By now, most employers have a plan in place to consider the post-COVID workplace and when employees will be returning to the office on a more routine basis. Employers who are considering bringing employees back to the office must be thoughtful and deliberate in order to balance the needs of the employee, the murky, ever changing nature of COVID, and what the new office environment will look like and feel like.
In parts one and two of our Re-entry series, we discussed focusing on the work environment to ensure it meets the needs of tomorrow’s workforce and then engaging with employees to understand the opportunities and obstacles that exist when returning to the office. This month, we are highlighting the importance of processes. Be sure to utilize the Return to Work team that has been designated supports process review and enhancement as they should be closest to the environment, the work that needs to get done and the people.
Part 3 – MAKE SURE PROCESSES ARE IN PLACE
If we’ve learned one thing this year, it is that safety protocols are key to successful operations. Utilize whatever best practices were in place for essential employees with respect to health screening. This includes policies on reporting symptoms, access to thermometers and clear guidelines for employees and management when an exposure is reported. Review your business travel policies and make updates where necessary to comply with best practices and CDC and OSHA guidelines.
With the information obtained from the workplace assessment, put in place processes to ensure the environment is routinely cleaned and disinfected. If a third party is already in place, confirm that they are using appropriate cleaning practices. If cleaning is handled internally, clearly define employee responsibilities and implement practices to ensure cleaning is taking place. As discussed extensively in part 1, be sure PPE and cleaning solutions are readily available, especially in high traffic areas.
An area that will require time and attention in the return to work plan is a review of policies regarding work-at-home, flexible scheduling and extended shifts. This is important as employees with children continue to navigate limited childcare options and school schedules that remain uncertain. Be sure to allow employees to care for themselves and family members who have been exposed to COVID and are awaiting test results. Many states have policies that extended sick leave accommodations that were put in place under the FFCRA which expired in 2020. Make sure your polices are compliant.
Finally, review the company philosophy on vaccines. Unfortunately, there is not a one-size fits all approach to this decision. Whatever your company decides, make sure legal counsel in engaged when making policy changes.
As always, legal considerations should be front of mind when looking at the return to work plan. Consult legal counsel as you begin drafting a plan to reopen and to review updated policies. Follow HIPAA, and other privacy laws to avoid potential claims and litigation, an stay well-informed of city, state, county and federal rules, laws and guidelines as you draft your plan.
COVID sources available for your organization as you prepare for reentry into the workplace include:
- SHRM COVID Back to Work Checklist
- National Safety Council – A.F.E.R. (Safe Actions For Employee Returns)
- CDC – Returning to Work
- OSHA Guidance on Returning to Work
- Colorado Department of Labor and Employment – Return to Work Guidance for Workers