Is Your Boss’s Return-to-Office Plan Safe? Here’s How to Know

If your boss is one of them, you might be wondering how your company plans to protect you from the coronavirus. After a year-plus of pandemic life, employers have had plenty of time to prepare to keep office workers safe at their desks, but some workplaces have still fallen short. So here are six questions that any company should be able to answer before asking its staff to set foot in their cubicles. Raising these with your boss might be awkward, but they are a first step to ensuring that your company is taking everyone’s health and safety seriously. In fact, many of them deal with workplace practices that employers should always be thinking about, even after the country and the world escape the grip of this deadly virus.


1. What have you done to review and improve airflow in the office space?

Joseph Allen, the director of the Harvard Healthy Buildings Program, told me that this question is essential. “If the answer is ‘Nothing,’ or ‘We’re meeting code,’ that’s not enough,” he said. Last month, Allen co-wrote a paper recommending that the air inside buildings should be replaced four to six times every hour to reduce transmission of the coronavirus—far more air turnover than is currently required for most buildings other than health-care facilities. That replacement, Allen said, could happen through bringing in more air from outside or through filtering and recycling indoor air.

It’s also important, Morawska noted, that new air is distributed equally around a space, leaving no pockets of stale air where particles can linger. If the air in your office is not refreshed often enough or circulating evenly enough, she recommended that employers place stricter rules on how many people can be in the space.

2. What are the company’s vaccination policies?

The CDC has given fully vaccinated Americans several freedoms over the past several weeks. If it’s been more than two weeks since your last shot, you can meet inside, unmasked, with other vaccinated people—or even with people from a single household who have not yet gotten their shots. You can travel without testing and quarantining. But offices are tricky, because many are likely to include workers with a mix of vaccination statuses for at least a few more weeks, if not even longer.

If your company requires you to be fully vaccinated to enter the office, bosses can likely ease up on some other safety measures. Allen said it’s safe for a fully vaccinated group to have an unmasked meeting, for example. In that case, it’s important for you to understand how your employer will verify your vaccination status, and how it plans to accommodate people who aren’t protected.

3. Do I still have to wear a mask?

If your office isn’t requiring full vaccination for all employees, masking will be an essential tool for keeping everyone safe. Those lucky enough to have a personal office and a door can probably safely take off their mask inside, according to Allen. But if you won’t be the only person in the room, he said, “it’s a good idea to put the mask back on at least 30 minutes before others enter,” to give the room’s air some time to clear. You might also consider asking your boss if they’re thinking about providing door-closed, mask-free time to everyone on staff, because those with private offices also tend to have more status in the workplace.

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