Many employers and workers have had to adapt to the global health crisis whether that included essential work, working remotely, or not working at all. As businesses start to determine what their new way of working will be, HR leaders will need to manage employee absences and leave cases, while reinforcing wage and hour law compliance, and will need ways to keep workers healthy and productive. Operations leaders, who are delivering products and services, will need visibility into employee availability, customer demand and labor needs so they can optimize workforce schedules and business performance.
There are a variety of health, safety, employment and legal considerations; and many of these issues vary by industry and location.
This checklist, including helpful resources, may serve as a starting point to help you develop a return-to-work plan that works for your organization.
- Create a plan to safely bring employees back to work. This will require a thoughtful strategy, preparation and changes to your work environment as well as workforce management practices.
- Consider which employees can or should continue to work remotely by the job, location, etc. Make sure all decisions related to remote work are neutral and job-related, and not based on protected characteristics, such as age, race, pregnancy or other factors unrelated to the job. Items to think about:
- Continue to allow remote work where possible to keep employees safe.
- Consider staggering weeks in office and at home among team members, or part-time remote work on alternate workdays.
- Evaluate and update technology to continue to support both onsite as well as remote workforce.
- Review pros and cons, as well as the long-term cost savings or other effects, of offering permanent remote work.
- Be sure to partner with your employee relations and legal department to review and avoid any potential discriminatory practices.
- Designate a point person i.e., safety manager or facilities manager, to ensure compliance with return to work policy and guidelines.
Compliance Evaluation and Resources
- Determine whether any state, local or industry mandates will limit the reopening of your facilities, worksites or locations. Refer to applicable guidance (non-binding) to help inform your return-to-work decisions. Resources: White House guidelines, State Governor's websites, CDC: Communities, Schools, Workplaces, and Events; Federal OSHA COVID-19 website
- Check federal, state, local and OSHA laws and update HR policies and procedures. Resources: Temporary Rule: Paid Leave under the FFCRA, Federal OSHA COVID-19 website, State OSHA plans
- Implement cleaning and disinfection protocols, consistent with CDC and OSHA guidance. Resource: CDC Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility
- Evaluate mandatory or voluntary use of masks, gloves, and face shields. Resources: CDC General Business FAQ, Federal OSHA COVID-19 website, State Governor's websites
- Consider changes to the physical workplace to reduce risk of exposure to COVID-19 and comply with applicable social distancing mandates, such as moving workstations, altering layouts and access points, and installation of barriers. Resource: CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers
- Decide whether or not to screen employees (and other visitors) before entering the workplace (e.g. temperature checks, screening questions, return to work notes from healthcare providers); address compensability of any time spent on screening employees. Resource: CDC General Business FAQ
- For furloughed employees, use neutral selection criteria to determine which employees will be brought back after furlough and when. Tip: Look at data points such as seniority, performance or job classification to minimize risk of discrimination.
- Ensure employees returning to work are properly classified as exempt or non-exempt; review and changes in job duties and responsibilities to ensure accuracy. Resources: FLSA Guide, Exemption Info Sheet
- Check benefits eligibility for employees who were furloughed or laid off and may have missed open enrollment to ensure the employee is offered the opportunity to enroll in benefits or make changes to their benefits appropriately.
- Prepare to address requests from employees who refuse to return to work or ask to continue telework due to child care, health and / or safety concerns. Resources: FFCRA Q&A; EEOC: What You Should Know: COVID-19, ADA, Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws
- Assess whether leave and other accommodations may be required by federal, state or local law. Resources: FFCRA Q&A; EEOC: What You Should Know: COVID-19, ADA, Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws
- Engage in a dialogue and provide reasonable accommodations to employees who may be more vulnerable to COVID-19 because of underlying health conditions. Resources: Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the ADA, Job Accommodation Network
- Post notices (e.g. FFCRA poster if less than 500 employees, hygiene / handwashing reminders, social distancing reminders, state and local posting requirements). Resources: U.S. DOL Workplace Posters; CDC COVID-19 Print Resources
- Develop protocol for addressing employees with reported COVID-19 symptoms or diagnosis. Resource: CDC General Business FAQ
Communication and Education
- Create a clear employee communications plan about the organization's plans to reopen. Tip: Include your return to work process, new policies, trainings to expect and your commitment to protecting workers and customers.
- Prepare managers with a return-to-work toolkit that includes the employee return-to-work information, FAQs, updates on new policies and procedures and other information that they will need to support their employees as they return to the work site.
- Notify employees with a return-to-work letter, if applicable, that includes their return date, work schedule, pay, benefits, PTO, new policies and procedures, and an at-will employment disclaimer, if appropriate. Resources: CDC: Guidelines Opening Up America Again, A 5-Step Guide for Encouraging Employee Direct Deposit Adoption
- Consult with employee representatives, such as the local union officials, if applicable.
Back to Work Phase
- Train employees on new policies including safety measures, protocols and rules, establish governance to ensure safety and compliance.
- Consider staggered scheduling and group scheduling to minimize the impact of a COVID-19 exposure on your workforce. Resource: CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers
- Consider reviewing and updating job descriptions to address changes in job duties and essential job functions.
- Impose appropriate limits on business travel. Resource: CDC General Business FAQ
- Impose appropriate limits on size of in-person meetings and proximity of seating. Resource: CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers' Ensure COVID-19 cases are recorded, if required, per OSHA guidance. Resource: Federal OSHA COVID-19 website
- Review the DOL website and post required legal notices at work locations. Resources: U.S. DOL Workplace Posters, U.S. DOL Employee Rights Paid Sick Leave and Expanded Family and Medical Leave Under the FFCRA
- Remind employees that they should not report to work when sick, also remind them of your organization's policy on sick leave and other applicable paid and unpaid leave policies. Resource: CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers
- Communicate regularly with employees. Tip: Keep employees in the know about the actions you're taking to respond to their feedback and keep them safe.
While this checklist is a good starting point to help you plan for return-to-work, remember that each organization is unique and there is rarely a one-size-fits-all solution. Therefore, consider your locations, culture, factual data, circumstances, and applicable federal, state and local regulations before making any decisions.
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