Navigating the Return to Work

Bringing your employees back to the workplace and creating a safe environment is critical. Start building an inclusive plan that works for everyone with these resources.

Rehiring

Tough times in light of COVID-19 may have called for creative solutions earlier this year, including layoffs. On our blog, we explored some of the different considerations employers should take into account when facing difficult staffing situations.
When your business is on the other side and looking to begin rehiring, what are your options? If you need guidance, you can reach out to your account manager and schedule time with one of our HR experts.
Additionally, if you applied for and received a PPP loan and will be applying for forgiveness, the PPP Flexibility Act of 2020 now gives you a longer safe harbor to restore your workforce levels and wages to the pre-pandemic levels required for full forgiveness. This now must be done by December 31, 2020, as opposed to June 30, 2020. The new law also added exceptions if you’re unable to find qualified employees or restore business operations to February 15, 2020 levels due to operating restrictions.
As a reminder, for workers facing layoffs, furlough, or reduced hours as a result of COVID-19, we have assembled a hub of resources here.

Explore some of the different considerations employers should take into account when facing difficult staffing situations.

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Depending on your employees’ individual circumstances, they may not be ready or willing to return to work when you call on them. For example, employees may be anxious about returning to work or have competing family obligations due to COVID-19. Additionally, with the added federal UI benefit of $600 per week created under the CARES Act, which additional benefit expires on July 31, lower-earning workers may be receiving more wage replacement from unemployment than they would normally earn in wages.
While the rules vary from state to state, as a general matter, recipients of unemployment benefits cannot refuse an offer of work and continue to receive unemployment benefits, unless they have good cause for refusing the offer. Many states even require employers to report former or furloughed employees who refuse to return to work.
However, most states are observing limited exceptions for employees with legitimate COVID-19-related reasons for refusing an offer. These exceptions vary from state to state, but some states have created exceptions for individuals who are at a heightened health risk, who have been diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19, or who have childcare obligations as a result of a school or care provider closing due to COVID-19. For more information, you should check in with the applicable state regulators or discuss with your counsel.

See each state's rules on employees' eligibility to receive unemployment benefits if they refuse to return to work

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Employee Experience

Inform and educate employees of the physical safety measures you've taken, as well as develop and share clear and comprehensive policies and procedures. (Some are detailed on this page.) Create and disseminate a return-to-work communication that outlines all the steps you are taking to protect your people and comply with the recommended safety protocols.
Establish consistency. Consider setting and socializing a cadence for when your team can expect ongoing updates about workplace safety. Follow through even if it’s just for a quick check-in. This can help show your team that health and safety are top of mind.

Support the mental health of you and your team to help you overcome workplace anxiety.

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Talk to them! Remote work may be presenting both challenges and opportunities for working parents. Returning to a physical work location will likely present a whole new set of challenges.  Ask what they need, what about the past few months has been the most difficult and what arrangements/accommodations have made their lives easier.
One option might be to contribute to employees’ Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account (DCFSA), from which employees can be reimbursed for the work-related cost of care for a qualifying dependent. This can provide some financial relief for employees who place their children in day camp, daycare, or after school programs. Conversely, if your employees’ children’s regular place of education or care is closed due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19, flexibility at work might be of greater value than financial relief. Consider your state and local regulations to determine what efforts might provide the greatest relief to your employees.
In many cases, flexibility at work means a modified or variable working schedule. When asking parents how you can support them, feel free to make some pre-approved suggestions and see if these are amenable to them. For example, for employees who work a regular 8-hour day, they are given full discretion over when in the day they work those 8 hours. This could mean starting and ending the workday earlier or later, frequently alternating on and off-hours (e.g. 2 hours on, 1 hour off), or two or more split shifts (e.g. early morning and late night).
Lastly, be sure to inform your employees about their rights to paid leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Employers are required to allow eligible employees to use 10 days of emergency sick leave and 10 weeks of emergency family & medical leave under the Act to care for their child whose school or daycare is closed. This time off is job protected, and guarantees 2/3rds wage replacement up to a benefit cap of $200/day.
It is recommended that you put your FFCRA policy in writing, and make available an FFCRA Leave Request Form to employees.

