Integrating Back to Work After COVID-19

Last Updated October 2021 | This article was created by familydoctor.org editorial staff and reviewed by Kyle Bradford Jones

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Working remotely became more common during the pandemic. But if you have to be in-person, you may be worried about how you can stay safe—and healthy—on the job. There are some things you can do to protect yourself, and some things your employer may do.

Path to improved health

Practice physical distancing

Physical distancing means you stay at least 6 feet away from others. That includes when you’re talking with people, when you’re in meetings, and when you’re at your workstation or worksite. But sometimes that can be hard to do. Your employer may offer some specific suggestions to keep everyone safe.

  • If your workstation is within 6 feet of another one, your employer may move it to be at least 6 feet away.
  • If your job requires you to be closer than 6 feet to others, your employer may modify your workspace. For example, you may work behind a plexiglass partition to keep you and your coworkers safe.
  • Your employer may require masks when you’re in shared areas, like conference rooms, hallways and bathrooms.
  • If your workplace has a conference room or break room, you may notice fewer chairs in there now. That’s because chairs now need to be placed 6 feet apart so workers in those rooms can maintain social distancing.
  • Because of social distancing requirements, not all employees may be able to gather for a meeting in a conference room or break room. In some instances, you may be able to attend the meeting through a video conference you can watch from your workstation. Ask your employer if this is an option for you.
  • Your employer may stagger your start and end times of the workday. That way, not everybody is arriving or leaving at the same time.

Keep your hands clean

Wash your hands with soap and water when possible, for at least 20 seconds each time. Be sure to use soap all over your hands, including your fingertips, between your fingers, and underneath your nails.

You may see your employer has placed hand sanitizer around your workplace. This can make it quick and easy to find it when you need it. Be sure to use the sanitizer correctly. Squirt it on the palm of your hand, then rub it all over your hands and fingers. Make sure you get it on the back of your hands, between your fingers, and on your fingertips. Keep rubbing your hands together until they’re dry. Read the label on the sanitizer’s container to find out how much sanitizer you should use.

Always wash your hands or use hand sanitizer:

  • After you cough, sneeze, or blow your nose
  • After using the restroom
  • Before and after you eat
  • Before entering a meeting room or after leaving a meeting room
  • After touching objects touched by others. These may include door handles, elevator buttons, refrigerator doors, sink faucets, etc.

Wear a mask

Wearing a mask may help keep you from spreading the virus to others, even if you don’t know you have the virus.

Make sure to wear your mask properly. It needs to always cover your mouth and nose. Wash your hands before you put the mask on. Once it’s on, don’t touch it. When you take it off, do so by grabbing the straps behind your ears or on the back of your head. Do not touch the front of the mask. After you remove it, wash your hands again.

Even if you wear a mask, try to stay 6 feet away from other people.

Cough/sneeze into your elbow

When you cough or sneeze, tiny particles leave your mouth and nose and travel through the air. These particles are where the virus can live. So, when you cough or sneeze, do so into the bend of your elbow. This will help keep those particles from traveling through the air.

Clean your workspace

You should disinfect your personal workspace several times during the day. This includes your phone, computer keyboards, desktop surfaces, touchpads, keys, etc.

If possible, clean your workspace and equipment with a cleaner. Select one that’s shown to kill the virus that causes COVID-19. Many cleaners have been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use against the virus. To find out if a specific cleaner meets the requirements, check the back of the container for the EPA registration number. It’s shown as EPA Reg. No. and can be found in small print toward the bottom of the label. Then enter that number into the EPA’s website. If the product appears on this list, it’s safe to use against COVID-19.

When using a cleaning product, be sure to read the label instructions. This is where you’ll find how long the product needs to be applied to be effective. Also, note that some products disinfect and sanitize. These are different ways of cleaning. Each way will likely require a different amount of time to be effective.

Depending on the cleaning product and surface you’re cleaning, you may need to wear gloves. They will keep your skin safe from the chemicals in the cleaner. Check the label or ask your employer if you need gloves.

If you see actual dust or dirt on an object, wash it with soap and water before using a disinfectant. It is also smart to clean your mobile phone and car keys regularly.

Note: Always ask your employer before washing or disinfecting any object. Make sure the cleaner you’re using is safe for your workspace and equipment.

You may notice your employer cleaning objects that are touched by many people throughout the day. He or she may use disinfectants to wipe down door handles, desks, kitchen areas, light switches, faucets, and touch pads.

Open a window

If possible, open a window near your workspace. The air coming in from the outside will mix with the air on the inside. This mix will help thin the virus (if there is any) in the air, making it harder for you to get COVID-19.

Take your temperature

Your employer may choose to check your temperature before you report to work each day. That’s because a fever is a main symptom of COVID-19. You may be required to take your temperature before you leave home then report it to your employer when you arrive at work. Or maybe your employer will take your temperature when you report to work. If you have a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, you’ll need to go home as you may have COVID-19.

Follow guidelines for your specific job

The Centers for Disease Control has provided specific health and safety steps for many job categories, such as construction workers, truck drivers, nail salon workers, and grocery store workers. Click here (and scroll down to the section “Health and Safety Steps for Specific Occupations”) to see if your job is included on the list. If it is, use this information at your workplace to help keep you and your coworkers safe.

Things to consider

Don’t shake hands with coworkers or business associates. COVID-19 can transfer from one person to another by touching hands. Plus, if you shake someone’s hand, you’ll be closer than 6 feet to them. Instead, choose to greet someone with a wave or with words.

Even if your workplace opens for business, stay home if you feel sick. You don’t want to spread the virus at work.

Questions for your doctor

  • How long do I need to stay home from work if I have been diagnosed with COVID-19?
  • If I have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, should I go to work?
  • Should I go to work if I think I have a cold?
  • What symptoms would cause me to stay home from work?

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Use of Masks to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19

United States Environmental Protection Agency: Disinfectants Coronavirus (COVID-19)