On May 9, 2020, a council of Connecticut business leaders, in concert with the Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration, released rules and guidance for the “safe” reopening of workplaces across the state. The processes, principles, and protocols issued by this taskforce reflect a failure to address some of the most basic needs that the state’s business community (including both employers and employees) desperately requires.
The guidelines state that “employees are encouraged to continue to work from home where possible.” While I am sure this statement was intended to highlight how even the most detailed and complete safety measures would still result in a substantial amount of risk present in any and all office environments, there is no excuse for the incompleteness of the issued guidelines.
Allow me to highlight some examples of where the program outline failed.
Reopen Connecticut failed to issue regulations or standards to be followed by building managers and landlords, which should have focused on the safe setup of common bathrooms, elevators, building access points, and even stairwells.
While the regulations issued state that all office spaces are required to be thoroughly cleaned prior to reopening (and on an ongoing basis), there are no clear guidelines as to ownership of this responsibility. What falls to the employer/tenant, and what will be the responsibility of building management? Given the fact that office spaces are most often cleaned by service providers secured directly by the landlord, standards for their cleaning needed to be defined, and were not.
Employers are responsible for providing office workers with personal protective equipment (PPE), and Reopen Connecticut guidelines have made it clear that if PPE is not provided to employees, offices cannot open. However, the state has not provided a way for businesses to acquire the needed PPE, which will significantly hinder most from reopening their doors given how difficult it continues to be to acquire masks, gloves and, most importantly, sanitizing products.
Once offices reopen, there is also the inevitability that an employee or a member of their household will test positive for COVID-19. None of the guidance issued outlines steps a business must follow when this occurs. The cascade of challenges and issues that will shadow such an incident were very much overlooked by our leaders in Hartford, and protocols for meeting “re-certification” standards to reopen after such a diagnosis was also notably absent.
Even more troubling, there are also no specific requirements that mandate building management to notify tenants when an individual who has been in the building tests positive for COVID-19.
Businesses bringing employees back to the office will be required to post clear signage reinforcing all safety related protocols and policies, yet the state did not provide samples of these postings or indicate where they can be downloaded. It can be anticipated that the content of these notices may be incomplete and thus ineffective without the proper guidance from the task force.
It is understandable that Connecticut employers want to reopen their offices and welcome employees back as quickly as possible. However, in order to do so safely, they must be provided with a much more complete, robust, and clearly outlined set of standards and guidelines.
Those employed in Connecticut are also eager to return to their workplace, but demand that they have confidence the office they return to is safe and that the state and their employer have done everything possible to ensure their health and well-being.
Reopen Connecticut fails miserably to address the needs of both Connecticut employers and workers. As a 30-year resident of the state and business owner since 2001, I am incredibly disappointed in the task force’s efforts and output on this front. We all deserve better.
David Lewis is CEO of Operations, Inc., the state’s largest HR consulting practice in Norwalk.