Talks of reopening the economy are starting to begin, and so many businesses are starting to strategize how to resume business operations. Things will not return to “normal” immediately, or possibly ever. You have to rethink the way you work. As a business owner, the health and well-being of your employees is now in your hands. Your employees (clients and customers) safety should be your top priority. Just because things are opening, doesn’t mean the physical threat of COVID-19 has been eliminated. And certainly, the fear and anxiety over it has not subsided either.

Returning to work could be unsettling for many of your employees. For those who contracted the virus, lost a loved one to it or are in a vulnerable population, their fears are heightened. It is up to you to assuage your employees’ concerns. Below are 5 tips to help you protect your employees and manage their unease about returning to work after COVID-19.

  • Encourage working from home.

    If your employees do not need to be in the office to work, encourage them to work remotely. It’s likely that many of you are already doing this. For many industries and positions, this is a great option to keep people safe and still productive. Not to mention, it is likely that there will be another wave of the virus and lockdowns could be reinstated. Going back and forth between work and home is disruptive, so offer the ability to maintain remote work for continuity.

  • Practice social distancing.

    If you do decide to bring your employees back into the office, or your business is dependent on it, practice safe social distancing guidelines. Consider staggering reintroductions to the office. It’s really a numbers game, so try restricting employee numbers in the office and do what you can to operate at reduced capacity. You could also consider instituting a rotating schedule, with employees alternating days or weeks when they are in the office so everyone isn’t in at the same time.

    Additionally, when people are in the office, you should:

    • Increase physical distance between workspaces.
    • Limit contact in communal areas.
    • Maintain a rigorous cleaning schedule. Keep individual work areas, communal spaces, high-touch points clean and sanitized.
    • Limit the number of people in in-person meetings or have all meetings virtually.
    • Wearing masks. Provide PPE, especially if your employees are in close contact with co-workers, clients or customers.
    • Encourage correct hygiene standards. Hand sanitizer and antiseptic wipes should be available for all employees.
  • Look for signs of emotional distress.

    These are stressful and downright crazy times for everyone. Returning to work might be a welcome change for some employees, but for others it will feel scary. Train your managers to be on the lookout for signs your employees may be struggling. Changes in productivity or performance, absenteeism and withdrawal from work are some warning signs. Consider instituting a regular employee survey to maintain a pulse on how your employees are feeling day-to-day.

    Encourage your employees to seek treatment and ensure they are aware of the benefits they have at their disposal, like an employee assistance program (EAP). Above all, keep the lines of communication open and understanding flowing. You want work to feel like a safe space.

  • Keep your employees informed.

    No doubt your employees feel on edge with unemployment so high. Their futures at your company and the state of the business in general are of concern to them. By maintaining regular, honest and transparent communication with them, you can make sure they feel like they will not be blind-sided by any decisions and that you have their best interest at heart. You might consider having regular company-wide townhalls (virtually of course) where you update your employees on how things are going and provide an opportunity for employees to ask questions or offer suggestions on how things could be improved. For some, it might be better to host these meetings in a smaller, team-based setting.

    As always, make sure your teams have the tools and technology to communicate well. This is very important if your workforce is working remotely. You want to build strong teams and communication is an essential part of that. Now is the time to break down silos, not build them.

  • Brush up on the law.

    Your employees have the right to know what you are doing to keep them safe, and in some cases, they could have the right to refuse to come into work. Knowing which laws offer them protection is a good exercise for you to know what is required of you. Do you know which laws apply to your business?

    It’s all pretty complicated right now since there are no unified federal standards for employers to reference on when and how to return to work. Some states and localities may be enforcing certain standards, like temperature checks, to protect employees. You can also check the CDC’s guide for reopening here. Below are just a few laws you should familiarize yourself with prior to reopening.

    • Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) – extends certain worker protections through Dec 31, 2020. It guarantees two full weeks of paid sick leave at your regular pay rate should you have COVID-19, have symptoms or be quarantined by a doctor or government.
    • National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) – allows workers that were fired for leaving a job if they felt unsafe to file a charge against their employer.
    • Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA) – allows workers to refuse to work if there is imminent danger or if your employer has not ensured a safe working environment.
    • Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) – If employees have to work more hours than usual, they should be paid time and half for the overtime hours they work.
    • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with a disability. Those with conditions that put them at higher risks of contracting coronavirus could claim protection under the ADA and employers may be required to provide a leave of absence or other reasonable accommodation.

    There are exceptions and stipulations to all these laws that might impact you or your employees. Check your state or locality and consult a lawyer to understand which laws and protections apply to you and your employees.

The best thing you can do for your business and your employees is establish a safety plan once you know you will be returning to work. Prioritize safety. Know which laws you must comply with and which your employees can access should they refuse to return to work. Keep everyone as informed and prepared as possible. If you are an XcelHR client, get in contact with us and we’ll walk you through it.