Start planning now for a safe and gradual return to work. Every state has different stay-at-home restrictions and you want to be ready when they’re lifted. It may be hard to know where to begin, so here are some ideas to get you on the right path.
Keep in mind, how you respond to the pandemic can influence the loyalty of employees and customers. Companies have an opportunity to lead by example and bring brand values to life. Your agility and compassion can leave an enduring impression.
Before we get into logistics, the most critical responsibility during a crisis is communication. No one expects employers to have all the answers in an evolving situation, but they do expect to hear from you. Communicate frequently and candidly share updates, challenges and victories. Employees will be more dedicated and supportive if they understand what you’re doing to get back on track safely. Make sure they know how much you appreciate their flexibility and welcome them back when they return.
At the same time, management needs to stay connected with their team. Whether furloughed, reduced hours or feeling anxious about their future, show empathy and provide support. Beyond financial insecurity, employees may have conflicting feelings about the virus. Some may feel invincible while others are deathly afraid to leave their home. Unfortunately, a family member or friend may be battling the virus. Many employees are juggling homeschool and childcare pressures while working. The combination of financial stress, health fears and fragmented focus can be completely overwhelming.
If you have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), encourage employees to leverage their help (business owners and leadership team included). If not, consider contracting with a provider to support mental health. Also, John M. Ruh and Associates is a trusted resource that MidwestHR has worked with over the years. He develops processes and internal communications that reinforce your mission/culture and addresses stressful topics with grace. It can be a game changer to work with a specialist who understands the values that drive your business, especially during a crisis.
You had to make really hard decisions about essential and non-essential employees in March. With restrictions being relaxed soon, you need to decide who comes back and when. Check out our comprehensive guide here discussing HR and benefit considerations when recalling employees.
- If you recall any furloughed or laid-off employees, make sure there’s no discrimination against any group of employees.
- Alert employees of their paid sick leave rights under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Effective through the end of 2020, we recommend displaying the poster on-site and emailing employees to ensure everyone is aware.
- To guard against infection spread, health experts recommend gradual transitions with employees returning in phases. An alternate schedule that rotates between on site and remote work could limit exposure. Another option is staggered hours.
- Expect that some employees won’t be able to work on-site because they are sick; caring for someone who is sick; are caregivers for children; have immunocompromised family members at home; or have health fears about returning to work. When possible, continue offering work from home (WFH) arrangements. If duties must be performed on-site, how will you cover for those employees?
Before employees return: TO DO
Deep clean the office. Make sure cleaning supplies are EPA registered products that have been qualified for use against COVID-19. These products have demonstrated effectiveness with hard-to-kill viruses and other human coronaviruses. Moving forward, schedule more frequent cleanings and rotate in a regular deep clean.
Break out the tape measure! Six feet is the magic number, but greater is better. Protection measures can include one-way traffic patterns, spreading out employees and clear partitions. If a partition is installed, the six-foot rule doesn’t apply.
- Entranceway: If you have a receptionist that greets guests, make sure that person is protected. Masks and hand sanitizer should be available for visitors.
- Workstations: Assess cubicles, desks and open work areas where employees are closest to each other. If feasible, discourage using other employees’ phones, desks, equipment and office. We recommend the SafeSpace product from Rieke Office Interiors for affordable, clear partitions.
- Frequently used sections and gathering areas: open hallways, conference rooms, cafeterias, kitchens, coffee stations and break rooms. Will you keep all of these areas open? If so, more frequent cleaning is advised. Many companies are limiting or discontinuing access to gathering areas until Phase III or later.
Create designated mask, sanitizer, cleaning supply stations. If you’re providing this equipment, alert employees before they return. Be explicit about your mask wearing guidelines:
- Are they expected to be worn at all times?
- Can they be removed while at their desk?
- Are they reusable masks?
Disposable masks can be re-used if handled and treated properly. First, they can never be touched by hand. They need to be removed from their ear straps and stored in a receptacle that allows for air movement and mask to dry (even an open brown paper lunch bag can be used).
Post health reminders and directions. The CDC has a library of free materials about preventative measures (proper hand washing, reducing virus spread, wearing masks, removing masks, etc). If you’re instituting one-way traffic, post these directional signs in advance.
Develop exposure-response action plan. Prompt identification and isolation of potentially infectious individuals is critical. Designate a point person who will communicate procedures and manage the process.
Before employees return: COMMUNICATE UPDATES
Go over all the new safety measures. Explain each protocol and “why” each one was adopted. Be open to feedback. Employee buy-in can lead to fewer OSHA complaints. Of course, all complaints should be taken seriously and never retaliate.
Remind them to stay home if feeling sick. We recommend sharing a “COVID-19 Risk” policy that outlines what happens if any employee has a temperature over 100.4 including:
- Being sent home with pay
- Requiring them to visit or consult with a primary care physician
- Returning to work only if they have a negative COVID-19 test or no fever for three or more days
Share any policy updates. Responsive workplace policies will signal agile leadership ready to move full speed ahead. Leverage guidance from MidwestHR to revise or implement policies for PTO/vacation rollover, bereavement leave, work from home, childcare, work travel and eligibility/waiting periods for rehired or reinstated employees. Share these changes with employees and highlight any changes (temporary or permanent).
Working on-site: DAILY RECOMMENDATIONS
Offer personal protective equipment (PPE). At any work entrance, face coverings should be available and required. Masks can reduce the spread of coronavirus. Costs vary but surgical grade disposable masks start at approximately $1 when buying in modest bulk.
Check temperature. After mask is secured, management or HR can check employee’s temperature using a no-contact forehead thermometer. Any individuals with a temperature over 100.4 shouldn’t be allowed on-site.
Promote safe social distancing. Even though you prepared the space, employees still need to remain at least six feet away from each other. Encourage electronic collaboration over in-person meetings.
Develop cleaning ritual. Ask employees to clean their personal work area and equipment before leaving work every day. Common areas will also need to be sanitized daily. You can either handle it internally or hire a cleaning service. That way, every area is ready to go.
MidwestHR is a leading CPEO in Illinois (certified professional employer organization). For over 20 years clients have counted on our team of experts to manage all or part of their HR functions including payroll and tax administration, benefits management, workers’ compensation, risk management and more. We know it’s challenging to adjust your business to COVID-19 limitations and we’re here to help. Give us a call at 630-836-3000 to learn more.