As the United States and Connecticut prepare to pivot from the COVID-19 quarantine to the reopening of society, what do businesses need to consider and potentially prepare for? Panels have been put together in both Washington and at the state level, with some states banding together to develop and implement a regional approach to reopening the economy.
Certainly, there will be differences based on the industry or type of business, and whether your organization is non-profit or for profit. Having said that, there are core workplace practices that will need to evolve as we move past the pandemic. This evolution could include state or federal mandates as well as employers establishing practices to mitigate risk.
How will employers handle hiring, or in many cases re-hiring employees? Do employers just “flick a switch” and bring furloughed or laid-off employees back all at once or slowly ramp-up? What process, practices and policies do employers use?
- If the employer’s practice is to conduct background checks and pre-employment drug screens as part of the hiring process, do they forgo this when re-hiring furloughed or laid-off employees? How much time has gone by since they were laid-off or furloughed? If the employer is a government contractor, are there obligations which requires the employer to conduct background and other pre-employment checks? Does the employer have a policy which answers this question, and should that policy not be followed in this situation?
We’ve learned a great deal about the virus during the peak in the Northeast. We’ve come to understand that the virus can spread by asymptomatic people coming in contact with others. Will employers take on some form of testing for employees, customers and vendors. Consider the following:
- How will furloughed and laid-off employees returning to work be tested?
- Will outsourced employees from staffing agencies etc. be tested and how will that work?
- As you begin to hire new employees, will you require certification that new hires have COVID-19 antibodies?
- How will B2C business ensure that customers aren’t infecting employees?
If the employer doesn’t currently onboard virtually, this may be the right time to start. Many onboarding documents required for an employee to start such as tax forms, Form I-9, emergency contact information, etc., can be completed prior to the first day on the job, and can be done electronically.
- Many payroll companies offer an onboarding module through their application which makes it seamless to do so.
- Employers to utilize Skype and Zoom to ensure that first day includes a physical (at least virtually) connection with HR, the supervisor and other leaders.
- Utilize technology to ensure required training and other initial assimilation guidance and education is completed.
Employers must change the physical layout of their businesses to fit within the current or updated social distancing regulations:
- Reduction of workstations, or at least spreading them out to meet 6-foot requirements.
- Owners of restaurants and clubs will likely need to reduce their table footprint, reducing the number, spacing them out or even installing plexiglass between tables.
- How will owners of bars develop guidelines to space out patrons?
- Employers will need to expand or add shifts in offices and manufacturers.
- Using restrooms may require a system which will only allow a small number of employees or only one employee to use at a time.
- Will employers permanently expand the number of virtual working employees?
Employers, at least initially, may need to require employees to wear a form of personal protective equipment (PPE):
- Gauze masks may be required. Will employers need to provide, or employees?
- Some employers are currently checking employee’s temperatures prior to entering a facility. Will this expand to all employers and became a requirement, at least in the short-run?
- Will employers require employees to wear gloves, and/or require employees to change their garments prior to working?
New Local, State or Federal Regulations
Certainly, some states have begun to require all residents, including some employees (e.g. retail) to wear masks while at work if the 6-foot social distancing requirements can’t be fulfilled.
It’s inevitable for new federal, state or in some cases local regulations to be legislated or required by executive order. One example may be that eventually when a vaccine is developed, will taking the vaccine become a job requirement? Employers must keep their ears and eyes open for these new regulations.
- Cleanliness and sanitation: employers will need to, if they haven’t already, increase cleaning and sanitizing efforts of their facilities.
- Cafeteria/vending facilities: will employers continue to offer cafeteria, vending or coffee and tea station resources? Even if an employer does offer this, will employees want to utilize these services? Will employees eat their lunch in their cars?
- Employee Assistance Plans (EAP): For employers that currently do not offer an EAP – it’s a must to now offer one!
- Mental Health: It’s extremely advisable for employers to work with their health insurance plan broker or carrier to consider expanding mental health related coverages during this time.
These considerations are just the tip of the iceberg of what employers will be tasked with to prepare for. Employers need to approach this holistically, preparing for and implementing now will not only help with returning employees but will position them and their brand as an employer of choice – post coronavirus pandemic.