“As you can imagine, it’s different whether you’re in a restaurant or a grocery store or a movie theater or a dentist office,” Caplin said.
Businesses should follow CDC guidelines, as well as directives laid out by state departments of health. And Caplin notes that many companies, especially larger ones, should hire an expert.
“Most businesses are not thinking about cross contamination and infection control the way healthcare organizations do,” he said.
Mobile apps, automatic thermometers and other tools that are relatively inexpensive can help businesses create a safe environment, along with newly acquired hand washing and sanitizing habits, well thought-out business protocols will help everyone feel comfortable about getting back to a new normal.
“Employees need to know that we have thought through how we operate in the space that they are being protected from exposure and that the customer on the other side knows they are being protected,” saidCaplin. “If we do that, we can reopen and we can ultimately end up with a healthier population as a result.”
And for him, the effort is personal: both of his in-laws contracted COVID-19, and his father-in-law died of the virus. His father died a few days later, and he believes he may have been exposed himself.
“So yeah, it is a little bit personal,” he said.
If an employer fails to take steps, it could get ugly, because workers have rights and can refuse to work in unsafe conditions, said Rhiannon DiClemente, an attorney with Community Legal Services.
“It shouldn't be on the worker to ensure a safe environment,” DiClemente added.
She said essential and frontline workers have come to the nonprofit seeking advice on what to do if their job fails to provide PPE, social distancing or other protocols.
If that happens, workers should get organized, she advised.
“Work together to raise the issue with an employer as a first step,” she said, noting that a letter or petition signed by a group can trigger a larger process.
DiClemente noted they’ve seen egregious violations: no masking, no social distancing, crowded spaces and more.
Workers can file a complaint online to the Department of Health.
“But the forms are hard to find,” said DiClemente, “and it’s unclear what is happening with those complaints and whether they are being investigated.”
DiClemente also said there are mixed messages: On one hand, some guidance has been for employees to refuse work, but some unemployment guidance has said refusing work could interfere with unemployment requirements.
“We believe that if the employee has underlying health conditions or no child care and the employer is refusing to follow guidelines, that an employee has a right to refuse work,” said DiClemente.
But employees are very confused, she said, fearing they’ll lose benefits.
“If people are still working and fear for their health and safety, we can help them get organized and explain their rights,” she added, saying she can help employees make a decision before they go back to work and the dangers of refusing to go back to work.
DiClemente said they are hoping to get regulations and an enforcement mechanism that would allow workers to file complaints and be protected from retaliation.