COVID-19 Return to Work Guidelines: HR Considerations
This blog is the second installment in a three-part series addressing return to work considerations discussed in a recent PSA webinar. In part one of this series, we covered COVID-19 testing and managing sick employees. In this post, we will focus on several Human Resources concerns that may arise concerning continuing telework, recalling employees, and granting accommodations once your employees return to work.
Telework policy: best practices
As a result of COVID-19, many employers will likely see increased requests for work-from-home arrangements. With this knowledge, I recommend that you take a proactive approach by reviewing or creating your telework policy to set standards and expectations. This policy should be clearly stated and communicated in an accessible location so that all employees are on the same page regarding telework. Once you have a mix of employees in the office and working from home, stay connected with those who aren’t physically present via scheduled check-ins through video conferencing to maintain rapport.
Recalling employees: general approach
Recalling employees in a safe and effective way will be one of the biggest HR hurdles companies face. Consider your business operations and needs—do you have the ability or need to bring back all staff at once? Weigh the pros and cons to different options.
If you have laid out the return to work process prior to the shutdown—for instance, a documented policy or a letter to any furloughed employees detailing the recall method—it is critical that you follow that process. If you don’t have anything in writing, use objective, business-related measures to avoid discrimination/retaliation liability when choosing who will return to the worksite first. Some criteria that may be used to make this decision are service needs, seniority, performance, and willingness/ability to return. Documentation is key no matter what you decide. Provide clear, documented reasoning for why certain employees were chosen over others.
DO NOT make your decision regarding who may return to work based on age, disability, high-risk/vulnerability, need for leave (FFCRA/EPSL), need for accommodations, or any other protected class (race, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, etc.), unless individuals specifically request accommodations. Do not assume an employee’s limits just because you know someone is a certain age or has a certain disability.
Recalling furloughed employees
When recalling any employees, it is recommended that you communicate your recall plan to ALL employees—both those who are and aren’t coming back. This provides transparency into the situation, allowing all employees to know what to expect. Provide a formal recall letter to all employees being recalled which includes an offer of employment, return to work date, employment terms, benefits, and confirmation/denial of acceptance. Additionally, plan to provide updated employment and safety policies and procedures, as they will be returning to a worksite where conditions have changed since they left.