For employees, the thought of going back to the office is confusing – and many employers are not prepared to hear that.  The uncertainty about working during a pandemic, during the coming months, creates additional anxiety. As businesses restart, there is a realization that what we took for granted before is likely not what we’ll return to.

For employers, knowing what to prepare for is crucial. Employees may not be ready to go back to an office environment or may not want to end their unemployment benefits. The current crisis is unprecedented, so understanding the legalities, realities, and employee expectations is imperative. It’s a changed landscape now, and the burden of compliance is complex – with many state-driven mandates.

We’ve outlined several HR recommendations as employees return to the workplace:

  • Healthy workplace distancing – this will mean creating workable space that allows for a proper distance between workers. Staggering start times can reduce crowded elevators and decrease physical interaction in the office. Returning to work, on an as-needed or essential-only basis, may be an option. Teleworking can help to reduce the number of workers in the office space.
  • Employers need to realize that some employees are not ready to return to work for various reasons – receiving the Paid Leave Provision, while for some this is not at their regular rate; others are fine with the idea of working productively at home; receiving unemployment due to a furlough or layoff with the $600 bump in UI under the CARES Act means, for some, earning more than they did while working.  Additionally, some employees feel insecure about returning due to the risk of contracting Covid-19 or passing it to a loved one at home.
    • Consider extending teleworking to employees and calling back employees in stages, with the most essential first.
    • Should an employee decide not to return to work, the employer has the right to separate, depending upon the reasoning for not returning to work.
    • Consider returning some workers to part-time in the office in combination with teleworking.
    • If you are trimming a percentage of wages across the board, and some employees are hit with a gap in pay, they may be eligible to receive UI benefits under these conditions.
    • Communicating to employees that you have created a safe and healthy environment will reinforce that you respect and understand their concerns.
    • Share that you are aware of the laws in place that protect the employees and that you are strictly adhering to those requirements.
    • Employers have the right under the EEOC to ask an employee, prior to returning to work, if they are experiencing Covid-19 symptoms.  While this process and findings are highly confidential, this process may help communicate that their workplace is a safe and healthy environment to minimize risk.
    • Taking employee temperatures at work is also allowed under the EEOC but must be done in a pre-planned, organized fashion through the assistance of HR.
    • Other items to consider and prepare for:
      • Post Covid-19 messaging in the workplace to mitigate risk to employees and the community
      • Stay current on understanding the Families First Coronavirus Response Act as it relates to paid sick leave and expanded FMLA
      • Communicate the company policy regarding masks, basic hygiene, distancing, handshaking, and disinfecting work areas
      • Review and revise existing travel policies

Knowing your rights as an employer will allow you to make informed and confident decisions.

Most importantly, be sure managers and supervisors have a solid understanding of policies and procedures – training and practicing for maximum readiness.  If you have an Employee Assistance Program, encourage usage and be sure it’s updated.

You do not have to manage your Return to Work Program alone. This is uncharted territory, therefore it’s best to rely on a professional organization for help. An outsourced HR team will work with HR personnel and supervisors to be prepared for what’s ahead. This time of transition is important to get right, and an ideal time to tune up your company policies and procedures.

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