Read our blog to learn how to best support working parents.

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OSHA has classified most workers not working in healthcare or medicine but with frequent exposure to the general public as Medium Exposure Risk. Helping Medium Exposure Risk employees feel safe and comfortable in the new workplace will include the same methodology as that for Low Exposure Risk employees such as office workers: clear communication and education as to the risk mitigation steps you’ve taken will be crucial in garnering the trust of your staff.
Physical workplace modifications for Low Exposure Risk workplaces are detailed below. A few fundamental considerations for Medium Exposure Risk workplaces include:
  • Install physical barriers, such as clear plastic sneeze guards, where feasible
  • Consider offering face masks to ill employees and customers to contain respiratory secretions until they are able leave the workplace
  • Keep customers informed about symptoms of COVID-19 and ask sick customers to minimize contact with workers until healthy again, such as by posting signs about COVID-19 in stores where sick customers may visit
  • Where appropriate, limit customers’ and the public’s access to the worksite, or restrict access to only certain workplace areas
  • Consider strategies to minimize face-to-face contact (e.g., drivethrough windows, phone-based communication, telework)
  • Communicate the availability of medical screening or other worker health resources (e.g., on-site nurse; telemedicine services)
The other key step is to plan preventative measures and what actions you will take to quickly identify and separate employees who are demonstrating symptoms of COVID-19 from the workplace. All employers should also review the comprehensive federal guidance from OSHA: Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19.

See OSHA's fundamental considerations for Medium Exposure Risk workplaces.

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According to our friends at One Medical, ”From a public health perspective, the safest thing we can do is help employees continue to work from home until a vaccine is developed and widely deployed.” This is not realistic for every circumstance, but it is something your company should be considering if it is workable for your team.
One of the biggest and most important adjustments to consider when shifting to a more remote-friendly policy long-term is to overhaul (or create) your performance management process. Regular feedback is more crucial than ever, and when considering a longer-term WFH reality, you should determine whether your current system is up to the challenge. Feedback between employees and managers needs to be regular and intentional.
Make sure that your communication infrastructure serves your employees well. Collaboration should be possible across multiple platforms with varying degrees of immediacy (e.g. chat v. email) and intimacy (e.g. video conferencing v. shared working docs).
Take a look at Harvard’s Flexwork Tools and Resources guide for world class tips on fundamental remote work considerations like the business advantages of flexwork, managing and measuring flexwork effectiveness, and tips on leading and participating in meetings hosted remotely.

Get guidance on the tools and resources needed to make a seamless transition to remote work.

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People can—and often do—experience strong feelings of anxiety when it comes to health crises, especially when our normal routines have been upended as a result. 
When it comes to returning to work, your employees may be feeling anxious about what comes next. Again, you likely won’t have all the information, so be sensitive to the fact that people may be managing their own mental health conditions or comorbidities/sensitivities impacting their individual risk for COVID-19. Employees may also be concerned about exposing vulnerable family members to Coronavirus as a result of returning to work. And people might feel anxious about navigating in-person office life again or feeling socially “rusty” after isolation. Remember, quite a bit of time has passed! 
In the workplace, leading and creating a sense of physical and intellectual safety starts with making sure your team knows where to go to get trustworthy, up-to-date, and accurate information. Maintaining it requires that you also listen to people’s individual concerns and respond in kind. 
Our friends at Shine have also collected some great resources to help you and your team navigate stress and anxiety from the coronavirus outbreak. Care for Your Coronavirus Anxiety.
Kaiser Permanente is also providing members with access to Calm, a meditation and sleep app, at no cost. Calm is available to adult members in all regions except for Kaiser Permanente Washington members. Registration to Calm must begin at kp.org/selfcareapps. 
Below are some other resources the Justworks team has found helpful. We hope that you, or someone you care about, will find comfort in them too.

Knowing how your employees feel is an important part of developing a return-to-work plan.

