• Justin Hein

Returning to Business in the Covid-19 Era

Important for Business Leaders to Plan Ahead before Reopening.

Returning employees during the COVID-19 era will be unprecedented. It is not going to be as simple as announcing a date and carrying on business as usual. Not only will many workplaces be altered initially, some changes may be long term or permanent.

Businesses should seek out expertise for advice on how best to reopen in the COVID-19 era. While many have scrambled and have been operating, in some way or form, for the past 6 months, it is important that as local and state economies permit further reopening for businesses to take stock to determine what that means for it as a “new normal.” The best way is to find a resource with a deep and diverse understanding of how the pandemic is affecting businesses and industries, and how to work through the related and specific legal, business, and workforce issues created.

Businesses need a resource that can help a business build a phased return-to-work plan. Below, please find a sample of what an employment attorney, as a resource, can help scout-out and draft for you.

Planning Checklist

Below, please find a generic planning checklist of items that a business should make sure it addresses--on its own or with a third party resource--before reopening:

Workplace safety. Employers have to ensure their workplaces are as safe as they can be. Implementing policies on screening, cleaning, PPE, social distancing, telecommuting, office visitors, restrictions in geographical travel, and complying with OSHA-required recordkeeping and reporting obligations are all a must. Employees and customers alike may have fears of returning to business as usual; preparing for and communicating how safety is a top priority.

Recall procedures. Plan for how and when employees will return to work or to the worksite to create an organized and controlled approach. All employees returning on the same day at the same time could be overwhelming and possibly unsafe. Consider all possible options as your tool-kit: phasing in, new schedules, special rules for employees in high-risk categories. Also, consider how you need to be transparent and honest with employees who fear returning to work. Furthermore, be mindful that, dependent upon how the relationship ended, many returning employees may be seen as "new hires" under the law - and making sure one is compliant with all required new hire paperwork upon their return.

Employee benefits. Whether employees remained on the employer’s benefits plans or not, certain notices or actions may be required to stay compliant. Conducting a self-audit on requirements, status, and notice policies for Group Insurance, Flexible Spending Accounts, Retirement plans, and Paid leave programs is away to avoid problems for your company and friction for your employees. Communicating these changes to employees should be done as soon as possible.

Compensation. Many employers may have made compensation changes during the pandemic. Others may need to make them in order to reopen. How the disruption has affected compensation policies going forward will also need reviewing and communicating to affected staff. How will raises, bonuses, performance increases, performance reviews all be conducted in light of the pandemic? Also, will certain employees or tasks be given "hazard pay," and how best to calculate it.

Remote work. Telecommuting may have proven to work well during the pandemic for some employers and employees. Using it not only as a tool to survive the next year but also as a permanent work/life balance and cost-saving measure should be considered.

Communications. Establishing a clear communication plan will allow employees and customers to understand how the organization plans to reopen or reestablish business processes. It is better to anticipate than react. So, having template letters prepared for anticipated issues (e.g. go home, exposure, etc.) is better than have to scramble and draft once confronted.

Policy changes. It is no longer business as usual, and employers will likely need to update or create policies to reflect the new normal.

Business continuity plans. Employers will have learned valuable lessons regarding their business continuity plans, or lack thereof, during the past months. Now is the time to review and revise the plan to prepare for future emergencies.

Policies and Templates

Items that should be addressed--through drafting and development--include the following policies and templates:

  • Return to Work Protocol Letter

  • Letter for Furloughed Employees

  • Fit for Duty Form

  • Employee Self-Certification Form

  • Employee and Guest Questionnaire/Self-Declaration

  • Employee ”Go Home” Letter (due to registered temperatures)

  • Guest/Customer “Turn Away” Letter (due to registered temperatures)

  • COVID-19 Diagnostic Test Policy

  • COVID-19 Diagnostic Test Consent Form

  • Employee Health Screen Log

  • HIPAA Form and Policy

  • California COVID-19 Privacy Notice

  • Social Distancing Policy

  • Face Covering/Mask Policy

  • Travel Policy

  • Pet/Service Animal Policy

  • Telecommuting Policy

  • Flexible Scheduling Policy

  • Meal-and-Rest Break Policy

  • Time Off Request Policy

  • Leave of Absence/Reasonable Accommodation Policy and Form

  • Accommodation Request Guide

  • Updated Paid Sick Leave Policy and Form (including for FFCRA)

  • Updated Emergency Family Medical Leave Policy and Form (including both for FMLA and FFCRA)

  • Post-return Reimbursement of Expense Form

  • Post-return Wage/Hour Certification Forms (for Meal and Rest Breaks, etc.)

  • Business Continuity Plans

  • Infectious Disease Control Plan

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