Shelter-in-place orders are expiring across the country. Accordingly, business owners and managers need to start thinking about how they intend to reopen and return to work. That being the case, the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over.
Simply announcing a date for your place of work to resume operations is not going to be enough. The specifics of what needs to be done will vary from business to business, but this return-to-work checklist may be a good starting point. You have to prepare yourself for many changes, some of which will almost certainly become long-term features of the workplace.
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The COVID-19 Return-to-Work Checklist for Businesses
There are many questions that employers are asking themselves as the lockdown rules ease across the country and around the world. From an employer perspective, you have certain new priorities that need to be addressed. The primary concern is the safety of your workforce, which means you need to have structured protocols in place before your workforce returns to active duty.
If you plan on hiring new workers, you need to communicate your new safety policies and guidelines early on in the onboarding process. This blog covers:
- Workplace Safety
- Employee Return Procedures
- Changes to Employee Benefits
- Workers’ Compensation
- Procedures for Remote Working
Let’s take a closer look at these below.
As an employer, you are responsible for ensuring that the workplace is as safe as possible for your employees. Both employees, as well as customers, might be understandably wary of returning to your place of business under the current conditions. That concern makes it doubly important to prepare for and communicate your safety guidelines and procedures accordingly.
Common safety measures that businesses should take include:
- Setting up protocols for screening employees for COVID-19.
- Creating an exposure plan to address isolation, stay-at-home, and contact tracking.
- Making the use of PPE such as masks, face shields, gloves, as well as hand sanitizer mandatory.
- Creating and implementing detailed cleaning and disinfecting procedures.
- Enforcing social distancing within the workplace.
- Making use of staggered shifts to reduce the risk of exposure.
- Implementing alternating work from home and office weeks.
- Restricting business travel to only essential travel complying with government guidelines.
- Directing customer traffic and limiting the number of customers on-premises at a time.
- Clearly defining a no-handshake policy for the workplace.
- Avoiding in-person client meetings, using video or audio instead.
- Complying with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s obligations.
- Reporting any potential occupational exposure to OSHA.
- Following OSHA guidelines on determining whether exposure was work-related.
Employee Return Procedures
Ensuring that your workplace is as safe as possible is the first of multiple steps to be taken. You also need an organized and controlled approach to manage employees returning to the workplace. It could be a potential risk to have all employees return on the same day at the same time. The second step on our return-to-work checklist is planning for recalling employees to work.
You can try phasing in employees to work using non-discriminatory factors, fairly selecting which employees should start coming into work first. Remember that under the current conditions, your workforce roster and schedule should maximize workplace safety above all else.
Identify high-risk categories within your employees, such as
- People suffering from heart disease.
Prioritize a work-from-home policy for these workers, and ensure they have PPE when they do come into the office. If any of your employees, such as recruiters carrying out IT staffing, can work from home, you should consider allowing it for the time being.
You will also need to inform the state unemployment service of the details of the employees that you recall to work. There is good reason to do this, other than it being a mandatory state requirement: it will help you save on unemployment taxes for employees that choose not to return to work.
You also need to have a strategy in place on how to deal with employees who are unwilling or unable to return to work. These could be employees who fear that they are at a higher risk of exposure. It could also include employees whose family obligations might prevent them to return to work at this time. You may also have some employees under quarantine after having been exposed to the coronavirus. You will need to address each category differently.
Changes to Employee Benefits
Regardless of your employees staying on your benefits program or not, you will need to issue certain notices or take appropriate action to comply with State and Federal laws. You may need to review several areas of your employee benefits plan under the new circumstances. These areas include:
- Group health insurance, including eligibility, changes to coverage plans, and recovering premiums paid while the employee was on leave.
- 410(k) and any other pension plans, paying attention to issues caused by layoffs or furloughs, in-service loans, and any breaks in years of service.
- Compliance with paid leaves rules under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
Engineering firms that have sourced talent through engineering staffing agencies need to coordinate with their staffing partners if the payroll and taxes are being managed by the agency.
Compensation changes have been implemented at many firms across the country. Others will likely have to make revisions in order to reopen and operate. You will need to reevaluate all your workers’ compensation policies in order to address the disruptions caused by COVID-19.
You will also need to communicate changes to your compensation plan to all stakeholders. This includes employees on your payroll, supervisors, managers, and talent sourcing partners like your marketing staffing agency.
Procedures for Remote Working
Telecommuting has proven to be a useful tool during the pandemic. It has allowed employers and employees to communicate and work even when not physically present in the office. The COVID-19 global health crisis has proven that telecommuting is not just a short-term solution.
It can actually be incorporated into a permanent part of the modern workplace. You should consider creating and implementing a work-from-home policy that allows productivity even if the employee isn’t present in the office.