Choice Stories

August 5, 2020

Keeping Workers and Customers Safe in the Era of COVID-19

With an infectious disease outbreak, such as the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, employers of all sizes are concerned about the best way to respond. Many are asking, “What can I do to protect my employees and customers?” We share some guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) below.

The CDC recommends these steps to protect employees and limit disruption to your business:

  • Identify a workplace coordinator who will be responsible for COVID-19 issues and their impact on your workplace.
  • Examine your workplace policies for leave, telework, and employee compensation. Leave policies should be flexible and non-punitive – allowing sick employees to stay home and away from co-workers. They should also accommodate employees who need to stay home with children if there are school or childcare closures – or to care for sick family members.
  • Use flexible worksites and flexible work hours, where possible. This can be achieved through telework (work from home arrangements) and, in some cases, staggered work schedules to adhere to social distancing (maintaining a distance between workers of approximately six feet).
  • Review leave policies with all employees. Provide information about any available employee assistance programs or services. Share information with workers about steps they can take to protect themselves – at work and at home.
  • Identify workers and business functions that are essential and the logistics required to maintain your business operations. Explore ways to keep your business open if municipal, county, or state regulations will allow your business to operate. (Some employers, like restaurants, movie theaters, and gyms have been ordered to limit services or shut down completely subject to a state order effective in mid-July.)
  • Prepare business continuity plans for significant absenteeism, supply chain disruptions, or changes in the ways you need to conduct business.
  • Establish an emergency communications plan, with key contacts identified (with back-ups), chain of communications, including suppliers and customers) and processes for tracking and communicating about your business and employees’ status.
  • Share your plan with employees and clearly communicate expectations. It can be a relief to employees when they know you have a plan for operating, reduced hours, return to work plans, etc.  

Here are eight tips to protecting workers and customers:

  1. Actively encourage employees who are sick to stay home.
  2. Encourage workers and customers to wear face masks. To reduce the spread of COVID-19, the CDC recommends people wear cloth face coverings in public settings when they are around people from outside of their household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. Beginning June 18, 2020, wearing a mask that covers your nose and mouth was required statewide in California, as ordered by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
  3. Promote etiquette for coughing and sneezing as well as handwashing. Provide tissues, no-touch trashcans, soap and water, and hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol) to employees.
  4. Perform routine environmental cleaning of frequently touch surfaces (workstations, counter tops, handrails, doorknobs, exit bars, etc. Discourage the sharing of tools and equipment, where possible.
  5. Deliver education and training materials – like fact sheets and posters.
  6. Have conversations with employees about their concerns. Some employees may be at higher risk for COVID-19 because of their age or health, or because of those with whom they live. Link here to visit the CDC website, which offers guidance for older adults.
  7. Talk with vendors, suppliers, and others about their plans – and requirements your company is implementing that could affect their services to your business.
  8. Implement practices to minimize face-to-face contact between employees, to adhere to state or local health department guidance on social distancing.
  9. Implement changes in the layout of your business to ensure workers and customers can remain at least six feet apart. The CDC offers a variety of additional guidance to different types of businesses, such as grocers, bars, restaurants, pharmacies, banks, and others. Link here for answers to frequently asked questions, or use the site’s search function.
  10. Post signs in high traffic and highly visible locations (like entrances, exits, restrooms) that promote everyday protective measures to stop the spread. Link here for the CDC’s general public toolkit.

The state of California has its own coronavirus website ( with resources to help employers, residents, and visitors stay up to date on the latest information concerning the spread of COVID-19, county information, testing and treatment, and guidance for nearly 30 specific industries.

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