Information and Resources to Aid in the Safe, Successful, and Sustainable Reopening of the Economy
As businesses prepare to reopen in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are a number of issues and considerations they might consider taking into account in order to ensure workplace safety and to protect the health of employees. ASLRRA has gathered information from a number of sources that companies may use in developing reopening policies and protocols as they bring employees back to the workplace. The resources, links, and articles posted on this page are recommended reading for anyone involved in developing a company’s plan and protocols for reopening offices, warehouses, and work sites.
According to the White House’s official guidelines on reopening, certain “gating criteria” must be met before proceeding with reopening, including a downward trajectory in symptoms and cases and hospitals having the ability and capacity to treat patients and test front-line workers. While there currently is no single agreed upon course, there appears to be consensus among federal, state, and local authorities that the reopening will most likely occur in phases, with state and local authorities having the greatest influence over when and how businesses within their jurisdiction may resume operations. Companies should consider keeping track of state and local executive actions and reopening plans and follow state and local guidance (view a list of industry state-by-state and local resources and COVID-19 restrictions), as well as complementary CDC guidance, on reopening procedures.
Timing and Considerations
As stay-at-home orders are relaxed and businesses prepare to bring people back into the workplace, employers will need to consider assessing the availability and condition of essential services and resources, including:
- General health screenings
- COVID-19 testing and antibody testing
- Contact-tracing apps
- Personal protective equipment (PPE)
Workplace Safety and Employee Health
While there is no company rulebook for a pandemic, both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and OSHA have issued several sets of recommendations (see links below) for dealing with Covid-19 in recent weeks that can aid businesses in developing reopening protocols, including the CDC’s Top Tips to Protect Employees’ Health and OSHA’s Ten Steps All Workplaces Can Take to Reduce Risk of Exposure to Coronavirus.
Companies may look to what others have done to adapt workplaces as economies reopen, for ideas that they can implement. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal pointed to companies taking cues from what has worked in China, where efforts to reopen are ahead of other parts of the globe because the country has been dealing with the virus outbreak longer. Examples include temperature checkpoints and employee-health screenings; factory shift workers wearing masks and rubber gloves; and companies closing break rooms to prevent employees from congregating in one spot. The same article includes a CDC official’s recommendation that employers should prioritize keeping employees separated to avoid the spread of Covid-19 and if that isn’t possible the employer should determine what protective equipment workers need and provide it.
Ensure Compliance with Relevant Guidelines
Finally, companies will need to consider proceeding carefully as they implement new protocols and procedures to adhere to established general and COVID-specific EEOC and OSHA guidelines.
As stated above and outlined in law firm Baker McKenzie’s The Reopening Playbook: What US Employers Should Be Thinking About Right Now, employers should consider staying up to date on guidance from the CDC, OSHA, and the EEOC, as well as state and local authorities. The Baker McKenzie playbook provides additional guidance related to testing & health screening, managing employee concerns, and workforce communications (the firm recently conducted a webinar to provide guidance to employers on these issues, now available as a recording on their website). Bloomberg Law also addresses many of these issues in INSIGHT: Reopening the Workplace - A Preliminary Guide for Employers, in which the authors advise that employers who proactively plan for the challenges ahead will be best positioned to adapt to the “new normal.”
On behalf of our small business railroad members, ASLRRA joined a letter to State Governors urging prioritization of railroad workers in vaccine distribution. A state-by-state vaccine prioritization plan reference guide is provided here. The ASLRRA has developed a template for railroad workers to supply to local and state authorities in order to access a vaccine. The CDC has provided a toolkit for communicating information about the vaccine to Essential Workers. And finally, courtesy of ASLRRA member Burns White is guidance on addressing the question, “can employers mandate that their employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine?”
CDC Guidance on Vaccinated Individuals
As of March 8, 2021, the CDC has issued updated guidance on interactions with and between vaccinated individuals. Broadly, the CDC recommended that fully vaccinated people can meet freely in private settings with other fully vaccinated people, but that several restrictions remain, including advising against travel and recommending mask wearing in public.
The CDC has issued updated guidance on implementing safety practices for employees who have been exposed to a person with COVID-19 for critical infrastructure workers, such as railroaders.
The ASLRRA has joined AAR in a letter urging that transportation professionals, including railroad employees, have timely access to COVID-19 vaccines as part of the nation’s critical workforce.
Click here to read the latest guidance.