The last weeks for the country have created a new brand of normal that is anything but for most of us. Most of the country is currently still under some form of a shutdown order due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the onset, essential businesses scrambled to establish protocols to allow their employees to continue to work, and nonessential businesses have had to shut down and either transition employees to remote work, or place employees on leave, furlough or layoff.
The CDC guidance as well as a myriad of state and local orders continue to change. For example, Colorado’s State-wide Stay at Home order transitioned as of April 27th to a “Safer at Home” recommendation while Denver’s Stay at Home order was extended to remain in place until May 8th. This poses significant challenges for employers looking to keep businesses afloat, remain in compliance, and keep employees and customers safe.
With that in mind, many companies are strategizing how to return employees to the workplace—no small task. Any return to work plans will require flexibility, creativity, and consideration of complicated legal, logistical, and practical issues.
When to Return Employees back to the Workplace
- Determining when to return employees and whether to implement a phased return. How will employees be notified, and with how much notice?
- Selection of employees to return to work. Decisions regarding furloughed and recently laid off employees.
- What will the job look like when employees return (full-time, part-time, in-person, remote).
- Process for determining if individual employees are safe to return. Protocol for returning employees who have tested positive or may have been exposed.
- Protocols to address employee logistical challenges, such as lack of child/senior care, limited public transportation, and employees who may fear returning to work.
- Process to handle return and inventory of all employer-owned or leased equipment
Development and Implementation of Social Distancing
- Changes to open workspace configuration.
- Repurposing of conference rooms, lunch rooms, and other communal spaces to allow for more distance.
- Installation of physical barriers.
- Reconfiguration of work schedules and/or shifts to limit the number of employees physically present in a specific office, facility, plant, or other work location at any one time.
- Implementation of full-time and/or part-time work-from-home arrangements for positions where it is feasible.
Development and Implementation of Additional Workplace Health/Safety Protocols
- Daily temperature checks and other screening protocols.
- Periodic employer-provided COVID-19 testing when such testing is more widely available for all employees.
- Development of an action plan in the event an employee tests positive for COVID-19, such as to whom does the employee provide notice if he or she tests positive, what information is the employee required to disclose, how is the information provided and with whom is it shared.
- Personal protective equipment and other safety equipment (employer-provided face masks, gloves).
- Handwashing protocols.
- Periodic deep cleaning of office, facility, plant, and/or other work locations by a professional cleaning service.
Development of Additional Policies
- Updating COVID-19 related policies, such as COVID-19 related paid sick/paid leave, travel policies, social distancing protocols and safety-related policies.
- Confirm accuracy of sick, vacation and PTO banks and ensure compliance with COVID-19 related leave laws.
Considerations for a “New Normal” Workplace
- Employees’ increased expectations for flexibility in work location and time, following significant changes to many businesses in moving to remote and flexible work.
- Increased focus on a contact-free workplace and economy.
- Desire for changed / different benefits, including in areas of health and wellness.
Considerations for Other Workers and Visitors in the Workplace
- Determine how, if at all, the above health and safety, social distancing, and other protocols above for employees will apply to vendors, customers, contractors, delivery workers or staffing agency workers when they are in the workplace.
There is not a single one-size-fits-all solution but the items above are issues that should be considered when developing a return to work strategy.
What tips/areas are your firms considering as part of your return-to-work strategy? Share them in the comment box below.
Anne McNeely, CDFA, is the Project Administration Manager for Fentress Architects in Denver, CO.
She currently serves as the 2019-2020 SDA National Secretary.