Reopening Your Law Firm Part 3: Your Employees’ Safety

Many areas of the country are beginning to slowly reopen, and law firms are typically one of the first types of businesses permitted to open. This means that many lawyers are in the process of making plans to safely reopen their law firms’ doors to the public. If you’ve already started the process, you know that there are a lot of moving parts involved, with your top priority being to keep your employees and clients safe.

As we discussed in our last two posts about reopening law firms, there are a number of different considerations you’ll need to take into account as you plan to reopen. The best way to ensure that all important factors are considered is to create a reopening committee whose job is to to plan for the return to work by putting in place processes that will ensure the safety of your employees and legal clients.

One important part of that process is to create written protocols designed to address both the practical and safety issues involved in reopening as they relate to your workplace and your workforce. In last week’s post we covered the issues you’ll need to think about in regard to preparing your office, and in today’s post we’ll discuss the plans you’ll need to make when reopening as they relate to your employees.

Create written protocols for employee issues

When creating the protocols relating to your employees, there are a number of different health and safety issues the committee should consider. This safety plan template prepared by the New York State Department of Health is a great place to start when thinking about how to safely re-open your law firm. According to the pamphlet, the reopening committee should consider the following issues relating to your employees:

  • List common situations that may not allow for 6 ft. of distance between individuals. What measures will you implement to ensure the safety of your employees in such situations?
  • How you will manage engagement with customers and visitors on these requirements (as applicable)?
  • How you will manage industry-specific physical social distancing (e.g., shift changes, lunch breaks) (as applicable)?
  • If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, which employee(s) will be responsible for notifying state and local health departments?
  • In the case of an employee testing positive for COVID-19, how will you clean the applicable contaminated areas? What products identified as effective against COVID-19 will you need and how will you acquire them?
  • In the case of an employee testing positive for COVID-19, how will you trace close contacts in the workplace? How will you inform close contacts that they may have been exposed to COVID-19?
Prepare your law firm’s workforce

Practically speaking, there are a host of different issues you’ll need to think through before allowing your firm’s employees to return to the workplace, ranging from revised scheduling and the provision of safety and cleaning supplies to the implementation of health procedures and the clear communication of new firm-wide policies.

Many of this issues are of first impression, so you’ll undoubtedly need some guidance in order to ensure you’re on the right track. That’s where this pamphlet from the Indiana State Bar Association comes in. It provides lots of helpful information on preparing for your employees’ return to work, including the following suggestions:

  • DECIDE WHO RETURNS TO THE OFFICE The ISBA recommends conducting as much work as possible from a virtual setting. Therefore, only bring back those who are absolutely necessary. Be flexible to worker needs such as childcare, etc.
  • STAGGER SCHEDULES, AVOID SHARING When feasible, stagger workforce schedules to minimize people in your workplace. In addition, consider staggered, scheduled lunch-break timing. Where possible, eliminate shared office supplies and technology (such as telephones, postage machines, etc.).
  • IF POSSIBLE, PROVIDE MASKS AND OTHER PPE If masks can’t be provided, encourage employees to secure and wear their own. In addition, provide hand sanitizer and cleaners if possible. Educate employees that hand washing with soap is preferable to hand sanitizer.
  • COMMUNICATE WHAT EMPLOYEES SHOULD EXPECT Educate all staff on any new policies and procedures. Clearly communicate all expectations.
  • IMPLEMENT HEALTH PROCEDURES Employees feeling ill should remain home and consult their physician. If remote work is not possible, then appropriate policies should be implemented regarding sick days or personal days. Businesses are encouraged to explore medical leave options and/or FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act).

Now that you’ve considered  how your firm will handle issues relating to ensuring the safety of your employees upon their return to the office, you’ll need to brush up on the employment laws that were recently enacted as a result of the passage of the CARES Act in March. Good news! I’ll be addressing those issues in my next post, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, for even more great advice on weathering the pandemic, check out this recording of our recent webinar: “Webinar Recap: How 3 Established Firms Are Handling COVID-19.”

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