two hands shaking with gloves on indicating employees back at work during the pandemic

5 Things to Consider When Asking Employees Back to Work

If you’re one of the many business owners in the tough position of trying to create a safe return-to-work strategy, you are not alone. The decision to reopen and ask employees back to work during the COVID-19 pandemic will most likely be met with a range of questions and concerns, so it is crucial employers have a plan in place. 

In order to have the best chance of helping your team feel safe and protected while continuing to move forward with reopening, here are 5 things employers should consider when asking their staff to return to work.

1. Acknowledge Employee Fears

Every one of your employees will have to make the very personal decision to return to work during this time. For many people, the thought of interacting with the public or the possibility of exposure can be extremely nerve-wracking. 

Try to be as transparent and empathetic as possible. Explain why you are opening up, where you are getting your public health information, and the guidelines and procedures you have in place to reduce risk to employees. If you are not confident letting your employees know your reasonings for reopening your business, you should reconsider this action. 

2. Open Using a Phased Approach

If you are able to run your business virtually or with limited on-site staff, continue to do so. Many local and regional governments have guidelines in place for a phased opening to make sure the potential for virus transmission between consumers and workers is kept to a minimum. 

Determine which employees are essential to your reopening to limit the number of workers you initially bring back to work. Staggering or rotating shifts so employees spend less time on-site is another way to reduce the overall impact of asking employees back to work.

3. Make Available All Necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

It is your responsibility as an employer to provide and train all your employees on any PPE they will be required to use while doing their job. If you have already implemented all preliminary safety measures (i.e. cleaning and sanitizing protocols, reducing workforce on-site, altering workplace setup to add space between workers, conducting employee health screenings) and you still feel PPE is necessary, all employees must be outfitted and trained on its use. 

If additional requirements are needed for visitors to your location (e.g. wearing masks, gloves, or hand sanitizing) this must also be easily communicated to all workplace visitors.

4. Develop and Communicate a Detailed Coronavirus Response Plan

Before reopening, all businesses should have a written and communicated plan for how they are proceeding under new pandemic regulations. Some details to keep in mind when developing this plan are:

  • How will you manage asking high-risk employees back to work?
  • What health and safety procedures are currently in place to protect employees?
  • What health screening will employees be required to do?
  • What is the procedure for employees who believe they have been exposed to COVID-19 or test positive?
  • What are your work from home, paid leave, and sick day policies?
  • What are employee options if they do not want to return to work?

5. Make Plans to Accommodate Requests Not to Return

As previously mentioned, returning to work during a time of so much uncertainty is a personal decision for everyone. Understand that some people have additional health concerns not only for themselves but for their close family and friends. 

It may be necessary for employers to have a policy surrounding the event of employees not returning to work due to health concerns, child care requirements, or the care of sick family members. Make sure all staff members know these concerns are valid and communicate the ways your organization can help accommodate workers in these situations.

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