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Workplace Safety

Firstly, analyze the regulatory landscape with respect to your state and local reopening orders. All 50 states have begun to reopen in some manner, although a patchwork of pausing or backtracking on the lifting of restrictions has already occurred and may continue to accelerate.  Some states have very specific rules -- sometimes industry-specific rules -- covering matters such as health screenings, social distancing, and PPE, among others.  Monitor local requirements closely, and be prepared to modify your policies and plans in response to changes.
In addition, be sure to review reopening guidance from the CDC on cleaning and disinfecting public and semi-public spaces (incl. workplaces) as well as the CDC’s interim guidance for businesses and employers responding to COVID-19. OSHA has also released general return-to-work guidance, industry-specific return-to-work guidance, and guidance on preparing the workplace for COVID-19.  
The EEOC has also released guidance to help employers navigate ADA and other EEO issues during COVID-19 and return-to-work.
There’s also a plethora of free resources and checklists from preeminent employment law firms on the process of reopening the physical workplace.  Here are just a few:
There are several practical considerations that will likely be part of developing and communicating any Back-to-Business Plan. Here are four potential approaches to reopening that you might be considering.
  1. Reopen fully once permitted by law and as soon as you’re prepared to do so (i.e. have developed and communicated a plan, and have implemented the parts of the plan necessary before employees arrive)
  2. Reopen fully but in stages
  3. Reopen at partial capacity and reassess later
  4. Reopen at partial capacity and permanently convert a portion of your employees to a remote workforce
To tackle and address any of these reopening scenarios, develop a cross-functional task force with representation from (at least) finance, facilities, IT, HR, and senior management. Explain the measures being taken to protect employees and customers; especially those that go above and beyond state and local regulatory requirements.
Practical considerations for any degree of reopening include:
Physical workplace modifications
  • PPE or face masks may be required in the workplace by your state or locality, including provisions for whether employers are responsible for provision and cleaning of PPE.
  • Temperature checks and symptom screening will likely become a daily reality of office life, and are required in many states.

    Technology and best practices on temperature checks are still being developed, and will likely not constitute a holistically sufficient safeguard of your employees’ contraction of COVID-19 in the workplace. If stored, any data that is collected from temperature checks needs to be safeguarded as a confidential medical record under the ADA and kept under restricted access with other employee medical data relevant to leaves of absence or accommodation and separate from employee personnel files.

    Symptom screening involves employees self-reporting any symptoms to their employer, usually before departing their dwelling on the day of work. Screenings questionnaires should also include questions regarding recent travel and potential exposure to individuals who have tested positive for or demonstrate symptoms of COVID-19.  This information must also be safeguarded as confidential medical information under the ADA.
  • Hand washing protocol as taken from CDC guidance must be taught and continually reinforced, with signs and postings educating employees as to the new etiquette. (Consider refreshing your signs with new designs at regular intervals, to avoid desensitization.) Additionally, hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol should be made readily available at employee workstations and in all common areas, for use when soap and water is not immediately available. Sanitizing wipes should also be regularly stocked in common use areas and near common use equipment such as kitchens, lounges, eating areas, at printing stations, and in conference rooms.
  • Floor markings to designate appropriate social distancing  in common areas and meeting rooms. Floor markings might designate walking paths (such as one-way walkways in more congested areas), indicate appropriate distancing in queues (such as for the water cooler/dispenser), and in meeting rooms (such as dots at table placements) to show where employees can sit so as to promote safe distancing. Below, you can read more about modifying the physical office environment.
Remember that reopening is a process, one subject to ongoing assessment and demanding flexibility, not a "grand reopening" event.
Avoid regarding or messaging reopening as a return to pre-pandemic normal operations and working conditions. Expectations have changed for both employees and customers.

Review the CDC's guidance for reopening your business.

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In addition to the general considerations mentioned above, it may make sense to look into a third-party solution to help you navigate the return to work.
As a Justworks member, your benefits-eligible employees already have access to One Medical (where available). One Medical has built a customizable return-to-workplace solution called Healthy Together, which takes into account a number of factors, including your industry, current infection rates in your area, and your office design to meet your return-to-work needs. The solution also includes comprehensive testing solutions, daily digital screenings, workplace safety recommendations, 24/7 access to care, and employee communication resources.

One Medical has built a customizable return-to-workplace solution called Healthy Together.

