for a while, and less time can be spent in the conference room or chatting around the water cooler – at least for the time being. Your employers can create a COVID office design that spreads desks to promote social distancing.
Employers may require you to wear a mask unless you can wear one for health or religious reasons. Masks are designed to protect people around you from your breathing drops if you cough or sneeze. In addition, depending on the mask you are wearing, it can reduce the risk of you getting the virus if you come in contact with someone in the office who has it.
4. Offices Can Look Unrecognizable
To keep employees and customers six feet apart in a shared space, companies can move office furniture, waiting rooms, cafeterias, and other public spaces. You may find some hand cleaning stations that you have never seen before, and coffee makers or water coolers may no longer be available for use in a COVID workspace.
The Swedish Work Environment Authority (OSHA)) has guidelines to help employers and employees reduce risk when working in a shared space. It recommends that employers take measures, such as providing face coatings, restricting people in areas, using social distance bands or markers, providing services remotely where possible and controlling air ventilation systems.
If you have concerns about what your employer is doing to protect employees and customers, ask about safety plans in your workspace. "Most employers have a non-retaliation policy as part of a code of conduct or general employment communication policy to express concern," said Anne Huffman, chief of staff of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). This means that you should not have consequences for raising issues.
If you want to escalate a problem, complaints about safety risks can be submitted to OSHA. "I expect OSHA will have a more proactive approach in the coming year that will include website reviews and [investigation of] employee concerns," Huffman said.
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5. People at risk of having a serious case of COVID-19 may be able to request accommodation at the workplace
People with pre-existing health conditions may have a higher risk of getting a serious case of COVID-19. If you end up in a high-risk group, you may be able to request a further adaptation of the accommodation or workplace that reduces your contact with others.
This may mean that you continue to work from home, work in a separate office or put up barriers, such as plexiglass, between you and colleagues or customers to protect yourself. Consider discussing issues you may have about returning to work with your employer.
6. Employers may finally be open to permanent teleworking
Apart from safety-related changes, our way of working may still look very different from a year ago. According to Bird, it will not be as usual now that both employees and employers have experienced remote work and the benefits. "Employees are likely to expect more flexibility in the workplace when it comes to teleworking because we now have hard evidence that teleworking can be successful," says Bird. something you can negotiate like any other work-related benefit. And if you can not agree on teleworking with your current employer, you have options.
Take a browse through Indeed or LinkedIn and you will see that many companies looking for new talent are open to remote workers. . "In the foreseeable future, I expect employers to highlight their flexibility in the work arrangement as a recruitment tool," says Huffman. Who knows? Your life after the pandemic may mean a new position with more ongoing work flexibility.
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7. Taking sick days can now be encouraged – not dissatisfied
A study by Robert Half from 2019 showed that 90% of workers have come to the office with cold or flu symptoms, but that trend may change. Previously, someone who came to work while ill was considered a diligent employee who was worried about his work, according to Huffman.
"Today, the perception may be that someone lacks empathy for their colleagues." The pandemic has shown us that taking a risk and taking a virus to the workplace affects others – and can even be fatal to people you come in contact with.
8. Travel budgets can be tighter
If you used to travel a lot for business, changes may also be on the horizon in that area. "Business travel will resume, but I expect employers to be more cost-conscious about travel costs and this includes conferences," says Huffman. According to Huffman, conferences are likely to have remote components, so you may be able to attend from afar.
Overall, we should expect to continue to see the use of video calls such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Google Meet as it is now so widely adopted. "Employees across the generation spectrum have become more comfortable with technology," says Huffman. The pandemic has forced many to learn innovative ways to collaborate from different places.
The core point
Although the pandemic is not completely behind us, many employers have plans to return to the office. The changes that are made to offices and policies can vary from one company to another.
If you are interested in continuing full-time or part-time telecommuting, show evidence of productivity and work performance during the pandemic while working from home can help you do your job. If you are on your way back to the office, the best way to keep track of your security policy is by communicating with your employer.
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