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Diane Campanile: Start thinking about how you’ll reopen your workplace

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Diane Campanile

As we begin to see signs of stabilization of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses are exploring various “returntowork” scenarios. While there are many questions surrounding the when and how of returning to work, one thing is clear—we are not going back to the same workplace we left.  

The return-to-work process will likely be phased-in, and businesses that prepare now will transition faster and more smoothly once they are cleared to re-open. Three key areas should be considered in your company’s return-to-work plan:  

  • Logistical Preparations 
  • Policy Review & Update  
  • Employee Resources

Addressing these areas first may help your organization begin its transition back to fully operational status.  

Review Address Logistical Concerns 

As we return to our physical workspaces, employers should consider all logistical aspects to prepare the office for employee return. They should also plan how to maintain safe, clean spaces where employees feel comfortable to work. Consider these questions:  

  • Do we need to “deep clean” the office before employees return to work and schedule more frequent cleanings going forward? 
  • Do we need to re-arrange workspaces or add protective fixtures to accommodate social distancing? 
  • Do we need personal protection supplies, such as masks, gloves, cleaning wipes, sanitizer, thermometers, etc. to provide employees upon return? 
  • Should employees complete a ‘self-screen’ questionnaire before physically returning to work? 
  • Will employees need to wear masks while at work? 
  • Do we have employees residing in nearby states that may not “re-open” on the same schedule as our business?  
  • Will we initially open our business to the public—clients, visitors, vendors, etc.—and, if so, what precautions should we take 

Employers should holistically review all aspects of the physical workplace to identify and address areas of concern before re-opening their physical location.  

Update Policies & Procedures as Needed 

This area may be the most critical for employersThe “new” workplace may require new or updated company policies and procedures. Here are some areas to consider:  

  • Establish COVID-19 Return Policy Based on CDC Guidelines.  Consider adding CDC guidelines into your company’s return-to-work policy to clearly spell out who is able to return to work and when. It should also contain safety expectations of employees returning to work and any needed documentation 
  • Policies on Re-hiring Non-essential Employees. Employers need to consider how to bring back employees who were terminated, laid-off, or furloughed as the re-hiring process may be different for each employee type. Is new hire paperwork needed? Will benefits be re-instated immediately or is there a waiting period? What other considerations exist?  
  • Employees Who Remain on Protected LeaveThe Families First Coronavirus Response Act includes provisions that may affect employees returning to work. When businesses officially re-open, employees with school-aged children may not be able to physically return due to school closures. Document how to handle various situations that may arise 
  • Unemployment ConsiderationsIn this new era, how does unemployment compensation work? Does the CARES Act affect your company’s unemployment claims? Businesses have a multitude of questions about how unemployment will affect operations.   
  • Update Telecommuting PoliciesYour company may documented telework policy. Or, you may have created one on the fly when the pandemic hit. It’s a good idea to revisit your company telework policies now that the immediate crisis is subsiding. Include topics such as telework eligibility, frequency, approvals needed, expectation of hours, communication procedures, employee reporting or performance requirements, and violations or abuse. 

As employers consider new or updated policies, it’s important to find the balance between sound business practices and empathy for the difficult and unprecedented experience employees are navigating. Consult with your company’s professional services—legal counsel, human resources, compliance and risk management teams, insurance, and others—to help address organization-specific issues.  

Provide Employees with Coping Resources
Employees have experienced the overwhelming emotions caused by the pandemic in very different and highly personal waysSome people have experienced minimal disruption and inconvenience, while others have endured traumatic stress due to the upheaval in their lives. Now, just as employees may be finding their balance, the uncertainties of returning to work may trigger additional stress and uncertainty.  

Employers should be sensitive to employees’ fears and concerns about returning to work and be prepared to proactively address those concerns with communications, resources, and support. Remind employees of the Employee Assistance Program and other company resources to help them copeIf they are concerned about public transportation, discuss additional telework options or transportation solutions. Communicate new policies as quickly as possible so employees understand expectationsBy anticipating the emotional aspects of returning to work, employers can help ensure a smoother transition and retain employees.     

Professional Services Can Help You Prepare 

As businesses across the country prepare to re-open, it is with the understanding that some aspects of our work are forever changed. It will likely remain a fluid situation through the coming weeks and months, but there are many expert professional services companies, including Lyons Companies, ready to help with the transition and beyond 

Diane Campanile, SHRM-SCP is director of Human Capital Management and Employer Compliance at Lyons Companies (LyonsInsurance.com)She will be going into more detail on this topic at a webinar on May 1, 2020. You can register at bit.ly/COVID-19_Return-to-Work-Program. 

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