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Be sure to review OSHA’s latest publication on Guidance on Returning to Work, released in June 2020. The OSHA website also has a host of other information for employers, including industry specific return to work guidance.
State and local law will have a direct and substantial impact on employers’ approach to reopening the physical office environment. You can check out this resource with state-by-state guidance.
Additionally, take a look at CDC employer information for reopening office buildings, which will help employers consider whether their building is ready for occupancy, where and how their workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work, and develop engineering and administrative hazard controls.
Here are some general considerations to take into account when planning changes to your workplace in light of COVID-19.
The ratio of square footage to the number of employees will have a significant impact on any floorplan modifications. Can your floorplan and workstation layouts permit employees to work at least 6-ft. away from the next person? If not, partitions or cubicles that meet federal, state, and local guidance and regulations will be warranted.
Common areas should be reassessed across the board. and reworked for safe social distancing measures. Common areas include any mutually accessible area by employees other than their workstations. For example: kitchens, lounges, shared equipment (such as printers), meeting rooms, training rooms, and bathrooms. Scope and frequency of cleaning will need to be increased, and should include routine daytime cleaning. Sufficient distancing of seats, tables, equipment, and appliances will also need to be taken into account.
Potential modifications to a few office common areas include:
Kitchens
Single-use cutlery, plates, and condiments and single-serving snacks; or potentially barring use of kitchens altogether. A common exception to this will be for the purposes of fetching water, for which a queuing and sanitation protocol should be developed.
Meeting rooms
Most traditional conference rooms that used to accommodate 4-8 people will be now accommodate 2 people, and should be modified with pre-distanced seating demarcations to indicate safe distancing. Additionally, chairs and seating surfaces should be removed so that only the permissible number of people could seat themselves around a common table.
Training rooms or other lecture-style seating will become a challenge, and training professionals should be prepared to migrate as much of the learning experience as possible to an online format.
Lounges
Common seating and working areas that afford employees a place to relax or work other than their regular workstation should be reconsidered with care. One immediate step that can be taken is to remove furniture to preclude the ability of employees to congregate too closely. For couches or other furniture that, by nature of its design, runs contrary to social distancing etiquette, consider replacing these furniture items or marking them clearly with safe distancing icons and/or signage.
Bathrooms
New bathroom protocol needs to be both rigorous and realistic. Depending on state and local guidance, you might close alternating stalls and urinals or install additional partitions. The office bathroom of the future will be littered with posters instruction employees on appropriate hand-washing and distancing protocol.
Crucially, non toilet-related hand washing may impose additional usage on your bathrooms’ sinks, and will affect the movement of people through these spaces. When considering how many employees to invite back to the office on any given day, be sure to consider the capacity of modified bathrooms for the number of people who need to use them for both use of the toilet as well as merely routine handwashing.
Highly trafficked areas
Ideally, employees should only travel one direction through office hallways or any reasonably confined space, and floor markings and signage will highlight this to employees. For meeting rooms or any common use space with multiple doors, thresholds should be demarcated as entrance or exit only.
Areas common to other tenants
Detailed conversations with your landlord and property manager will be essential to developing a return-to-work action plan. One major consideration will be how to navigate and regulate areas that you share with other tenants of the building. These might easily include bathrooms, meeting rooms, coffee stands, and bike rooms. Even for companies who don’t share these types of resources with other tenants, most American businesses will encounter shared elevators.
Your building’s new policies and procedures concerning elevators might bottleneck your organization’s return to work strategy. When devising your reopening phase plans, especially if those include rotating or staggered schedules for your workers, be sure to double-check on the realities of elevator use and capacity. Don’t invite more workers than could reasonably filter into the office for the start of their scheduled shifts.

Review some best practices and general safety guidelines to help you prepare the workplace.

