Many employers wonder how they can ensure a smooth transition back to work once states allow businesses to reopen. Employers should develop their policies beforehand, and clearly communicate to employees that they will be safe in their workplaces. When employers let their employees know that their health, safety and wellbeing are a priority, they will likely be more comfortable, and productive, when they return.
- It is wise for employers who were previously shut down to strongly consider and adopt guidelines issued by the CDC. Similarly, employers who have remained open should continue to implement appropriate safety measures. It is important that employees feel safe as they return to work.
- Employers who choose to implement pre-screening should be aware of the legal and practical issues associated with procedures like temperature checks.
- Employers should consider enforcement of social distancing in the workplace, such as limiting the number of people per room.
- Employers should review their telework policies. Telework privileges have exploded during the pandemic. According to one estimate, 56% of employees have jobs that are compatible with remote work. Remote work has emerged out of necessity during this pandemic, and telework may be a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, many employers will still require their employees to work in the office for a variety of reasons. To avoid confusion and the perception of unfair treatment, employers should clearly communicate to their employees, in advance, which positions will be permitted to telework, and why. Employers should implement clear policies and create accurate job descriptions to protect themselves from future claims.
- Employers should expect some employees to take advantage of their paid sick and family leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Generally, employers with fewer than 500 employees must comply with FFCRA. Under the new law, employees are entitled to paid leave in order to care for children whose schools have closed. Employees who were working remotely may not have needed to take advantage of these provisions, but this will likely change once the shutdowns end.
- Employers should maintain communications with furloughed employees to give them any updates regarding if, and when, they might be able to return to work. If an employer begins to slowly transition part of its workforce back from a furlough, it must do so in a way that is non-discriminatory and will not disparately impact certain protected-status individuals.
- Employees who made changes to their benefits as a result of COVID-19 should be reminded to re-elect those benefits. Additionally, if an employee lost eligibility for certain benefits (e.g., because they lost their full-time status), employers must determine whether those employees can re-elect those benefits upon their return to work. Under the Affordable Care Act, an employee who was furloughed for fewer than 13 weeks must be immediately reinstated in the company’s health care plan. For other benefits, employers will need to review their plan’s provisions to determine eligibility.