Returning to the Office: Managing COVID-19 in the Workplace

May 27, 2020

Returning to the Office:
Managing COVID-19 in the workplace to protect yourself and others

By Tabitha Hochscheid, Hochscheid & Associates LLC
Health and Well Being Committee Chair

What risks are you willing to take to return to your office? Risk assessment is a large part of what we do as lawyers. We analyze the problems of others and give advice on how to handle complex situations. COVID-19 is an unprecedented risky situation. Due to the stay at home orders in Ohio and Kentucky, many lawyers have stayed away from their workplace for around six weeks. The Ohio stay at home order has been lifted, so now lawyers must manage the COVID-19 risks in the workplace. 

I returned full-time to my office the first week of May. My choice was made easier by the fact that my landlord had a COVID-19 plan. We have limited access to the 810 Sycamore building, frequent common area cleanings and lots of hand sanitizer everywhere. I feel safe in my office. In the common areas, I wear a mask and if I leave the building, I wear a mask. But it took a few weeks to get a “new normal” established.

As we each learn to manage and accept the risk of this uncertain COVID-19 landscape, here are some observations I have on how to manage workplace situations:

1. If on an elevator and someone gets on without a mask, get off the elevator.

2. Limit the number of people in an elevator to observe the social distancing.

3. Ask your clients to wear a mask when they visit your office. Make masks available to people entering your business. If at all possible, conduct Zoom interviews or phone calls.

4. Stay six feet away from others. Even in your own office. Talk to colleagues from their doorway.

5. Use hand sanitizer, even if you have washed your hands, and especially if you have been in shared areas. I have hand sanitizer by my office door. I use it multiple times a day and ask others to use it when they enter my office.

6. Avoid sharing coffee makers and water fountains, and exercise extra caution in workplace kitchens and break rooms. Wash your hands immediately after being in a shared space.

7. Clean up after yourself when using shared conference rooms, break rooms, kitchens, etc. If you have a client in your office, clean up after them, too. Leave rooms safe for the next user, client, etc.

8. Keep in mind, your employees may be more cautious about returning than you. My employee has been working from home two days a week and slowly transitioning to the office. This has allowed her to slowly return and lowered her anxiety. 

9. Talk to your employees about the risks, the procedures for managing risk and work together to make everyone as comfortable as possible. Be flexible when you can.

At some point, we all must decide for ourselves whether a return to the office is a good idea. No hard and fast rules exist. My experience is that you learn some things as you go. Be flexible and respect that those around you may have more anxiety than you and you wearing a mask helps them mentally as well as protecting them from the virus. Above all, take care of your health and well being. Taking care of you is the best way to avoid getting COVID. Social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing are your best tools. Use them wisely.