The following tips can help people stay safe at work:
1. Practice being assertive about social distancing
Good working relationships with colleagues can make work easier, and sometimes even fun.
However, many people are reluctant to be assertive with co-workers who get too close or do not wear a mask. A person can practice a few scripts at home. They should focus on self-protection and public safety, rather than judging a colleague.
A person can try these lines:
- “Would you mind taking a few steps back? I’m high risk/trying to stay safe/do not want to spread the virus to my elderly parents.”
- “I know it’s weird to be so distant, but I’m really anxious about the virus. Can you walk to the other side of the office?”
- “Can we have this conversation over the phone or instant messenger?”
- “I am going to step over here for our conversation.”
- “Would you mind putting your mask on? Let’s keep everyone in the office safe. Thanks so much!”
An assertive person can prevent the spread of a deadly illness, and even save lives.
2. Wear a mask
A person who wears a mask can help reduce the risk of spreading the virus, even in close quarters. Masks are most effective when everyone wears them, so people should encourage their colleagues to wear them.
To get the most benefits from a mask, a person should take the following steps:
- Ensuring the mask covers the nose and mouth.
- Ensuring the mask fits snugly, so there are no gaps between the face and fabric.
- Considering a cloth mask to cover a surgical mask, and prolong its life.
- Avoid touching the mask with unwashed hands.
- Leaving the mask on all day. Taking the mask on and off increases the risk of contamination.
3. Ask about implementing safe office policies
Workplace policies that require masks, social distancing, and other safety rules can make it easier to be assertive with colleagues.
A person may ask a supervisor or human resources department to implement these OSHA recommendations:
- Workers should stay home if they are sick.
- Sick workers should immediately isolate, and not remain in common areas.
- Implement flexible work hours or working from home.
- Install partitions to create more barriers.
- Use tape or other guidance to mark off 6 feet, so people can easily social distance.
4. Know about legal rights
Workers have legal rights that may protect them during COVID-19. People with disabilities can request reasonable accommodations, including working from home. People who are high risk also should consider asking for these adjustments.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act entitles workers in most jobs to more paid family medical leave, so they should ask about their options to care for sick family members.
Depending on a person’s job and disability status, they may have other rights. They should consult with a lawyer if an employer puts workers in danger. An attorney can help people explore their rights, and options to enforce them.
Hiring a lawyer does not mean a person has to sue or otherwise escalate matters.
5. Ask about working an alternate schedule
If working from home is possible, a person should ask about this option. Even if they come in a few days a week, their days at home will reduce their overall risk of getting or spreading the virus.
When working from home is impossible, a person may ask about an alternative schedule. For example, they might work:
- an early shift
- a late evening shift
- staggered shifts, so there are only a few people in the office at a time
Social distancing continues to be one of the most important things workers can do to remain safe.
Even those who are unafraid of the virus must be mindful of how it might affect others.
In every workplace, at least one worker, or one person who comes into contact with a worker, will be high risk. They should maintain a reasonable distance and help protect everyone.