returning to work after covid

Returning to Work after COVID-19 

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic situation slowly subsides, employers across the nation are gradually bringing their teams back to work. There are many things to consider when deciding how and when to bring employees back and resume operations.  

Legal Considerations

  • Check updates to federal, state, and local mandates. It is important to recognize that the laws related to COVID-19 are changing frequently. Additional information and resources are available in the HR Service COVID-19 Toolkit.
  • Ensure required COVID-19 notices have been posted, both for your employees and, in some cases, specific postings may be necessary for guests or customers.
  • Based on the state you do business in, employers may be required to provide and pay for masks for their employees. Although not required, some businesses may also elect to provide face masks for customers or visitors.
  • Review and follow OSHACDC, and other agency and industry-specific guidance related to your workplace.
  • If collective bargaining agreements are in place for your workforce, coordinate with Union representatives.
  • Ensure employees are aware of any new policies, as well as the consequences for violating them. Document training that has been provided and keep acknowledgements in employee personnel files.

Policies

  • Update your company’s sick leave or PTO policies as needed, particularly to address FFCRA leave requirements.
  • Remember to maintain privacy of employee health information, including medical screening or test results.
  • Determine what sort of business travel (if any) will be allowed. This should include the method of travel, as well as logistics (hotel, rental car, etc.) in the destination city. Coordinate any new COVID-19 compliance requirements with the businesses your employees will be visiting to ensure that there is agreement in advance of what is required.
  • Impose meeting size limitations to ensure compliance with social distancing requirements.
  • Consider closing off common areas (e.g., conference rooms, lunchrooms) for the time being.
  • For companies situated in buildings which have multiple tenants, check with your landlord or property management group to determine what COVID-19 protocols are being implemented in common areas such as elevators, restrooms, hallways, and lobby areas. Ensure these policies are communicated to your employees and are followed.

Selecting and Notifying Employees of the Reopening

  • Determine which employees or employee groups will be rehired or recalled first. If separation agreements were used, rehired employees may need to have them revised or amended.
  • Provide sufficient advance notice to employees so they can make necessary preparations to come back to work. If possible, we recommend at least five working days when appropriate. This may be particularly helpful to some employees who may be hesitant regarding safety measures or may have childcare arrangements to work through.
  • Make certain you are using non-discriminatory recall or rehiring practices. “First Out, First Recalled” is one good way to approach this. A formal or informal disparate impact study may be helpful to ensure compliance. NOTE: There is an understandable inclination for employers to want to protect certain groups of people (e.g. older workers) while the COVID-19 virus is still active. Please be aware that even when done with the best of intentions, discriminatory rehire or recall practices are still illegal.
  • If employees are being brought back on a different shift schedule, or at a different rate of pay, make sure to notify them in advance, and in writing, of these changes, and confirm if these changes are temporary or long-term changes.

Physical Modifications to the Workplace

  • Social distancing is still in effect in nearly all jurisdictions. Most often this requires maintaining at least six (6) feet separation between people, and ten (10) feet separation in places where physical exertion may cause more labored breathing and/or perspiration.
  • Employers may need to install solid partitions between workstations, or physically remove some workstations, to ensure that social distancing protocols can be maintained.
  • Certain businesses may be restricted to the number of persons allowed inside the premises based on square footage and / or occupancy capacity.
  • Some retail establishments may be required to mark customer aisles as one-way only and have procedures in place to enforce these new traffic patterns.

Workplace Considerations

  • Make sure CDC cleaning and disinfectant protocols are followed.
  • Ensure that adequate cleaning supplies are available and accessible.
  • High-contact surfaces such as counters or tabletops must be sanitized more frequently.
  • Think about allowing split shifts or alternate workdays (partial reemployment, 20 hours vs. 40 hours)
  • Be ready to address other accommodation requests from employees. Keep an open door and open mind; a greater degree of flexibility than usual is helpful and necessary during this unprecedented situation.

Safety Considerations

  • Remind employees not to come to work if they are sick or exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.
  • If you are planning to conduct temperature screenings or other medical screenings for employees, make certain that their privacy is maintained and that the person(s) administering the screenings are properly trained in privacy practices.

Other

  • Review whether any Benefit Plans (health/wellness programs as well as retirement plans) need to be revised or reissued. A Summary of Material Modifications (SMM) document may be required.
  • Advise employees of any plan changes directly, in addition to providing the more formal SMM.
  • Remind employees of their FFCRA rights (if applicable). When FFCRA leave is exhausted or not offered, interactive discussions for reasonable accommodations under the ADA may be necessary.
  • Continue to allow employees to telework where practical, especially those in higher-risk populations.
  • Consider using any available slow time to complete annual industry training / retraining requirements.
  • Be prepared to address employee concerns regarding returning to work. An interactive dialogue can be very helpful in addressing employee concerns.

If you or any of your team have any questions about this material, or if you would like a more in-depth review of your own situation, please contact HR Service Inc. at (801) 685-8400. We would be happy to help!

Prepared by David Norton

Human Resources Business Consultant

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