How will we return to work in a safe and sustainable way?
As businesses begin to reopen, they will face new processes, requirements, or restrictions for which there is no playbook or precedent. Business leaders, policymakers, and public health experts must work together to anticipate, plan for, and address the following priorities for returning to work.
We must ensure that essential services—like childcare and transit—are in place.
Working parents will need access to childcare. But childcare facilities will have to implement social distancing. Protecting public health during the return to work may require temporary new federal and state targeted financial assistance for childcare providers.
Nearly 8 million Americans rely on public transit. For the foreseeable future, buses and subways packed with rush-hour commuters will be out of the question. We will need to coordinate staggered work times and subsidize increased transit capacity.
We must consider the practical implications of creating safe workplaces.
What kind of testing, health screenings, or personal protective equipment will be necessary to allow people into workplaces or customers into shops—who will administer them and provide the supplies?
Employers are ill-equipped to administer such tests, and employees will rightly be concerned about costs. The government will need to ensure that COVID-19 tests are widely available at no cost to individuals and clarify testing policy for all. Also, if regular temperature checks and personal protective equipment are necessary, the supplies must be readily available.
We must eliminate regulatory roadblocks and liability concerns.
Businesses screening employees and potentially customers based on the results of medical tests, health status, or even temperature checks raise questions around medical privacy and anti-discrimination rules under many laws.
Lawmakers should temporarily suspend the normal regulations and provide a legal safe harbor for employers as they implement complex public health requirements. Broad liability protections at the national level would help business owners mitigate risk and resume normal operations.
We must provide ongoing support for vulnerable workers and businesses.
Not everyone will return to work all at once. Ongoing social distancing will put some businesses—like restaurants and entertainment venues—at continued risk of permanent closure. Individuals at high-risk for COVID-19 may not be able to work until a vaccine is available. The federal government must commit to providing adequate aid to get these employers and employees through to the other side.
How America manages this transition will have a significant bearing on how quickly we establish a new normal–one marked by an economy poised for a comeback, families overcoming financial hardship, and a renewed sense of public safety and confidence.
Working together, we will get there.
–Suzanne P. Clark, President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce