Although infection and death rates in Switzerland are decreasing and the curve is going down, the COVID-19 virus has not been eradicated; it is therefore here to stay until immunity of the population is achieved or a vaccine is found.
The return of the workforce to the office or workplace will most likely increase the risk of infection due to the movement and interaction of populations that until now have largely been confined at home.
Currently and despite the gradual easing of the measures by the Federal Council, the Swiss government still recommends, when and if possible, to maintain home office, thereby reducing the amount of social contact.
Employers must be clear on what they want and expect when allowing employees or groups of employees to return to the workplace. In this regard, a risk-benefit analysis of business/operations should be made before considering any return.
Having said this, when considering a return to work plan, employers should address in particular the following questions (non-exhaustive list of issues and merely an example of topics that could be relevant – compliance and enforceability of such measures should be checked, on an individual basis)*:
Return to work plan:
- Which employees/functions should be returning first to their workplace?
- Which employees/functions can maintain home office work?
- Is a staggered return to work suitable for my organization?
- Over what period of time should the return to work plan be rolled out?
- How should we define split teams and their shifts (home office versus workplace)?
- When shall all employees be expected to return to their workplace?
- Who should be consulted in the organization to review and validate the return to work plan?
- How should the return to work plan be communicated to employees?
Employee health and safety:
- To what risks are employees exposed when required to return to the office or workplace?
What means of transportation should commuters use (public transport versus private means)?
- Should commuting employees be encouraged to avoid using public transport entirely, or at least during peak times? Can employees choose to start later or leave earlier?
- Can temperature checks be done before employees enter the office or workplace? If so, can such measures be put in place by the employer, and what safeguards need to be put in place in terms of access and storage of related data?
- Can employees be requested to wear hygiene masks and/or gloves in the office, workplace or in certain defined areas? If so, can the employer provide such equipment?
- Can employees uphold social distancing in performing their work at the office or workplace
- Can employees be requested to attend internal and/or external meetings? If yes, what are the restrictions and safeguards to be put in place?
- How should we respond if an employee, his/her partner, roommate or family member tests positive for COVID-19?
- How should we respond if an employee is sick and/or presents symptoms consistent with COVID-19?
Office or workplace cleaning and hygiene:
- What access and controls should be put in place for employees, visitors, clients and others accessing the employer’s premises?
- Can the mandatory security and hygiene measures ordered by the government be upheld in the office or workplace?
- What additional equipment and means should be put in place in order to meet the said mandatory security and hygiene measures?
- Is the office and/or workspace adapted for such measures?
- What are the costs of such measures?
- Can such measures be put into place by the employer or should third parties be involved? If third parties are to be involved, which ones?
- What measures should be taken regarding contractors and cleaning staff accessing the office or workplace, and what and how should be communicated?
- How often should the office or workplace be cleaned?
- What should be done if a desk or workstation has been used by an employee who has tested positive for COVID-19?
- Can home office be maintained? If yes, for how long and for which employees?
- Can employees continue working from home?
- Does the employee’s role or function within the employer’s organization enable continued home office?
- Can the employee be required to work partially from home and in the office or at the workplace the rest of the time?
- Are employees sufficiently well equipped to continue working from home?
- Does the employee have sufficient IT and internet connectivity support?
- Does the employer have to pay costs in relation to home office, or refund certain costs to the employee?
- Does the employee’s personal situation enable him/her to continue working from home?
- What is the impact of home office on the employee’s wellbeing (e.g. mental health)?