Plain LanguageWriting & EditingWriting Coachingwoman walking in building in business clothes wearing a covid mask

Effectively communicating your workplace’s COVID-19 safety protocols to your employees isn’t just nice to do — it’s a priority encouraged by the federal government.

On January 29, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released new guidance on communicating COVID-related information to employees. The guidelines, “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace,” offer an array of standards around what employers should address.

A key feature among them is using plain language.

The standard falls under the guidance around educating and training employees on your COVID-19 policies and procedures: “Communicate supportive workplace policies clearly, frequently, in plain language that workers understand…”

So, from the training materials you provide to your employee handbook, you should lead with plain language principles.

4 Clarity Tips to Keep in Mind

An array of plain language features can help you create clear documents to share your COVID-19 policies and procedures. Here are four tips that you can begin using today.

1.  Aim for an 8th-grade reading level.

In the U.S., the average adult population reads at an 8th-grade reading level (or lower, depending on your employees’ English literacy skills). So, you’ll want to meet this standard in order to keep information clear. Even if some employees have higher reading skills, they’ll still appreciate how easy the experience is to read and understand your clear, concise information.

2.  Answer key questions.

Your employees undoubtedly have questions around what policies exist and what steps they need to take to meet them. Before you begin drafting any details, brainstorm what these questions are. By doing so, you’re keeping in mind the information they need you to answer for them and how to organize that information. You can also craft helpful document headings that use these direct questions.

3.  Speak to your readers with “you.”

You have a direct relationship with your employees — and engaging them is important, both so they read the policies and feel personally responsible for them. So, engage them by speaking directly to them. Rather than talk about them in the 3rd person (“Employees must wear a mask at all times.”), use you to bring them into the conversation. (You must wear a mask at all times.”). See how more engaging that second example is?

4.  Use visuals, like tables.

Often, we can turn information into visual elements. By doing so, we reduce how long people have to search for and read important details that matter to them.

The following excerpt is procedures information that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shares as an example of what employers should communicate:

Barriers/Partitional Controls: During screening, the screener should stand behind a physical barrier, such as a glass or plastic window or partition, that can protect the screener’s face and mucous membranes from respiratory droplets that may be produced when the employee sneezes, coughs, talks, or breathes. Upon arrival, the screener should wear a mask and wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or, if soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

Did you catch that long, clunky sentence? The details open up with 42 words — ouch! The content can do better. Here’s that same information rewritten in a visual for clarity:

Controlling Spread With Barriers and Partitiontable that details guidance how to screen for COVID-19 safely

See how much more easily you know what do? Now, details lift off the page and make information more actionable.

No matter if you’re revising an employee handbook, creating training materials, or beyond, plain language will help strengthen your communications. By following the above tips, you’re on your way to supporting your employees and better protecting your company.

Need help? We’re happy to chat about how we can help you turn complicated COVID-19 information into clear, compelling communications.

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