Does your organization have a plan for returning employees to the workplace? Meaning has your organization thought through the steps that need to take place in order to get employees back into your facility? Employees want to know what is expected of them and how their employer is going to keep them safe in their work environment. So, having an organized plan will only benefit both the employer and employee.
First and foremost, employers need to determine the date for recalling furloughed employees, rehiring employees that were laid off, and for returning remote employees, if appropriate. In addition to determining the date, employers need to determine if the employee will be doing the same work, or different work when returning to the organization. Thus, it is a good idea to send a letter of intent offering a return to work stating the job title and outlining the job responsibilities, as well as an expected date of return, and any other requirements appropriate for a return. For employee’s who have been working remotely, the employer should consider whether or not it is important for the employee to return to the workplace, or if he or she would still be able to complete their work remotely. While some jobs cannot be conducted remotely and must be completed within the employer’s facility, others may be done remotely, which would benefit the employer by not having too many people in the workplace at one time. If an organization employs union workers, who are governed by a collective bargaining agreement, it is imperative that the employer review the agreement before conducting such actions.
Employers also need to review their own internal policies, as well as federal, state and local employment-related laws to determine if the returning employee needs to be drug screened, needs a new direct deposit form, tax form, or Form I-9, among other items. If the employee was originally terminated and is now being rehired, the normal onboarding process should occur on or around the employee’s date of return. Employers also need to review whether prior paid sick leave accruals and paid family leave contributions need to be reinstated in accordance with state and local laws. In addition, reviewing health benefits and retirement plans to determine if any modifications are needed due to a break in service should be completed. Employers who moved employees from their health benefits under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) when he or she originally left employment should consult with each benefit provider for guidance in offering benefits to any employee who originally elected COBRA and is now returning.
Employees returning to the workplace want to know how the employer is going to keep them safe. Sharing a list of actions related to how the organization is going to clean and sanitize their facility and what is expected of employees is always helpful. Such lists and actions may include the following:
- Make disinfectant wipes, sanitizer and cleaning supplies readily available throughout the facility.
- Ensure regular thorough cleaning of shared surfaces throughout the facility to include breakrooms, conference rooms, restrooms, shared work areas, etc. at least once every 24-hours.
- Encourage and mandate that employees wear masks even if your state does not have a mask mandate, and even if the employee has already been vaccinated. Remind him or her that they are protecting those who have not had the opportunity to be vaccinated or who may be susceptible to side effects of COVID-19.
- Encourage and mandate social distancing by doing the following: offering work-from-home options for employees who can perform duties remotely; by staggering shifts and start times to maximize distancing; allowing 30-minute buffers between shifts to prevent employees from direct contact during transition times; by staggering breaks and lunches; by conducting in person meetings, even when in the facility, by phone, video conference, or email; and by limiting meetings to no more than ten employees, providing that appropriate spacing is available.
- Provide signage on the floor that are at least six feet apart in areas where employees tend to congregate, so that they are encouraged to social distance.
- Encourage and mandate that desks and work stations are spaced out appropriately and construct temporary walls between work stations.
- Encourage employees to frequently wash their hands, properly cover their mouths when coughing and sneezing, and refraining from touching their face.
- Create a virtual training program and create handouts to distribute to employees in order to educate them on the new guidelines and procedures.
- Post internal signage to alert or remind employees about the new guidelines and procedures and their responsibilities.
Employers may also want to implement additional steps in order to protect an employee’s health while in the workplace? These steps may include: conducting temperature or employee wellness checks at the start of each workday, or shift, to ensure employees do not exhibit COVID-19 symptoms, e.g., fever > than 100.4 F, cough, difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath; creating a log of when employees come in contact with each other, which will be used in the event that contact tracing is needed when there is a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 exposure; creating a response plan for employees who report or demonstrate symptoms at work, have recently been at work and tested positive or have been in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case, or who have not recently been at work, but have tested positive or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19; asking employees about their health status before they return to work from a sick leave; requiring certification from a healthcare professional that the employee is safely able to return to work if he or she has been out sick; and offering a variety of leave options for employees who may have to miss work due to a COVID-19-related reason.
Employers who have employees who interact with customers within their facility also need to make sure that they are protecting their employees and customers. They may need to implement several options such as: offering curbside delivery instead of instore pick-up; offering drive through services only; adding plastic barriers and shields between the employee and the customer at service windows and registers; asking customers to wait in their automobiles upon arrival and delivering the products to their automobiles, thus not allowing walk-up customers; limiting the number of customers in the facility to ensure appropriate social distancing, along with the appropriate signage on the floors for six foot distancing; and posting external signs on doors alerting customers to restrictions upon entry and movement in and around the facility. These same guidelines should also apply to anyone else entering the facility, e.g., independent contractors, vendors, consultants, etc.
While returning employees to the workplace may seem daunting, employers should have a written plan and communicate that plan to everyone who is entering their facility. Employees, customers, and other visitors who know what is expected of them upon their entry or return, will only be better informed and aid the employer in reducing the risk of spreading the virus.
For additional information related to employers creating a plan for returning employees to the workplace, please contact us at www.newfocushr.com.
Written by: Kristen Deutsch, M.B.A., CCP