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Avoiding Legal Pitfalls When Re-Opening Your NonProfit's Workplace

Posted by Terry Mosteller | Jan 03, 2022 | 0 Comments

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The COVID-19 pandemic continues to linger, well after its introduction to the United States in early 2020. However, many nonprofit organizations that may have initially closed their physical locations may now be in the process of reopening and continuing their important work. However, the current employment stratosphere is much different than it was prior to the pandemic, leading many nonprofit organizations to seek out legal counsel for tips on avoiding legal pitfalls when reopening their nonprofit workplace. If you are concerned about legal issues that may arise in the wake of your nonprofit organization's reopening, consider contacting Mission Counsel by calling (816) 368-1181 to learn all of your legal options.

Monitor Guidelines and Orders

Re-opening guidelines vary from state to state and by region. Nonprofit organizations should diligently monitor local, state, and national COVID-19 guidelines, advisories, and orders. These change frequently, often with little or no notice. They may include information pertaining to:

  • Property capacity limits
  • Mask requirements
  • Social distancing
  • Mandatory office space reconfigurations
  • Screening procedures

Nonprofit organizations are encouraged to check their town, city and state's official website for the latest information. The United States COVID-19 webpage also provides information to the latest needs and recommendations and is maintained by the federal government. The World Health Organization provides comprehensive information about the ongoing pandemic, as well as planning information for individuals and businesses. Nonprofits can also monitor the Centers for Disease Control's latest recommendations regarding COVID-19.

Create New Policies

Before returning to physical workspaces, nonprofit leadership teams may need to create new policies to reflect the new normal. These policies should be implemented in an equitable manner and comply with all relevant laws. A lawyer from Mission Counsel can review applicable employment laws and make recommendations regarding new policies that your nonprofit organization should implement to avoid legal pitfalls when reopening your nonprofit's workplace. Some of these policies may include:

Health and Safety Protocols

Nonprofit organizations should implement health and safety protocols that protect the health and safety of their staff and local communities.

Some policies may include:

  • Social distancing guidelines
  • Personal hygiene practices, including handwashing
  • Access to hand sanitizer
  • Cleaning of high- and low-touch surfaces
  • Sanitation practices
  • Elevator, restroom, and building capacities
  • Use of personal protective equipment

Paid Time Off and Leave Policies 

While the federal mandate for paid time off for those caring for family members with COVID-19 or who could not access child care has expired, nonprofit organizations can still look to the provisions of the Family First Coronavirus Response Act for reasonable provisions related to COVID-19-related leave.

Sick Leave Policies

Non-profit organizations may want to review their sick leave policies to ensure that they are not punitive in nature or deter workers from calling in sick if they may have COVID-19. An isolated case is typically better than a sick employee coming to work and infected an entire department.

Non-profit organizations may also want to consider how they may respond if a staff member tests positive for COVID-19 but has already exhausted their sick and vacation time.

Workplace Accommodations

Avoiding legal pitfalls when reopening your nonprofit's workplace may come down to providing a fair environment to all employees. The EEOC is allowing greater flexibility in managing reasonable accommodation requests for employees. Organizations may consider providing reasonable accommodations that go beyond what is required by state law to show their support for people with underlying conditions or those who are high-risk. If a nonprofit organization denies a reasonable accommodation request on the grounds of undue hardship, they should have clear documentation related to this issue.

Remote Work

Many nonprofit organizations may ease into an onsite work model through phases. In the meantime, they may wish to review their current remote work policies and set expectations with remote workers. There should also be clear security protocols in place to protect sensitive data.

Communication Policies

Nonprofit organizations will also want to set up policies regarding how they will alert staff to positive COVID-19 cases that protect the health of the team while also respecting privacy and HIPAA laws.

Train Your Staff

Once the new policies are in place, management should notify and train their staff about them.

Create a Comprehensive Plan

In addition to creating individual policies, nonprofit organizations might want to create a comprehensive and detailed plan about their reopening that addresses the unique challenges brought on by the pandemic. Such a plan must comply with applicable laws and health and safety guidelines that are in place to slow or prevent the spread of COVID-19. The plan may include information about:

Before workplaces reopen, organizations should develop and finalize a comprehensive health and safety plan to address the unique challenges of the pandemic. The plan must comply with applicable laws and follow the ever-evolving status quo on workplace best practices. A plan should include these categories:

Physical Adjustments

The plan may discuss physical changes that may be made to the work space, such as the installation of plexiglass between desks or spacing out work desks in an open area. Each organization may have a different plan, based on the overall layout of the office and how staff interact with each other.

Capacity Rules

The plan may limit the number of people who are in the work space at a given time. The organization may switch to a different model that has groups coming to work in shifts, rather than everyone being in the building at the same time. There may also be new rules for how many people can be in a workplace bathroom or kitchen at the same time.

Hygiene and Cleaning

A deep clean of the office building may be necessary before returning to the physical workspace. Then, ongoing sanitation and cleaning protocols should be in place. If a positive case of COVID-19 is reported, there should be a plan in place about how to clean the work environment. Staff should have easy access to sinks and soap or sanitizer.

Once the plan is in place, employers should provide training regarding the plan, as well as communicate the plan to all stakeholders, employees, and volunteers.

Contact Mission Counsel for Help Avoiding Legal Pitfalls When Reopening Your Nonprofit's Workplace

Nonprofit organizations who are concerned about legal pitfalls that may arise during the reopening phase should consider contacting Mission Council to get answers to all their legal questions at (816) 368-1181.

About the Author

Terry Mosteller

Hi, I'm Terry Mosteller. I'm the founding attorney at Mission Counsel, where I help nonprofits and small and medium-sized businesses overcome obstacles so that they can focus on what they do best–accomplishing their mission. My goal is to get to know not just the legal challenges...

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