20 September 2022

Is COVID-19 Still Relevant at Work?

Here’s 3 reasons I think it is (and always will be!)

I know, I know. We’re two-and-a-half years in and we’re all soooo over COVID-19. And, if the increase in traffic during the morning commute and lack of prime parking spaces close to the office are any indication, it certainly seems like employees have returned to brick and mortar workplaces. So, with all these people back in one place, what COVID-19 considerations make sense in this “new normal?” Several make sense, and (spoiler!) several are still required. Here are three reasons why thinking about COVID-19 still makes good business sense (and protects your company):

1. Workplace safety

Because most everyone reading this has at least one employee in their workplace, workplace safety standards still matter and following them is still a must.

Maybe lots of you breathed a heavy sigh of relief when MIOSHA rescinded its COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard back in June 2021 and the federal OSHA vaccination or testing standard was shelved back in January 2022. But, some of us do still have “special COVID-19” rules to think about. For example, healthcare workplaces may be covered by the CMS Vaccination Rule, other state-level rules (like those that apply to long-term care facilities), or are required to comply with enhanced COVID-19 related illness recording and reporting requirements.

Even for the rest of us, it’s important to remember that the “special COVID-19” rules weren’t ever the only workplace safety rules that mattered, and we have to keep brushing up on those old rules and applying them to whatever stage of the pandemic we might be in. Here’s a short list of the occupational safety and health standards that haven’t changed and still apply:

  • workplace illness and injury reporting,
  • access to employee exposure and medical records,
  • hazard communication,
  • PPE,
  • the respiratory protection standard, and
  • the general duty clause, which outlines employer obligations to provide their employees a workplace and work free from recognized hazards.

Altogether, this means that, despite how far we’ve come through the availability of vaccines, boosters, and therapeutics, COVID-19 is still a workplace hazard that we have an obligation to protect our employees against while at work.

2. Leave and accommodations

I’m no healthcare professional, but even I know that COVID-19 is a virus. That means that if an employee has it (or is experiencing its symptoms), that employee has some kind of medical condition that might require their employer to do something. Maybe that something is provide paid leave (like paid leave under Michigan’s Paid Medical Leave Act) or provide unpaid but protected leave (like FMLA or leave under the ADA, depending on the severity of the employee’s condition). Maybe the employee has “long-COVID” and they need some kind of non-leave workplace accommodation (remote work or an adjusted schedule to accommodate for fatigue or ongoing medical appointments)?

Maybe the employee doesn’t have a medical condition related to COVID-19 at all, but some other medical condition that makes their on-site presence at work difficult or even dangerous depending on the level of community spread in the area.

Once we know an employee has a medical diagnosis of some kind and has made some type of workplace-related request, let’s remember to evaluate that request consistent with our obligations under federal, state, and local law, as well as our own internal policies and benefits.

3. The “new” normal

How many times have you heard that phrase in the past few years? Although we’ve transitioned away from “stay at home” orders, there is no doubt that COVID-19 has changed the way we are going to think about work . . . forever!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you might have heard that its hard to get people to come back to work . . . on-site . . . five days a week . . . all day long. You might have also realized how much time and money your organization can save by using new technology to connect with customers, vendors, and colleagues. And, you might have also realized how much broader your search for (and ability to retain) top talent can be now that you’ve built some infrastructure to support more than one way to work.

I’m not saying that we all need to channel our inner UK and trial run a four-day work week across the board. I am saying that it would be an organizational blunder to ignore what has changed about the way people can and want to work, especially with the nationwide staffing shortage. With some intentionality and creativity, this really might just be the “new normal” we’ve all been waiting for.


Contact the author Sandy Andre.