As many counties and states loosen COVID 19–related restrictions for employers across the country, more questions than answers arise regarding best practices in return-to-work procedures.
This “new normal” is anything but normal, and information and best practices about how best to structure return to the workplace and how to safely behave in the workplace will likely change frequently. Firms will need to be flexible and responsive as information and best practices regarding the pandemic are updated by local governments, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Now, more than ever, management needs to be thoughtful and compassionate when dealing with the myriad of feelings employees will have as they contemplate returning to the office. Employees may be feeling anxious about being in the office surrounded by others; or, due to personal or medical reasons, they may be unable to wear a mask; or perhaps they are considered at risk themselves or have an at-risk family member in their household. These are uncharted waters and trying times for employers and employees alike, and a more delicate approach may be necessary when dealing with employee issues related to this pandemic.
Preparing for employees returning to the office should be a thoughtful and deliberate process and one supported by guidelines set by state and federal health officials. As firms begin the planning process, there are several items for consideration in preparing the office and employees for the eventual return to minimize some of the potential pain points.
Policies and postings
All firms should ensure that the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) is posted alongside any other employment posters (for employees working remotely, the posting should be sent to the employee via email). Not only should the poster be placed in a visible or high traffic area, management should also be familiar with the language and employee’s rights reflected in the posting.
Additionally, firms should revisit all policies and look for opportunities to be flexible and support employees during this pandemic. Leave and bereavement policies might be reviewed. Current leave policies should also be updated to reflect any legislative updates. For employees expressing angst about returning to the office, perhaps a phased approach or a hybrid approach with part time in the office and part time working remotely might be an option reflected in the policy.
Daily work adjustments
Protocols should be established to cover how the firm will adhere to guidelines for physical distancing, office cleaning, meetings, business travel, client interaction, etc. Management and employees alike will have to be diligent in doing their part to ensure a clean work environment. Firms should establish protocols for cleaning public spaces (break rooms, rest rooms, elevators, stairs, lobbies, etc.) and include visual aids to mark social distancing in high-traffic areas. Firms should provide sanitizing wipes, gloves, face masks and any other protective measures.
Given the many changes to the office environment and how firms conduct business, it is recommended that management have each employee participate in an onboarding process when they return to working in the office. During the onboarding process, employees should be informed of the steps the firm has taken to ensure the employee’s safety including, but not limited to, reconfiguring the office space, restricting business travel, refraining from in-person meetings and use of hygiene stations. Additionally, the onboarding process would outline expectations of each employee in doing their part and set the stage for moving forward as well as revisiting any updates to the firm’s policies.
If possible, firms should poll employees to gain a better understanding of their concerns in returning to “business as usual.” Management should share the general responses and provide follow-up and feedback so that employees feel validated and heard.
Employees need to know what management has done and will do to ensure their safety. Communication should be frequent and detailed and should include what returning to work will look like, such as schedules, requirements for face masks, sanitizing, office layout and channels for employees to express concerns and suggestions.
A well-thought-out and detailed plan will ensure that all important factors are taken into consideration, the risks to employees are managed, and expectations of both management and employees are clear.
Article provided by CAMICO, a VSCPA preferred provider. Copyright CAMICO 2020.