Three key priorities for HR managers when bringing employees back toÂ the office post-COVID-19.
By Pamela Lacy
As many U.S. states begin to lift their stay-at-home orÂ similar orders, businesses across the country are weighingÂ their options, questioning when and how to reopen theirÂ doors safely for both customers and employees. There areÂ a wide range of laws and regulations, as well as guidanceÂ from federal, state, and local governmental authorities,Â that should be top of mind for business owners and HRÂ managers as they prepare to welcome employees back toÂ the workplace.
According to a Paychex study of 300 U.S. business ownersÂ issued during late April, nearly one in five businesses (19Â percent) have furloughed staff while 30 percent have laidÂ off some or all of their staff. Recalling workers who mayÂ have been furloughed or temporarily laid off during theÂ pandemic entails many different considerations when itÂ comes to business processes, employee pay and benefits,Â and safety precautions. Although it is unlikely that anyÂ business will immediately return to operating as it didÂ pre-COVID-19, preparing for the workforce to return andÂ communicating those plans can make a big difference inÂ successfully and safely bringing employees back to theÂ workplace.
Here are three things HR managers should considerÂ prioritizing to help protect employees, customers, and theÂ business when the time to reopen arrives.
1. Compliance. Itâs crucial that all business owners and HRÂ managers review their obligations under federal, state,Â and local laws and regulations. Be aware that there isÂ a plethora of policies that may need to be created orÂ updated based on recent legislative and/or regulatoryÂ changes. For example, keep updated on applicableÂ state or local paid sick leave mandates prior to recallingÂ employees. Some laws now require prior sick leave accrualsÂ to be reinstated under certain conditions. Additionally,Â business owners or HR managers should check currentÂ internal policies to determine any benefits reinstatementÂ requirements based on the terms of the companyâsÂ policies. Any new policies or changes to existing policiesÂ should be communicated with employees.
Employers should also review both paid and unpaid leaveÂ policies to address employer obligations and employeeÂ rights under the specific provisions of their federal, state,Â and local laws. For example, under the federal FamiliesÂ First Coronavirus Response Act, certain employers mustÂ provide paid leave to eligible employees for COVID-19-related absences.
In the instance where an employee may have beenÂ terminated and signed a separation agreement,Â employers should check the language of the contract toÂ see if rehiring requires an amendment to the separationÂ agreement.
2. Documentation. There are several important forms ofÂ documentation that HR managers will want consider asÂ employees return to work following COVID-19, given theÂ potential financial changes employees have experienced inÂ the past few months.
- Direct deposit forms. Business owners and HR managersÂ should review state laws to determine if any new directÂ deposit authorization forms need to be completedÂ for employees who are returning to work after beingÂ furloughed or temporarily laid off due to the pandemic.Â With these matters handled prior to re-opening,Â welcoming employees back onto payroll should be aÂ smoother process, ensuring that all employees are paid onÂ time by their preferred method.
- Form W-4. As many employees have felt financialÂ hardships due to the pandemic, some may want or needÂ to make withholding changes upon returning to work. IfÂ thatâs the case, itâs reasonable to provide employees with aÂ new Form W-4.
- Form I-9. When rehiring an employee within three yearsÂ of their originally executed Form I-9,Â business owners or HR managersÂ will have two options: eitherÂ complete Section 3 of theÂ executed Form I-9 on fileÂ or have the rehiredÂ employee complete aÂ new Form I-9. RehiredÂ employees whoseÂ original Form I-9Â was executed moreÂ than three yearsÂ ago must completeÂ a new Form I-9.Â There are additionalÂ considerations forÂ an employee whoseÂ work authorizationÂ has expired. TheÂ U.S. Citizenship andÂ Immigration Services providesÂ comprehensive information andÂ instructions to help HR managersÂ better understand their obligations.
- HR policies. Reopening also provides the chance toÂ update and reinforce existing company HR policies,Â guidelines, and employee handbooks. Additionally, aÂ companyâs standard new hire documents should also beÂ updated with any new policies and health and safetyÂ guidelines, and should be distributed to all employeesÂ returning to the office.
3. Implementation. Although states and businesses areÂ beginning to reopen, itâs clear that the new normal willÂ require a variety of precautions and safety measures. InÂ addition to guidance from the Centers for Disease ControlÂ and Prevention (CDC), employers will also want to reviewÂ current guidance from state and local health agencies andÂ continue to monitor for any new guidance. OrganizationsÂ that can accommodate working remotely may be requiredÂ by a state or local law to continue this practice or makeÂ accommodations for employees who meet certain criteria.Â Businesses should consider reviewing how they willÂ address their legal obligations and employee requests inÂ this area.
To help make employees feel more comfortable,Â businesses should also consider providing the appropriateÂ personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masksÂ and gloves, and any additional cleaning and sanitizingÂ supplies such as soap and hand sanitizer. ByÂ supplying these items, businesses areÂ enabling employees to take controlÂ of their health and safety, andÂ some employees may feel moreÂ at ease knowing that theirÂ employer cares about theirÂ well-being. In addition toÂ helping employees feelÂ more comfortable whenÂ physically returning toÂ the workplace, businessesÂ should determine if thereÂ are federal, state, or localÂ requirements to provide anyÂ additional supplies.
Businesses should also beÂ sure to review potential high-touchÂ areas within the facilityÂ where social distancing precautionsÂ may not be an option, such as kitchenÂ areas, breakrooms, and bathrooms. AfterÂ doing so, assess what safety measuresâor temporaryÂ space closuresâmust be put in place to ensure a safeÂ environment. This may require more frequent cleaning,Â prohibiting the use of shared equipment when possible,Â and regulating the number of people in any one area atÂ a time. Implementing these measures may help lower theÂ risk for possible infection and enable employees to feelÂ safer once returning to the workplace.
The Bottom Line
As business owners and HR managers prepare to reopenÂ their doors and welcome employees back to work, itâsÂ important that they carefully follow federal, state,Â and local laws and regulations. Keeping employee andÂ customer safety and well-being top of mind should be aÂ main priority and communicated as such.
Businesses should ensure that all employee documentsÂ and HR policies are updated, laws and regulations areÂ enforced, and employees are well-equipped to stayÂ healthy at work. During these uncertain times, ensuringÂ proper due diligence and understanding the concernsÂ of the employees will help businesses prepare to openÂ despite the new reality.
Pamela Lacy is an HR coach for Paychex.