As the economy starts opening up again, so are offices, restaurants and other worksites, but because we’re not yet out of the pandemic woods, employers will need to contend with a myriad of paperwork issues, how to phase returning workers back, workplace safety compliance, and more.
The process of reopening and bringing staff back needs planning and attention to detail. You can’t just throw your doors open and welcome everyone back. If you’ve had staff working remotely, many of them may have grown accustomed to it and want to make it a permanent arrangement. Others may be ready to negotiate for higher salaries and better benefits.
You’ll also have to wrestle with safety as long as the COVID-19 threat persists and continue with safety procedures. In fact, some state-run Occupational Safety and Health Administrations have instituted emergency COVID-19 standards.
If you’re in this position, here are some of the main considerations you’ll have to contend with:
This tops the list for obvious reasons. As long as the coronavirus persists in communities, it would be prudent to put a plan on paper for protecting your workers that includes:
- Employee health screenings — Will you conduct employee temperature checks? Some companies have gone further with regular COVID-19 tests.
- Developing plans for reacting to an outbreak in your workplace — That should include communications to possibly exposed workers and requiring them to quarantine.
- Providing personal protective equipment to your staff — As long as the Centers for Disease Control recommends wearing PPE, you should consider providing it free of charge to your staff. PPE includes masks, gloves and face shields.
- OSHA compliance — Follow Fed-OSHA or your state OSHA’s procedures on COVID-19, particularly if they’ve implemented emergency procedures.
Returning to work
You will also need to have plans for phasing your staff back into the workplace. It’s smart to have a method for bringing them back, such as choosing returnees based on seniority or for positions that most require physically being at the worksite.
Have a plan for ensuring adequate spacing, which could also include requiring some staff to continue working from home or using a flex-schedule system where they may come into the office three times a week and work from home the other days.
If you had furloughed staff who you are now bringing back, you may also need to contact your state unemployment agency of employees you have recalled. You should make a plan for how to handle workers who are unable or unwilling to return to work.
On the other hand, you may be considering allowing some of your staff to continue working from home. In that case, you may want to consider:
- Continuing to allow remote work where possible to keep employees safe.
- Staggering weeks at the worksite and at home among team members, or part-time remote work on alternate weekdays.
- How to respond to employee requests to continue to work from home.
- Updating technology to support remote staff.
If you are bringing back laid-off or furloughed workers, you may also need to update your employee benefits and reintegrate them into your group health plan. You may also need to send out notices.
For your group health insurance, you need to look into waiting-period and eligibility requirements. If you were paying furloughed workers’ premiums, you may want to consider how you can recoup their portion of them when they transition back.
You may also need to review eligibility for your 401(k) plan for workers who were furloughed or laid off. And you will need to decide how you handle years of service for vesting.
Many companies have made changes to how they compensate their staff during the pandemic. And there are other compensation issues you may be confronted with. You may need to consider:
- How to handle any missed annual pay increases, and if you will apply them retroactively.
- If you cut worker salaries due to falling revenues, whether those pay cuts will be revoked and their prior salary reinstated.
- If you have been offering hazard pay during the pandemic, have a plan for how you phase it out.
Communications with staff
You should make sure that you are communicating with your employees about all of the above issues. Items to consider:
- Communicating your COVID-19 workplace safety protocols and what you expect from your staff.
- What they should do if they are feeling ill or test positive for COVID-19.
- Telling them about your return-to-work timetable, as well as any new work arrangements that you plan to implement.
Many companies have completely overhauled their workplace policies in response to the pandemic, and some of those changes may be permanent. And as long as the virus is present in society, you may need to keep them in place.
Here are some issues you may need to address:
Paid sick leave — Many jurisdictions have passed laws requiring employers to offer paid sick leave for staff who contract COVID-19.
Attendance policies — Many companies have relaxed these policies by encouraging sick workers to stay home.
Meal and rest break rules — To avoid crowding in your meal break area, you may want to stagger your employees’ lunch schedules.
Remote work policies — If you plan to continue allowing employees to work from home, you need to establish policies for them to do so, covering everything from technology and VPN access, to work hours and what’s expected of them, and more.