COVID-19 Return to Work Guidelines: HR Considerations

Posted in: COVID-19, Employee Benefits

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.

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Recalling laid off employees 

When recalling employees who were laid off, treat them as a new hire. This means providing them with new hire paperwork and completing any applicable state reporting. If your state has mandated sick leave, confirm whether or not any unused time will need to be reinstated. Be sure to complete all necessary forms as you would for a new hire, to include a 2020 W-4 Form and Form I-9 (if the date of rehire is more than three years from the date the original Form I-9 was completed).

Employees who are unable or unwilling to return to work 

Upon reopening your physical location, you will likely find that some employees are scared or uncomfortable to return to work. This could be for a plethora of reasons including employees who are unable to return due to family responsibilities.

If it’s just general fear keeping an employee from returning to work, that may not require an accommodation. But it would go a long way with your employees if you designed your safety policies with greater flexibility to reduce their fear. Ask yourself what might prevent an employee from coming back to work now so you can be prepared with solutions if those situations present themselves.

Granting accommodations

When granting requested accommodations for employees returning to work, follow the ADA interactive process to determine if reasonable accommodations can be provided – such as unpaid leave/FFCRA, enhanced PPE, schedule changes, and continued remote working arrangements (have a telework policy in place).

Employment policies

When creating new or updating current employment policies for your return to work plan, documentation and communication is key. Create and distribute COVID-19-specific policies to include safety measures and new employment policies or procedures (i.e. is the cafeteria open? and similar questions). Also consider updating leave, PTO/vacation, remote work, and business travel policies. Do you have a leave without pay policy? Will you offer extended PTO hours for the remainder of the year? These are the types of questions you may want to consider.

PSA is here to support our clients as we all strive to return to work. If you have questions about creating a telework policy, recalling employees, or offering accommodations, feel free to contact me at landerson@psafinancial.com. Please also leverage our COVID-19 Business Resources for relevant updates and educational materials regarding the pandemic.

Interested in watching our COVID-19 Return to Work Considerations webinar recording?

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