return to work

Answers to 5 Common Return-to-Work Questions

return to workContributed by Tina Hamilton, an Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) member in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hamilton is the founder and CEO of myHR Partner, a human resources outsourcing firm that manages HR for small- and medium-sized businesses. The following was adapted from an article in The Morning Call.

As organizations plan their return to work after statewide shutdowns or work-from-home orders, there is much to consider—for both employees and employers.

I’ve answered some of the most common questions related to the return-to-work transition.

1. How do we best address the needs of our employees as part of planning for reopening and managing the new federally mandated leave options and still operate our business?

Prepare your office space or building. If your workplace has been unoccupied for more than a week, a routine cleaning works. Still, consider a deep cleaning for employees’ peace of mind.

Modify the workplace. Separate workplaces at least 6 feet or reconfigure work areas to avoid close back-to-back or face-to-face configurations. Install barriers between work areas.

Reduce touch points. Consider what items can be moved to reduce frequent handling or contact from multiple people.

Provide masks and gloves and other personal protective equipment (PPE) at the company’s expense based on industry requirements and risk. Provide training to employees on the safe and proper handling and wearing of PPE. (PPE is not easy to come by, so the sooner the better.)

OSHA recommends providing tissues, no-touch trash cans, hand soap, alcohol-based hand sanitizers, disinfectants and disposable towels for workers to clean their work surfaces.

Adjust workplace hours and shift design as necessary to reduce density in the workplace.

Stagger shift starts and end times or establish alternate days to limit large groups entering or exiting the workplace.

Require all employees to maintain 6 feet or more social distancing.

Leverage technology to limit interaction. Conduct meetings and training virtually.

Close or limit traffic to common spaces such as break rooms, hallways and elevators.

Prohibit nonessential visitors.

Enact a continuous health screening process for individuals to enter the workplace. Conduct temperature checks—with noncontact thermometers if possible.

Prepare for your workers: Consider appointing a chief COVID officer who is responsible for ensuring that all public safety and health guidelines are implemented and that employees follow them.

Explore establishing policies and procedures for:

  • Remote work.
  • Flexible work hours or staggered shifts.
  • Sick leave policies to provide job-protected paid or unpaid leave for sick or symptomatic employees.
  • Harassment policies to prohibit harassment or discrimination based on positive test results.

Post notices for employees and customers regarding mitigation measures:

  • Identification and isolation of sick people.
  • Social distancing practices.
  • Screening protocol.
2. How do we handle sick calls from employees?

You may ask if they are having coronavirus-related symptoms. If feasible, appoint a person or people for all call-outs and establish a process for screening employee absences and returning to work.

For those experiencing coronavirus-related symptoms, follow CDC guidelines for returning.

3. If an employee refuses to come back to work and we have done everything to create a safe workplace, what are our options?
  • If the employee is concerned about unsafe conditions, you may be able to resolve some of their fears by talking through their concerns and the steps you have taken to ensure safety. Make sure the conversations are well documented.
  • You may need to accommodate any underlying medical issues. The interactive dialog is required under the ADA.
  • Be aware of any state or local leave laws that could come into play based on their reasons for their inability to return to work.
  • In terms of unemployment, employers may wish to advise employees that the offer of work has been reported to the state and this could result in a loss of benefits. Dishonest statements made by employees to unemployment agencies would be considered fraud and may be subject to penalties.
4. What if I am an employee at high risk and do not feel safe returning to work?
  • Before making any assumptions about how your employer will respond, talk to them.
  • They may be able to provide accommodations, or you may qualify for programs noted below. Give your employer a chance to respond.
  • If you are being advised by a health care professional to self-quarantine, you may be eligible for paid sick leave or FMLA.
  • You may be eligible for accommodations under ADA. Check with your HR representative or employer
  • Lastly, consider using your PTO/sick time/vacation time if there are no other options.
5. What if I have no one to watch my children since schools and child care programs have not reopened?

You may qualify for leave under FFCRA, a new program created specifically in response to COVID-19. Under this act, you could be eligible for up to two-thirds of your pay so that you can stay home with your kids. Some companies can claim an exemption from this benefit, so check with your employer.

You may be asked by your employer to verify this leave is necessary.

Communication Counts

Overall, we highly recommend that employers and employees communicate openly and calmly. Try to work out a solution that satisfies everyone’s needs and concerns.

One glance at social media and you will see that there are varying opinions on whether we should return to work. We all have a right to our feelings. It is in everyone’s best interest to listen and attempt to understand each other’s needs.

Right now, no one has all the answers. But if employers are open and honest with their teams and communicate and check-in regularly, everyone will be more likely to transition smoothly.

For more tips and resources about carrying your business forward after the coronavirus pandemic, check out the #EOTogether platform



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