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Employer Considerations For Returning To Work Policies

Posted by Leslie Ruhland on May 13, 2020 7:41:18 AM
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Throughout the U.S. and in California, various stages of Return-to-Work are in effect. This comes both as a relief and a concern for both employer and their employees.



Although the numbers of cases and fatalities involving COVID-19 are diminishing, the threat is not fully mitigated. As increasing numbers of businesses are engaged in or gearing up for a Return-to-Work, or RTW, there are many questions and concerns.

Return-to-Work, If You Can

Not every business in California can ask their employees to return to work - yet. But many are doing so now and it is anticipated that every business and organization that is still viable will do so sooner than later. 

But bringing your employees back to the workplace is not a simple matter of opening the doors and resuming "business as usual." In fact, some commentators wonder if there will ever be an "as usual" again as we navigate the concerns and new protocols of a post-COVID-19 work environment.

Part of the problem is that no two businesses are exactly alike and the vast differences and dynamics of all those businesses negates any "one size fits all" set of RTW policies. However, there a quite a number of common concerns and new "best practices" that are relevant to most every business.

Here is an overview of some of these as they relate to business returning to work in California.


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Have a RTW Plan

Any business needs to take time to develop specific policies for returning employees to work and ensure that these are effectively communicated with their employees. This includes explaining what changes are taking place and why, as well as the company's expectations of the employees.

According to an article at JDSupra's website,

"[M]ost businesses will want to at minimum take the following measures:
Create an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan
Conduct a Hazard Assessment for new protocols/equipment put in place consistent with OSHA rules
Create or update existing policies on issues impacted by COVID-19 and RTW issues, such as remote work, leave of absence and travel policies
Craft communications to returning workers ensuring that they are aware of the safety measures in place and how to comply with them
Ensure that proper personal protective equipment (PPE) (if needed) and general cleaning materials such as soap and hand sanitizer are available
Designate who within the company will be a resource for RTW questions"

Support Employees In Their RTW

Employees who do return to work will be experiencing a variety of emotions and some will experience more stress than others. It is essential that leaders, managers and supervisors are vocal and proactive in their support for employees as they adjust to what will likely be a dramatically altered workplace.

An article from the Texas A&M AgriLife website notes,

"Employers and co-workers should watch for signs of emotional impact over the coming weeks and months. Signs someone may be struggling in their return to the workplace include changes in performance and productivity, such as missing deadlines, calling in sick frequently, absenteeism, irritability and anger, difficulty concentrating and making decisions, withdrawal from work activity, and difficulty with work transitions or changes in routines."

Some actions that employers and managers might take include:

  • Allowing employees to begin with tasks that they agree they will be able to accomplish
  • Gradually increasing employee's working hours over a period of time
  • Allowing flexible scheduling to attend medical appointments for those who need them
  • Eliminating non-essential tasks to allow employees to focus on their primary duties
  • Providing re-orientation or re-training that may be needed for employee success

Some workplaces will require much more adjustment than others depending on the level of contact required with others including customers and co-workers. Another stressor could be the length of time employees have been either furloughed or working from home. Longer absences from the workplace can induce a stronger sense of displacement when combined with new rules of conduct, wearing of masks and so on. 


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Enforce Health and Safety Protocols

While this may seem obvious to many, there can be a real tendency for employees to feel that returning to work means returning to "business as usual." However, prudence and an abundance of caution dictate that complying with previously established health and safety protocols is still necessary for the foreseeable future. 

This includes communicating policies that require the following:

  • Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Following company policies and procedures related to illness, cleaning and disinfecting, work meetings and travel. Continuing to follow guidelines from state and local authorities for using face coverings in public spaces.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces in work areas, including keyboards, phones, handrails and doorknobs.
  • Staying at home if sick, except to get medical care.
  • Informing supervisors of sick family members at home with COVID-19.
  • Not using other employees’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment, when possible. If use is necessary, then cleaning and disinfecting them before and after use.

As workplaces reopen and employees return to work, social distancing protocols need to be established. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued general guidelines and recommendations to be followed to help mitigate the chances of contracting COVID-19 in the workplace.

The CDC guidelines and recommendations are illustrated in this graphic:


Tempering Optimism With Caution

If employees are sick or have recently been sick, regardless of whether or not they've been diagnosed with COVID-19, employers should ask for a doctor’s clearance before allowing them to return to work. Healthy workers can be asked by employers to return to their normal duties or work remotely, if feasible.

Employers can ask healthy staff members who have no childcare or caregiver requirements to return to work. However, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) does require employers to provide workers with job-protected leave if:

  • Employees have young children and their school or daycare provider is no longer open due to the pandemic, or
  • Employees who are taking care of a family member who is ill due to the virus or unable to arrange alternate care

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is also providing updated guidance for employers to assist them in navigating the business impact of COVID-19.

Want to learn more about workforce management? Get out our free guide

Your Partners for Effective Workforce Management

HR staff have demanding roles that include recruiting, hiring, and working to retain employees. In addition, HR employees are responsible for other functions such as employee development, payroll management,  employee records compliance, and managing employee benefits.

The current situation with the coronavirus pandemic has presented many additional and unanticipated issues and challenges.

Outsourcing is increasingly becoming a cost-effective and strategic option. Accuchex can help you in managing your HR needs, payroll processes, and staying on top of compliance demands.

Get your Free Download: Payroll Outsourcing Guide to help you make an informed decision or call Accuchex Payroll Management Services at 877-422-2824.


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Topics: employee retention, coronavirus, COVID-19, layoffs, return to work

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