COVID-19 Workplace Re-Entry Guide

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Companies across America have been forced to furlough employees due to the COVID-19 crisis. As we begin to shift into the cautious lifting of stay at home mandates and federal restrictions, many companies will begin bringing employees back to work. This is great news, but it’s important to follow proper procedure, just as you did when confirming your furlough in writing to individual employees. 

In a pre-COVID-19 marketplace, employers could take 60-90 days prior to a furlough to build and develop a communication and business strategy. Because of the rapid changes during this global pandemic, we don’t have the luxury of time. This means that our post-decision actions and planning are critical to make sure that employee re-entry happens as smoothly as possible now we are working and living in a post-COVID-19 world. 

In our comprehensive Furlough Guide, I stressed the importance of communicating with employees transparently and frequently for just this reason. Maintaining communication makes a return to work following a furlough much more effective and lessens the risk of losing employees to other companies during your furlough. And just as you confirmed your employee furlough with an official letter, you must also send a furlough recall letter to all returning employees. Ongoing communication with our employees remains critical, whether they are remote workers now, working from the office, or are returning to the office coming back from furlough or reduced hours. 

Planning for Workplace Re-EntryAfter COVID-19 and Shelter in Place Orders Are Lifted 

Depending on current social distancing rules and state and city guidelines, how we re-enter the workplace and open up our offices will vary. It’s also important to consider planning, or how your phased reopening is expected to operate, and what will happen if state or city guidelines change based on an increased rate of new cases of COVID. We must be prepared in phase two to step back to phase one if necessary, which is why we recommend a phased approach to employee recalls.

It’s imperative to have regular communication with your managers and team leaders. Your managers are your front lines of defense and we need to ensure that their communication is aligned with HR and the larger organization. Communication should be focused on plans for rehiring furloughed employees and the resources and support they need as they transition back into the workplace. 

Part of your re-entry or re-opening strategy should include “what if” scenarios: What to do if an employee who has recently returned to work is diagnosed with COVID. What to do if new cases in your area suddenly increase, leading to another stay at home mandate. What to do if you extend an employment offer to a furloughed employee and they’re hesitant about returning to work. What to do if you extend an employment offer and the furloughed employee is making more money on unemployment than they would by returning to work?

Maintaining such information, especially at enterprise level, is a difficult task. In such critical times, you cannot afford to be misinformed on your employees’ health status. To solve this problem, engineers at Apple and Mappedin have collaborated to develop a contact tracing solution which allows employers to analyze temporal and spatial data of the employees to spot any potential cases.

Financial assistance for unemployment benefits under the CARES Act (allowing for an additional $600 a week on top of state unemployment benefits) ends on June 30, so employees in the latter situation may need advice on how long your offer stands. If this is a large number of employees, your company might have to consider raising hourly wages. All of this should be mapped out in your planning.

Bringing Furloughed Employees Back to Work

The employees that will be returning to your workplace will have a lot of questions, including when to report income that stops unemployment checks and what measures your company will have in place that ensures employee safety. They will also want to know if and how their benefits might be affected (such as PTO), expected date of return, and any changed terms of employment, 

Think of the recall letter as a new employment offer letter that supersedes previous terms of employment. It should include all information that you would provide in an offer letter to new employees, including:

– Title or position

– Direct supervisor

– Job description and responsibilities

– Salary or hourly rate

– Expected work hours (which may fluctuate due to phased re-entry and that should be included)

– Exempt or non-exempt status

The letter should also include if any terms of employment have changed, such as how PTO is accumulated, how much PTO can rollover (or if PTO is restricted), new safety procedures employees are required to follow (wearing of masks), and expected timeline for return. Read more here…

Source: Workology

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