Returning to Work – Top 7 Tips for Employers

For companies that are reopening, there are a myriad of requirements and issues that must be addressed for bringing employees back. PBO Advisory Group was pleased to be invited by employment lawyer David Monks, a partner with the law firm of Fisher Phillips, to co-host a webinar regarding returning to work issues on May 20th. David’s comprehensive presentation provided a vast amount of information that CEOs, human resources professionals and others need to consider before opening doors and welcoming back employees.

The slides from the webinar are available here.

Here are the top seven key takeaways and some key questions:

1. You should answer these threshold questions before considering reopening

    • Has your community lifted significant mitigation requirements?
    • Will reopening your workplace comply with applicable state and local orders?
    • Will you be able to protect high-risk employees?
    • How would you respond in the event of a resurgence of the pandemic?

2. Know your city, county and state requirements for reopening

Each jurisdiction has specific regulations that must be met before a business can reopen. Your industry may also have additional requirements. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Monitor and evaluate all the applicable regulations on an on-going basis.

3. Internal decision and preparations

Reopening decisions should involve a broad spectrum of senior leadership and corporate culture must be considered. Reimagine your workplace to be CDC compliant. Designate a COVID-19 response team with specified assignments and accountability. Train your supervisors regarding workplace requirements and how to answer employee questions. Create an action plan for the physical changes you will need to make and purchase needed supplies for cleaning, screening and physical distancing.

Question: What if I can’t find thermometers to take employees’ temperatures?

The demand for thermometers will likely exceed the market supply, at least in the short-term. Place an order now for enough thermometers for four-six weeks and be ready to prove you have done so. In the meantime, be sure to screen employees regarding their symptoms and contact with others infected with Covid-19.

4. Changing your employment policies and procedures

When bringing back laid-off or furloughed employees, multiple issues must be addressed. For example:

  • How does the break in employment affect benefits and pay?
  • Do employment contracts and collective bargaining agreements need to be revised?

Ensure that policies reflect the current situation, including new policies specific to Covid-19. Remember, your employee handbook will need to be updated and employees must acknowledge that they have been made aware of new/revised policies and procedures.

5. Deciding which employees to bring back to work

This is one of the biggest areas of legal risk for employers. Your selection process needs to be as objective as possible and should focus on each employee’s skills. Using previous years’ performance reviews is most likely the best tool you have to make this decision.

Question: What if an employee doesn’t want to come back to work out of fear of being infected?

Under OSHA, an eminent threat of harm must be present for an employee to refuse to return to work and this is hard for an employee to prove. However, under ADA and FEHA, you may have to accommodate employees. Each decision to do so should be done on a case-by-case basis. Consider reasonable accommodation by letting the employee work at home, if possible. If you choose this option, you must have a remote work policy in writing, and you must reimburse the employee for certain out-of-pocket expenses.

6. Employees who become sick after returning to work

If an employee reports in person that they have been diagnosed with Covid-19, they must immediately be quarantined and have them leave your facilities as soon as possible. If they call in, they must be told not to report to work. Additionally, you should determine what other employees and third parties they have been in in close contact with. Advise these individuals that they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive, without disclosing who, and have these employees leave work and not return for 14 days. Then extensively clean and disinfect all work areas. You should have a policy in place that reflects these actions.

7. Potential Litigation Risks

Unfortunately, there will likely be a surge in employment lawsuits as a result of Covid-19. As an employer, you must be careful in every aspect of dealing with employee issues. Here are a few that may be especially likely to result in a complaint or lawsuit:

  • Wage & Hour Issues
  • Discrimination Claims
  • Workers’ Compensation
  • Reporting-time Pay
  • Remote Worker Issues
  • PTO/Sick Pay/Vacation
  • OSHA Complaints/Inspections/Whistleblower Complaints
  • General Liability

 

Question: Can you provide some tips to improve employee relations after returning to work?

Your employees will want to feel comfortable and safe. Engage in communications that focus on what you are doing to keep the workplace safe. Give employees an opportunity to share their concerns, then follow through by reviewing concerns with your response team and implement changes. Offer words of encouragement, gratitude and support through social media, end of shift meetings or huddles and develop special programs and occasions that highlight your employees and their work or projects.

 

PBO Advisory Group can help you navigate through your HR, financial and operational considerations as you are developing return to work policies and procedures. To set up a complimentary call with one of our HR specialists click here or email Laura Nieman at Laura@pboadvisory.com.

We thank David Monks for inviting PBO to co-host this webinar. David can be reached at dmonks@fisherphillips.com or 858-597-9636.