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Guidance for Returning to Work Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic

By: Monica Harrison, SDAO HR Manager | | 503-400-3130 or 800-285-5461

Many have asked us if we have established a return to work policy for districts to use as they open their doors not only to their employees, but their customers as well. Unfortunately, there is not a “one size fits all” policy template that we can provide since every one of our districts has different needs.

However, we would like to provide a guideline of key elements you will need to review and address in your own return to work policies. Some of these elements may be of more importance to certain districts than others. This is not a list of absolutes that you need to follow, but information for you to use as the start of your own internal procedures.

As you develop guidelines for your district, it is important to consider that everything with COVID-19 and work is still changing daily. Be sure to write your guidelines in such a way that you are able to modify them if in the event there is another required change in the workplace due to changes in the infection rate of COVID-19.

1. The Workplace and Communication

It is imperative that you ensure your workplace is as safe as it can be. You may have employees and members of the public that use your facilities that are fearful of returning to work and utilizing your place of business. A key element to your return to work plan is communication as to what you have done to ensure, to the best of your ability, that your workplace is safe.

Safety measures may include the following (this should not be considered an all-inclusive list):

  • Establishment and execution of health screening procedures for your employees.
  • Plan of action if there is an exposure; how will you respond.
    - Be sure to have an exposure-response communication ready to go into effect.
  • Providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to your employees and possibly your customers. We are all familiar now with having to wear masks. Perhaps you could provide personal hand sanitizers and stations throughout your place of business.
  • If you have a cleaning service that comes in to do your office cleaning, provide the employee their detailed cleaning procedure so they understand how often and how deeply the workspace is being cleaned.
  • Establishing physical distancing measures within the workplace. There are many ways you can consider this which can include:
    - Staggered shifts and lunch/rest breaks.
    - Rotating weeks in the office and working remotely.
    - Moving workstations to increase separation distance.
    - Implementing one-way traffic patterns throughout workplace.
  • Restricting business travel to essential travel only and be sure to follow government guidance on travel.
  • Establish a clear communication plan for your employees/customers so they understand how the organization plans to reopen as safely as possible.

2. When Your Employees Come Back to the Workplace

It would be prudent to plan an organized and controlled approach for how and when employees return to the workplace.

Consider the following:

  • Staggering employees return to work dates as opposed to everyone coming back on the same day.
  • Phasing-in employees returning to work via a nondiscriminatory measure such as by seniority.
  • Continue having employees work from home for a longer period of time; this may include making their future work schedule to include days they work from home to limit the number of employees on the worksite at any one time.
  • Notifying the state unemployment agency of employees recalled to work. This is a state requirement and will help save on unemployment taxes for those who choose not to return to work.
  • Make a plan on how you will manage employees who are unable or unwilling to return to work because they are fearful, having continued family obligations or are under quarantine.

3. Employee Compensation

You may have made compensation changes during the crisis thus far and/or you may need to make them in order to re-open.

Things to review include:

  • Will you provide pay increases retroactively for any who may have missed theirs?
  • Will any pay cuts be made or revoked and what are the implications to that?
  • Will any employee have a status change? Example: Exempt to nonexempt or full- to part-time.
  • It may be a good time to consider a pay equity audit as workers return, as pay may have been reduced or frozen and may have impacted women differently.

4. Working From Home

Having your employee work from home may have proven to work well. Using it not only as a short-term emergency tool to survive the next year but also as a permanent work/life balance and cost-saving measure should be considered.

Actions to consider include:

  • Continuing to allow remote work where possible to keep employees safe.
  • Staggering days or weeks in office and at home among team members.
  • You may need to update your technology to support virtual workers.

5. Update Any Policy Changes

With the dramatic changes that have taken place in a relatively short period of time, it is likely that employers will need to update or create policies to reflect the new normal.

Examples include:

  • Paid-leave policies adjusted to reflect regulatory requirements and actual business needs.
  • Attendance policies relaxed to encourage sick employees to stay home.
  • Time-off request procedures clarified to indicate when time off can be required by the employer, should sick employees need to be sent home.
  • Flexible scheduling options implemented allowing for compressed work weeks and flexible start and stop times.
  • Meal and rest break policies adjusted to stagger times and processes implemented to encourage physical distancing.
  • Travel policies updated to reflect essential versus nonessential travel and the impact of domestic or global travel restrictions.
  • Telecommuting policies detailed to reflect the type of work that is able to be done remotely and the procedures for requesting telework.
  • Information technology policies revised to reflect remote work hardware, software and support.

6. Prepare for Future “What Ifs”

You will have learned valuable lessons regarding your business continuity plans, or lack thereof, during the past months. Now is the time to review and revise the plan to prepare for future emergencies.

  • Develop and implement a business continuity plan, including infectious disease control.
  • Amend existing plans to include the latest emergency information as well as current and up-to-date contact information for various resources.
  • Establish a task force/committee who will be responsible for continuously monitoring external and internal data and implementing appropriate protocols.
  • Recognize the possibility of additional closings during the current pandemic as COVID-19 infections may rise and fall again, triggering more stay-at-home orders etc. and plan on how you will respond to that if it occurs.

It bears repeating that all things related to this virus and subsequent impact on the work world can change daily. Be sure to stay updated on the latest information so that you are able to return to business as usual, or as close to business as usual as you are able. The SDAO website is being updated regularly with regard to information on the COVID-19 virus and you can find a lot of helpful information there on an on-going basis.