Managing the Return to Work of COVID Work-At-Home Employees

There has been much written about the COVID-19 business necessity of sending employees home to work for safety reasons. Much of the recent information is about how many companies found that they did not sacrifice productivity as they first thought might happen. Some major corporations have announced that they would continue some of their work-from-home programs. Another projected trend is using freelancers to replace employees as they leave.

While those trends may continue or even grow, the vaccination program is reaching a point where companies that want to can bring their employees back in-house. Some plan on a hybrid program with parttime work from home, as 77% of employees have stated that they liked doing so. Whether part or full time, bringing employees back to the work facility will require some planning and specific actions.

Take OSHA and CDC Recommended Actions for Employee Safety

Both OSHA and the CDC have recommended hazard assessments and taking actions to make corrections or changesi. These may involve:

  • Air filtration systems.
  • Surface and surroundings cleaning equipment.
  • Providing masks.
  • Temperature checkpoints.
  • Policies and procedures manual additions and changes.
  • Possible physical space rearrangement or remodel.

For retail, some of these actions may also incorporate customer safety as well. If your business wants or needs to bring back employees, those are the safety considerations.

Step 1: Do they all need to come back?

With 77% or so of those employees sent home to work saying they would rather continue to do so; the question becomes whether you really need to bring them back. Do a thorough assessment of their productivity working remotely as compared to before you sent them home. Are some employees that have been working with customers on the phone able to do better work with in-house resources?

Do a financial study, especially a detailed expense comparison analysis between keeping the workforce remote versus what it would cost to bring them back and maintain that arrangement. Consider any investment in remote communication technology.

Step 2: Consider changes to the physical space.

In this article the discussion has already touched on the safety aspects of the space. In addition, consider the post-COVID cost of space, often lower, and how that could help to improve the business space for employees. Their time at home may have them placing more value on privacy at work. You may want to move from larger shared workspaces to more private areas.

Step 3: Should you require vaccination?

The law concerning liability can be confusing, especially with the COVID-19 sense of urgency concerning vaccines. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that an employer may exclude an employee from the office for refusing to be vaccinated due to a disability or sincerely held religious belief for which there is no reasonable accommodation possible.

Though that seems clear, it may not shield the employer from risk. Taking adverse action against an employee for refusing vaccination if they do not pose a direct safety or health threat and if no unreasonable accommodation is required could result in liability. Some companies are making vaccination a matter of employee choice. There is enough ambiguity in the law that consulting with an attorney experienced in this area may be advisable.

While both employers and employees welcome a return to pre-COVID normalcy, careful consideration of adjustments in the work facilities and practices is advisable.

i The Post-COVID-19 Workplace: What Employers Should Expect – JDSupra.com

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