Over the past couple of weeks, employers have been tackling not only how to transition their workforce to a work-at-home business nature, but also analyze the financial impact today and for the future. As our world fights this pandemic, there are talks springing about what life will be like after this pandemic. What will be our ‘new normal’? When our country is ‘reopened’, what is our game plan to ensure a safe working atmosphere?
These are certainly tough questions to consider and there are many thoughts out there. Despite our political positions, we are all asking ourselves similar questions:
- When should employers return to work in the office?
- What steps should employers take to ensure a safe and effective workplace?
- How do we handle employees who are sick and how are they viewed?
Well, let’s answer a few of these!
II. WHEN SHOULD EMPLOYERS RETURN TO WORK IN THE OFFICE?
Recently, government officials have extended ‘stay at home’ orders. This means we could see non- essential workers spending much more time at home, perhaps even through the month of May. It wouldn’t be an anomaly to see this extend to June. It’s evident that this virus is no hoax and it has been nothing short of a global shock to the system. We urge employers to consider local health departments’ advice and not be too eager to bring everyone back to work too soon.
While employees are most likely going stir-crazy at home, we are loving how creative people have been. People are getting inventive on how to connect with one another with zoom meetings, supporting local non-profits and even virtual happy hours!
However, one day, we will be able to go back to normal – the ‘new normal’ that is. And to ensure that, employers will need to start planning what this will look like. We believe a major focus should be on focusing on employees’ health and productivity when allowed back in the office. This also means considering precautionary measures to make certain that not only is the workplace clean, but also confirming that employees themselves are educated on common sense sanitation measures. Life at work ‘post-pandemic’ will certainly be different, but at least it’ll be (hopefully) cleaner.
III. WHAT STEPS SHOULD EMPLOYERS TAKE TO ENSURE A SAFE AND EFFECTIVE WORKPLACE?
We have a few ideas on how you can address sanitation, employee concern and productivity in the workplace!
- Increase sanitation measures | We believe employers will need to focus heavily on creating sanitation procedures, education and stocking up on soaps, sanitizers and antibacterial wipes.
- Wear masks | At least for the ‘phase in’ process. Local health departments and the CDC recommend we all wear masks today, thus we follow that advice and recommend employers institute this at the workplace as well for a certain amount of time. Once the ability to get masks becomes a bit easier, employers can stock up so employees can have access to disposable masks at work and not have to worry about bringing in their own (or worse, recycling old ones). Since we are all supposed to be staying at home, there isn’t yet official guidance as to what requirements employers have for returning to work.
- Temperature Checks | We have learned about many cases where someone may feel ‘fine’ when in reality they are asymptomatic carriers. Employers can do mandatory temperature checks prior to someone stepping foot in the workplace.
- Continue Social Distancing | It’s no longer just an Instagram hashtag, it’s a global phenomenon instituted to help flatten the curve. We need to institute these measures at work.
- Consider separating desks 6 feet apart (or more if you can)
- Consider no more handshakes (for the time being)
- Consider what vendors/clients really need to come into the office & limit external interactions
- Consider limiting the frequency of group meetings and/or how many people are involved
- Consider more frequent remote work policies – if your business is flexible enough
IV. HOW DO WE HANDLE EMPLOYEES WHO ARE SICK AND HOW THEY ARE VIEWED?
Employers will need to consider employees may be apprehensive to return to work – and they may have reason to. Perhaps they have symptoms themselves or maybe they have been in contact with someone who has! We still don’t have enough COVID-19 tests for everyone. The truth of the matter is, prior to this pandemic, at times when an employee calls in sick, they could be questioned with regards to the commitment to their work. That may no longer be the case here. We will have to consider all cases and perhaps allow employees to make their own sound decisions about coming back. If they can still work remotely – perhaps consider allowing them to continue a little longer.
Keep in mind, these are ideas to start thinking about! This will certainly be a new normal and will be different for every employer – both essential and non-essential.
We are all in this together!
By Ed Ligondé, Nielsen Benefits Group