During the last couple months, companies have had to establish remote workflows, build new policies, and deal with an unprecedented influx of legislative changes and executive orders. As states begin to ease COVID related restrictions, companies are now faced with creating return to work programs and assessing how to effectively manage the next stage. Below are five components to consider when preparing your organization’s plan on how to return your workforce. In addition to these 5 things, employers should make sure to consult with federal, state, and local laws and follow public health advice before making any decisions.
- Mental wellbeing of your employees
First and foremost, employers must acknowledge the fears their employees might have. Having leaders within your organization reach out to employees individually to understand the state of their mental wellbeing can be considered. For employees that are deemed necessary to return to work but are unwilling to employers can consider different reentry plans. Solutions such as allowing the worker to continue to work from home temporarily, offering a hybrid model of shifts between remote and onsite work, or lastly, considering roles that would be more suited for permanent remote work can be used.
Vulnerable populations of your workforce, such as those over 60, or have chronic lung, heart disease, diabetes, or other underlying health issues are suggested to remain remote. Employees with children at home and no access to childcare should also be encouraged to work remote when possible. To avoid discrimination, employers may decide to offer all workers in particular departments or roles the ability return without asking questions regarding age, childcare concerns, or state of health. However, if the employee voices one of these concerns, the HR department will need to be prepared to address these sensitive subjects.
- Safety of your employees
Safety of employees should be at upmost priority when considering the return of your workforce. Enforcing new policies such as self-health screenings, hand washing, and social distancing may need to be communicated to returning workers. Changes to the office such as physical layout of desks, common areas, and cafeterias can be made to allow for proper physical distancing. Providing all employees with masks or allowing workers to utilize self-obtained masks and setting guidelines on expectations regarding utilization of masks is another way to help ensure safety. Closing off and modifying entry points to include sanitizing stations, no touch thermometers, and modifying start times for employees will also further protect the health of your workers.
- Productivity of your employees
As workers return and others stay remote, companies can help support productivity by ensuring everyone is provided with the right tools, technology, and resources for all situations. Establishing clear assessments for productivity and standards for quality of work for all roles is important to help your employees meet expectations while they transition in their working environments. Communicating to your workforce with simple, consistent, and empathetic messages can also help reduce anxiety and boost morale.
- Hardships of your employees
Quarantine leave for workers who have tested positive for the virus or have become ill should be considered. Since COVID-19 was declared a national pandemic, it qualifies under Section 139 of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), which allows employers to make tax free “qualified disaster relief” payments. This can be provided as additional paid sick time and will also encourage employees to remain at home if symptoms occur. Another benefit an employer can explore is looking into whether it’s medical plan is covering all costs for testing and treatment of COVID-19. For employers who have workers on the front lines, consider appreciation bonuses or other forms of compensation. Employees who need family support caused by school/daycare closings can be supported with paid dependent care, flexibility to work hours, or simply being let known you understand and empathize their hardships.
- Communication to your employees
It is critical that Return to Work Policies and Workplace Safety precautions are clearly communicated to employees. An employee that is experiencing symptoms, suspects exposure, or has contracted COVID-19 needs to understand the steps they are required to take and who to contact. Those employees need to notify the Company’s HR department immediately to minimize the risk of the disease spreading. If your company receives information that an employee has tested positive, it is imperative that confidentiality be maintained. The close contact group of fellow employees will need to be properly and professionally notified of an exposure, but the infected employee’s identity should not be disclosed.