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Policies & Requirements

It’s a great practice, if you are able, to provide accommodations where possible to your vulnerable employees during COVID-19. But the question of whether your company is required to provide accommodations under applicable law is a fact-specific determination that will depend on an individual's medical condition, among other things. Here are some things to consider:
Vulnerable Employees
Employees in many different circumstances may be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 or be facing other circumstances in their lives which may merit accommodations, if available. These may include employees who:
  • Are age 65 or older
  • Exhibit comorbidities or belong to a sensitive group
  • Share a household or engage in regular contact with, or are caregivers for, individuals who are 65 or older or exhibit comorbidities or other sensitivities that might make them higher risk for developing serious health conditions as a result of exposure to the coronavirus
  • Are parents or caregivers of minor, dependent children
  • Exhibit mental health conditions that might undermine their sense of psychological or physiological safety with respect to workplace conditions, their effectiveness in their role, and/or their ability to socialize freely with friends or family. Such conditions (i.e. per se disabilities) might include but are limited to:
    • autism, cancer, cerebral palsy, diabetes, epilepsy, HIV infection, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia
Required Accommodations
As a general matter as it relates to COVID-19, if an employee has a medical condition that qualifies as a disability (under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or state or local law) and puts them in a higher risk category during the pandemic, or if COVID-19 exacerbates their disability, you will have to engage in a good faith, interactive process to determine if there is a reasonable accommodation that will allow them to perform the essential functions of their job. A reasonable accommodation is one that does not present an undue burden on the employer. For example, if the employee is able to perform their role remotely, you would likely be required to provide this as an accommodation during COVID-19. If not, you should explore other potential accommodations. The EEOC has provided detailed guidance on this topic that you may find helpful, but you should examine all requests on a case-by-case basis, and discuss particular circumstances with your legal counsel.
Employer-Provided Accommodations
Note that many of the circumstances listed above do not, standing alone, require an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation. For example, employees of age 65 or older, while vulnerable to COVID, are not covered by the ADA unless they also have a qualifying disability. In any event, the CDC and EEOC recommend employers be flexible with accommodation requests by employees with health concerns surrounding COVID-19, even if you are not required to provide an accommodation under the law. As an employer, it’s important that you have a plan for addressing these requests in an equitable way.
Other Considerations
Be sure not to involuntarily exclude any individual or group from the workspace solely based on their vulnerability (actual or perceived) to COVID-19. While you may have your employees’ best intentions in mind, doing so may violate the law, such as the ADA or Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). For more information, check out this guidance from the EEOC or discuss with your counsel.

Learn about COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and other EEO laws you should consider when providing accommodations for employees.

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Employers should publish an FFCRA leave policy in line with federal requirements, and make available to employees a request for leave template letter.
Employers implementing FFCRA mandates should also be mindful of their other requirements under pre-existing laws. For example, employees of covered employers remain eligible for unpaid, job-protected FMLA leave. Many state and local laws also require job-protected family and medical leave or paid sick leave.
Employers should also consider revisiting their existing vacation, sick and other leave policies in light of COVID-19. For example, does your paid sick leave policy compel employees to stay home who demonstrate symptoms of COVID-19? If they are partially symptomatic but otherwise feel reasonably well, does the policy address working sick days (from home)? Another consideration might include parental leave policies that provide for a period of remote work following the non-working leave period.
Employers should consult an attorney regarding their compliance with the FFCRA and other leave requirements during COVID-19.

Follow federal requirements for implementing a FFCRA mandate.

