Building Your COVID-19 Back to Work Policy
COVID-19 has thrown the workplace into a spin in 2020. Most of us now are working from home knowing at some point we will be able to go back. However, before you reopen your office to your employees, you will need to reopen your policies and procedures. Things are going to look a bit different in the office and each employer needs to know what employees can and cannot do.
As you prepare to return employees to work following the lift of shelter in place restrictions, you are likely struggling with many difficult decisions:
- When – what data do you need to ensure itâ€™s safe to return?
- Sanitizing the office – how do you make sure youâ€™re taking the right precautions?
- Maintaining social distancing- can meetings be productive when the conference room only has space for four people to be 6 ft apart?
- Do you require employees to wear masks in the office?
- Balancing shifts – do you stagger employees in teams or only bring in critical employees or certain cross-functional groups or do you open to all.
- Do you test employees for antibodies before allowing RTW?
- Childcare – with schools closed, how do you accommodate those with no options but to WFH?
- What are the legal ramifications if you re-open and an employee becomes infected?
The first step is to get an idea of how your employees are feeling. Sending out a survey is an easy and effective way of doing this. You want to make sure people feel safe before your reopen. This also lets employees know they are part of the process and their well-being is top of mind.
Next, you want to do your research. What are the policies of your state and the federal government?Â Can employees refuse to come back in? What are your rights and the employeeâ€™s rights in this scenario? Finding validated sources and tools you can use is key. States are passing new legislation at a staggering rate and your company needs to know what employees can legally do.
Reopen the employee handbook and your company policies. With COVID-19, you need to assume your policies are outdated. Utilize your resources and tools to help build a compliant policy that can work for every employee. One new topic to consider adding to your policy is the mental health of your employees. COVID-19 has put an increasing amount of stress on employees. Some businesses are adding â€œmental health daysâ€ to their PTO policies as a response.
Even with these new policies, employees can still refuse to come into the office if they feel the move would be unsafe for them or their families. In some cases, workers will go from being quarantined to being thrown back into the labor force. The rise in workers comp and leave requests will rise as businesses start to reopen. This is where your policy needs to reflect new laws and regulations because employees may qualify for FMLA or state and local mandatory leave.
Most companies think reopening the office is the first step, but in fact, itâ€™s the last. Your leadership team should be meeting now to create a plan to reopen because the date may come sooner than you think. Start with these three steps, find your sources, set up your new tools, and communicate with your employees. Because by the time your first employee returns to work, your leave accommodations policies and systems should be communicated and put into place.