Socially Distancing In The Workplace

While so many people have been able to work from home during the pandemic, there are many jobs that simply require a physical presence. There are often colleagues who may not take the virus seriously and even seem offended when others wear masks. This makes it difficult for those who are doing everything they can to stay healthy and keep others safe.

Some common concerns of social distancing include:

  • Customers and clients who won’t wear masks or keep a safe distance.
  • Physical work space that makes it difficult to stay apart in close quarters.
  • Jobs, like healthcare, child care, and elderly care roles, that require close contact.
  • Touching surfaces that others have touched, even though it is uncertain as to how much that might transmit the virus.

As more people are starting to go back into non-remote workplaces, even part-time, these concerns remain prevalent. There is a heightened risk with more people touching common objects, like doorknobs, copiers, refrigerators, and microwaves, and then possibly touching their faces.

There are things you can do to practice safe distancing if you want (or need) to go back into an office, warehouse, store, restaurant, or care-giving environment.

Practice being assertive about social distancing

Remember this is about self-protection and public safety. Depending on your level of comfort, you might consider saying something like:

  • “I am going to take a few steps back, if you don’t mind. I’m high-risk / trying to stay safe to protect my elderly parents.”
  • “Can we have this conversation over the phone or instant messenger?”
  • “I would be more comfortable if we both have masks on. Thanks so much.”
  • “I’m going to step over here for our conversation.” Or simply take a few steps back.

Wear a mask

This reduces the risk of spreading the virus, even in close quarters. Set an example; people will often put theirs on if they see that you are wearing one.

  • Make sure it covers your nose and mouth. Otherwise, it’s not effective.
  • Ensure that it is effective; if you can blow out a candle while wearing it, it is not thick enough. Double up or get another type of mask.
  • Avoid touching the mask with unwashed hands.
  • Keep it on as much as possible around others to reduce the risk of contamination.

Ask about implementing safe office policies

Workplace policies make it easier to be assertive with colleagues, if necessary. You may also want to ask a supervisor or the human resources department to implement the following recommendations (which are suggested by OSHA):

  • Install partitions to create more barriers.
  • Use tape to mark off 6 feet, so people can easily distance.
  • Implement flexible work hours.
  • Workers should stay home if they are sick.
  • If you start to feel sick while you are at work, you should stay out of common areas and try to leave as soon as possible.

Know your legal rights

There are legal rights to protect people during COVID-19.

  • Those with disabilities and at high-risk can request reasonable accommodations, which could include working from home.
  • The Families First Coronavirus Response Act entitles most people to more paid family medical leave, if needed to care for sick family member.
  • If necessary, consult a lawyer to explore rights if you feel like you are being put in danger.

Ask about working an alternate schedule

  • Even coming in for a few days a week (and working remotely the rest of the time) reduces the overall risk of getting and spreading the virus.
  • If working from home isn’t possible, ask about an alternative schedule, like staggered shifts, early or late shifts, or weekend work.

While going back to work can offer a much-needed change from the monotony of sheltering in place at home, it often comes with anxiety, in addition to the physical risks. Social distancing continues to be the best way to keep ourselves and others safe. Even those who are not afraid of the virus should be mindful of others. Stay vigilant, don’t let your guard down, and don’t be afraid to speak up to protect yourself and your loved ones.