Tips for Reopening the Workplace

Legal experts outline things businesses should consider as they bring back employees.

May 18, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—As employers seek to quickly create new protocols for operating in a COVID-19 world, there are a few labor and compliance issues to consider. HR Dive hopped on a webinar with labor and employment attorneys at Philadelphia-based Cozen O’Connor who shared some insights.

“We’re increasingly seeing employers recognize that if they want to maintain a workforce that’s not sick, they need to take the bull by the horns and do that themselves in some instances,” David Barron said in the firm’s April 24 webinar.

Here are some key considerations for reopening offices:

  1. Stay up to date with state and local plans. The federal government’s three-phase reopening plan provides guidance for state and local officials on timelines and systems. But each jurisdiction is in its own situation and will likely have its own timelines.
  2. Determine which employees must return first. If you are not an essential business, consider a “phased ramp-up” to limit exposure and troubleshoot systems. Consider social distancing limits and consider gradually bringing back employees into the workplace.
  3. Create a comprehensive communication plan with employees. When updating employees about plans and dates, give as much notice as possible. Consider how you’re going to handle no-calls and no-shows. Employers might want to consider requiring that workers provide a written acknowledgement of their intent to return to work for planning purposes.
  4. Be empathetic with employees. Much is still unknown about the virus, so understand that employees may be fearful of returning. Discrimination could come into play here, so avoid dismissing concerns outright and chat about the options and concerns openly.
  5. Determine how to handle benefits elections. Decisions around employee benefits will depend on employment status, but companies “will need to determine whether employees can make new benefits elections upon their return and communicate how this process works.”
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