For anyone who cannot work from home, social distancing at work is crucial to slowing the spread of COVID-19.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) significantly suggests employees’ social distance and follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for social distancing.
Here are ways for social distancing at work, and what to do if it shifts to a more controversial subject.
Hassles of social distancing at work
Social distancing at work may prove difficult for employees with retail, healthcare, and service industry jobs. People who work from home have vital control over their workplace. However, at an office or store, it isn’t easy to manage different people.
A June 2020 poll found that just 48% of people wear masks at all times.
Meantime, as per March 2020 survey report, just about half of United States citizens view COVID-19 as a vital threat to their health.
Employees may have co-workers who do not take the virus seriously or feel provoked when others wear masks.
Yet, when everyone at a workplace takes the virus seriously, significant and logistical concerns make social distancing challenging. Some obvious problems include:
- Customers and clients who do not social distance or wear masks
- Close workplace quarters that make social distancing impossible
- Jobs that require close contact, such as healthcare roles
- Touching surfaces others have touched.
- Roles that demand physical contacts, such as those in elderly care or childcare
Why is it necessary for social distance?
Many countries around the world have relaxed the laws around business closures. This means many people are now returning to work.
But cases in the U.S. are on the rise, and the numbers are much higher than earlier in the pandemic when businesses began encouraging employees to stay at home.
COVID-19 spreads quickly between people, especially if they are in close contact and without masks. The risk is likely highest for those who remain in close contact for longer than 15 minutes, mostly indoors.
While less common, the virus may also spread when droplets from a cough or sneeze land on a surface, then an uninfected person touches the surface before touching their mouth or nose.
In offices with many partitioned spaces, or where people are in close quarters, this spreading method is more likely, since many people touch the same objects, such as copiers or refrigerators.
Social distancing dramatically reduces the risk of catching the virus or passing it to someone else when everyone in an office maintains social distance—the chances of getting the virus drops, even if an infected person comes to work.
Tips for social distancing at work or in the office
The following tips can help people stay safe at work:
- Practice being assertive about social distancing
Good working relationships with colleagues can make the job more comfortable, 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!”
A confident 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 virus’s risk, 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 emphatic with colleagues.
A person may ask a supervisor or human resources department to implement these OSHA recommendations:
- Employees should stay home if they are sick.
- Sick employees should immediately isolate and not remain in common areas.
- Implement flexible work hours or work from home.
- Install partitions to create more barriers.
- Use tape or other guidance to mark off 6 feet, so people can quickly social distance.
4. Know about legal rights
Employees have legal rights that may protect them during COVID-19. People with disabilities can request reasonable accommodations, including working from home. People who are at high risk also should consider asking for these adjustments.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act entitles employees 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 an employee 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 on 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 spreading the virus.
When working from home is impossible, a person may ask about an alternative schedule. For example, they might do:
- An early shift
- A late evening shift
- Staggered shifts, so there are only a few people in the office at a time
Being at work can allow a much-needed mental health break from the boredom of quarantine. Nevertheless, it can also be a source of infection and anxiety.
Social distancing remains to be one of the most important things employees can do to stay safe.
Even those who are unafraid of the virus must be mindful of how it might affect others.
At least one worker, or one person who comes into contact with a worker, will be at high risk in every workplace. They should keep a reasonable distance and help protect everyone.