Can I ask an employer about COVID-19 office cleaning?

posted in: COVID-19 | 0

Q: I am interviewing for a job in a suburban office park.  I am worried about the hygiene of the office and if they have followed COVID-19 cleaning protocols.  Can I ask if they have kept this virus out of their building?  I am not immunocompromised but I live with my parents, who both have respiratory problems.  Any advice?

A: I am happy to hear that candidates are interviewing and companies are hiring!  We are seeing the same – an increase in the number of clients hiring for a wide range of opportunities.

No one can promise you that an office or a building has been free of any COVID-19 virus.  Offices have people.  People transmit COVID-19.  Asymptomatic people transmit COVID-19.  However, this is what we know about office environments and COVID-19.  People (employees, contractors, vendors, etc.) should all be working at least six feet apart.  Many offices are limiting visitor and retaining a log of visitors in the event that someone tests positive.   Employers are providing hand sanitizer and hand washing stations.  Employers are also limiting spaces for people to congregate (e.g., lunch rooms, break rooms, etc.).  Many employers have onsite gyms or fitness facilities.  I personally would not use a public (or semi-public) gym or fitness room yet.  Many employers are also requiring the use of face coverings, especially if social distancing cannot be maintained.  Commercial cleaning companies have also been providing enhanced cleaning services to minimize the transmission of COVID-19.

Most of our clients are operating in a very safe manner.  Our clients are limiting the number of employees in the office and providing disposable masks in case someone has forgotten a mask.  Most office environments are also limiting their occupancy to 50%.  Additionally, clients are asking employees and visitors to self-certify that they have not had symptoms, been exposed to others who may have been sick with COVID-19 or been asked to self-isolate.  Most of our clients are limiting business travel and encouraging the use of technology vs. face-to-face meetings.   Finally, many of our clients are offering quite a bit of flexibility with regard to work schedules.  Some are offering alternating weeks in the office, while others are offering 100% work from home.

We have a lot of candidates asking us about this very issue during the interview process.  I probably would not ask questions about COVID-19 office protocol as one of your first questions.  I would instead focus on the role and the company.  After you cover your initial questions about the role and the company, I think you can ask “Can you share how the office is operating in light of the recent concerns regarding COVID-19?”  Office in Massachusetts are required to follow the Governor’s return to work guidance, which requires that companies have a plan in place, with the goal of operating safely during this pandemic.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.

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