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Yes, your company is likely going to want to review, update, and create some new policies in light of COVID-19 and your return-to-work strategy. Consider whether you want the changes to be temporary or permanent policy changes, and how that might impact decisions on whether to address them in your employee handbook or in standalone policies. In any event, be sure to discuss with your counsel to make sure you have all of your bases covered.
Some topics that you might want to address include (all addressed in practical terms above):
  • Workspace planning, hygiene, and PPE
  • Temperature and Health Screening policies
  • Reasonable accommodation
  • FFCRA policy and leave policies
  • Visitor policies
  • Stay Home and Remote Work Policies
  • Temperature thresholds
  • If demonstrating symptoms of COVID-19 that don’t preclude the employee from working from home effectively
  • If recently in contact with an individual who has tested positive, but employee is not demonstrating symptoms
When addressing your policy on visitor access to the office: e.g., consider temporarily restricting any non-essential visitors from entering the workspace. If allowing visitors, consider having them confirm in writing, before they come on site, that they are following CDC and OSHA COVID-19 guidelines.
With respect to Stay Home and Remote Work Policies, consider circumstances where employees may not feel sick enough to call out, but pose a potential threat to the health and safety of their colleagues. For example, some minor symptoms of COVID-19 might easily be misattributed to allergies or other less severe illnesses like the common cold. Therefore, it is advisable to make a clear list of symptoms that, if employees demonstrate them, compel the employee to stay home until symptoms have cleared for 72 hours. Another aspect of your Stay Home and Remote Work Policy might be to spell out that employees should refrain from physically reporting to work if they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, or who demonstrates symptoms of COVID-19. Don’t leave it up to employees to determine if they feel “well enough” to come in. A thorough and standardized list of preconditions for reporting to work should be delineated in writing.
It is crucial that employees are proactively trained on your new policies, and that the import of these measures is fully explained to garner understanding and inspire diligence. Rather than simply providing an intimidating list of new policies and regulations, show your employees the new rules of the road through demonstrations and visual examples. Lighten employees’ mental load by making the new way of working as intuitive as possible. For example, effective signage in common areas, meetings rooms, and walking paths can help employees more easily adapt to the new reality of office life.
Train managers on the new policies and emphasize the importance of enforcement. Regularly reinforce these requirements with employees, explaining why they mitigate risk and are important for safeguarding the health of their colleagues. Finally, assure employees that retaliation against employees for reporting policy violations will not be tolerated. Leadership should lead by example, and take steps to proactively foster a culture of compliance where safety becomes second nature.

Review the policies and procedures in this checklist to help inform your return-to-work strategy.

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Planning & Strategy

These can either be strictly egalitarian via a rigidly rotating schedule or you could develop a legitimate business reason for why some folks report to the office more frequently than others.
The most important considerations will be identifying which positions or responsibilities need to take place in-person and determining the safe capacity (number of employees) you can accommodate on a given day, keeping in mind any applicable rules in your state or city.
If your office building is highly reliant on elevators, consider staggered arrival and departure times. This will necessitate either a shorter workday, or employees starting earlier or ending later than they are previously accustomed to.

Utilize One Medical for digital screening, care over video chat, and help coordinating testing.

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The preeminent open office floorplan is largely incompatible with social distancing best practices. Many employers, especially those in urban areas where square footage comes at a premium, are considering partitions instead of increased spacing.

Read our blog to learn about the changes to consider for open office plans amid COVID-19.

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It’s likely that the involuntary WFH situation has highlighted some opportunities for your business to be more flexible. Assess which roles can effectively be performed remotely and leverage the productivity metrics now at your disposal to ascertain remote effectiveness during COVID-19.
You’ll need to ask yourself a couple key questions, like:
  • Am I permitted to open under state and local orders? If so, at what capacity?
  • If I do modify my physical workplace to accommodate a return to work, what would that entail? Would the cost to the employer and mental load for employees make a net positive impact on productivity and effectiveness?
  • How important is it to bring people together, at odds with the risk of increased exposure?
  • How will I screen my employees in order to safeguard the safety of my workforce?
  • How will the business address employees who refuse to return to the physical office environment, or whose health precludes them from doing so?
  • How will this impact the cohesiveness of my workforce and affect collaboration?
  • How prevalent is COVIDovid-19 in not only my state, but my county or locality?
  • Are cases on the rise?
  • How will the business respond to a potential second wave of infections that warrants another shutdown.
Another big factor to take into consideration is your rent. This is typically a company’s second-biggest expenditure after payroll. Could some of that rent money be better spent elsewhere upon moving to a more remote team structure? Are there opportunities to use some extra cash to bolster your rainy-day fund or help you invest in new initiatives? This could be on the business side (pivot, expansion) or people side (think better health insurance, ancillary benefits, maintain raise/promotions).
  • Can my employees safely commute?
The commute might prove to be the biggest barrier to employees returning to work. Employees who rely on mass transit may be hesitant to use these methods to report to work. Encourage employees to follow CDC guidance on using transit safely. If feasible, consider offering employees incentives to use forms of transportation that minimize close contact with others (e.g., biking, walking, driving or riding by car either alone or with household members).
  • Consider your employee population, and whether at-risk populations will feel pressured to put their health at risk.
  • If some are returning to work while others choose not to, what are the implications for the opportunities of your employees and future makeup of your workforce?
  • Consider whether remote work has had positive impacts on your workforce, such as increased productivity or other benefits from additional flexibility and doing away with average daily commutes of nearly an hour (or more) per day.

