BY STEPHANIE CARNESThe COVID-19 pandemic introduced significant human resources challenges for business owners and employees: layoffs, furloughs, pay cuts, family leave, health issues, and above all, great uncertainty. We have all longed at some point for things to “return to normal.” Unfortunately, while most state lockdowns are ending, we will be dealing with the virus and its effects on our work, health, and society for quite some time.
As more businesses slowly start to return to operations, many owners will have to decide how and when to recall their employees from furlough or hire new employees. To keep your team members safe and productive in the new reality, think through these issues.
Reassembling your team is not necessarily as easy as calling them up with a start date. Your needs have changed, and so have their necessities and circumstances.
- Plan a phase-in process to determine how many employees you will recall, and what business circumstances trigger the recall. While business is slow, you will not need all of your former employees to return, or at least not full time.
- Be prepared to encounter reluctant employees who may be afraid of returning to work or may wish to remain on unemployment for the short term.
- Notify your state unemployment office when you recall employees to work.
The chauffeured transportation industry is known for its passionate commitment to safety, both in the vehicles it provides and the well-trained chauffeurs who drive them. The pandemic saw industry owners learning all they could about how to prevent the spread of the disease through proper cleaning and social distancing guidelines.
As employees return to work, consider these safety measures:
Health screening: According to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the emergency nature of the pandemic has relaxed some elements of the Americans with Disabilities Act as they pertain to the virus. You are able to take temperature checks and ask certain health screening questions of your employees, and you can also require a doctor’s note approving them to return to duty if they have had COVID-19. Remember to keep all documentation confidential and separate from employees’ personnel files.
Cleanliness and hygiene: Most companies have researched Environmental Protection Agency-approved cleaners and sanitizing agents and will use them in their vehicles, but be sure to use the same level of cleaning products in offices, garages, break rooms, and bathrooms in your facility. Further, make sure employees understand your policies regarding hand washing, handshakes, visitors to the facility, and the use of masks and gloves, which you can provide to your team members.
Social distancing: Staggering work schedules and breaks, spacing desks and chairs at least six feet apart, posting reminders about observing social distance, and allowing employees who can work remotely to do so can reassure your team and reduce the chance of spreading the disease.
During the shutdown, you may have realized that some of your employees could effectively work from home. Not only does telecommuting help reduce the spread of the virus, but it can also save you money and give your employees better work-life balance. Consider continuing to allow remote work where possible to keep employees safe. As you contemplate implementing or continuing remote work, think about the technological investment you would need to make, and whether the cost savings of fewer employees in the office would allow you to make permanent remote work possible (read more about how to make a remote workforce work for you on page 24.). Ask for your employees’ opinions about telecommuting. You can try staggering weeks in the office and at home among team members on a trial basis.
Ensure your employees understand how you plan to reestablish business operations:
- Let them know your policies about staying home when ill.
- Review the exposure-response plan in the case that an employee or customer has the virus.
- Explain disinfection policies and identify employee responsibilities, such as chauffeurs wiping down surfaces between each trip.
- Ask for feedback on your plans, and check to see if your employees feel confident and safe as they return.
- Share hygiene requirements and address the use of masks and possibly gloves, but also the proper use, removal, and disposal or cleaning of these items.
If you retained employees during the shutdown, it is likely you had to make compensation changes, and you may need to make other changes in order to build your business back up. Be sure to review and address these issues:
- Have you missed annual pay increases, and if so, will they be applied retroactively?
- Will any pay cuts be made or revoked? Be sure you understand what you are legally allowed to do in terms of reducing salaries for exempt employees. The Department of Labor has provided guidance on how to reduce salaries legally.
- If you offer health insurance, check with your provider to confirm eligibility requirements. If you continued to pay employee premiums during the crisis, determine whether you will recover those costs from returning employees.
- Review required leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Track time used and collect supporting documentation for tax credit purposes.
- Determine if you will change company PTO policies, either by increasing or decreasing PTO or by adding or relaxing restrictions.
- Adjust paid-leave policies to reflect regulatory requirements and your business needs.
- Clarify PTO policy changes, including when you can require the employee to stay home.br />
- Relax attendance policies to encourage sick employees to stay home.
- Outline work-from-home options and responsibilities.
- Share flexible scheduling options and break policies to stagger employees and encourage social distancing.
- Implement information technology policies for remote work.
- Review the exposure-response plan in the event that an employee or customer has the virus.
Stephanie Carnes is the spotlight director for The LMC Groups. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.