If you're considering calling back employees, review the CDC's guidance on transit safety.

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It depends. If the employee has a medical condition that qualifies as a disability (under the ADA or state or local law) and puts them in a higher risk category during the pandemic, or if COVID-19 exacerbates their condition, you will have to engage in a good faith, interactive process to determine if there is a reasonable accommodation that will allow them to work. If the employee is able to perform their role remotely, you would likely be required to provide this as an accommodation. If not, you should explore other potential accommodations. The EEOC has provided detailed guidance on this topic that you may find helpful, but you should examine all requests on a case-by-case basis, and discuss particular circumstances with your legal counsel.
In any event, the CDC and EEOC recommend employers be flexible with accommodation requests by employees with health concerns surrounding COVID-19, even if you are not required to provide an accommodation under the law (for example, for an employee over 65 without a qualifying disability). As an employer, it’s important that you have a plan for addressing these requests in an equitable way.

Keep in mind employees' medical conditions that qualify as disabilities and put them at higher risk to COVID-19.

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Waivers are no replacement for maintaining a safe workplace. Additionally, you may have difficulty enforcing waivers in certain jurisdictions, particularly with respect to workers’ compensation or OSHA issues. If you are thinking of going this route, be sure to consult with an attorney about these issues and consider intangible factors, such as the message that a waiver may send to your employees. Also consider other steps you might take that may provide some protection to your company, such as having employees acknowledge new workplace safety rules and procedures in writing before re-entering the workplace or having employees who have the option of working remotely certify that their presence in the workplace is voluntary.

Read why waivers are not an adequate solution over maintaining a safe workplace.

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Navigating a New Normal

Look at your business needs to see who needs to be welcomed back first. Recruitment shouldn’t change much unless your business is pivoting or expanding into a new market or product that demands a new talent profile. One upside is that in a remote work environment, you may have increased geographic flexibility depending on your current footprint.
Additionally, you may find there are more qualified candidates in the talent pool than before the mass layoffs incited by COVID-19. Again, now is a great time to get creative and aggressive with your recruiting strategy, and to explore new pipelines towards building a more diverse and capable workforce.

Learn how your company can adapt to remote recruiting practices.

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Every employer should be sure to closely monitor state and local stay-at-home orders and return-to-work plans in each location where you have employees reporting to a physical workspace. Most states are regulating not only when and what types of businesses can reopen, but also the types of workplace safety measures that are required depending on the industry or work environment, among other things. Check out this handy COVID-19 State Reopening Guide to find more information about state-specific reopening plans and how they may impact your return to work plan.

Find more information on COVID-19 state reopening guidance here.

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Even if you are able to return some portion of your operations to working in person, chances are you’ll still be doing some things remotely for a while. Onboarding is one thing that you may want to, or have to, continue doing remotely.
This means using electronic signatures for most onboarding documents, like offer letters. For I-9 completion and document inspection, that normally has to be done in person, but the government is temporarily providing some flexibility to do this remotely until July 19, 2020.
HR managers or other orientation specialists, trainers, and hiring managers alike will need to commit to being actively engaged with new employees via video conferencing. Tools should be used which facilitate group cohesion and camaraderie that mimic in-person interpersonal rapport.
The remote workplace may inhibit some informal learning and training opportunities that happen more naturally in person. Invest in technology and communications tools that removes barriers to spontaneous collaboration. Make a concerted effort to engage employees in on-the-job training. Establish a formal mentorship program between each new hire and a seasoned colleague outside of their chain-of-command to help them get up to speed on systems and processes unique to your organization.
Consider developing 30-60-90 day plans for new hires. The remote work environment has imposed a results-oriented mindset where the conveyance of clear performance expectations becomes more crucial than ever before. Managers should meet with all employees on a weekly basis, or more frequently for new hires, to refresh benchmarking and establish tasks and deliverables anew. This is just a start! If you need guidance, reach out to your account manager to schedule time with one of our HR experts.

Learn about the federal government's temporary policies related to COVID-19.

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Note: This information is changing rapidly. We will update this page as we learn more.