We’ve all been through some stressful times over the past few months, to put it mildly.
Now that some governments and employers have eased up the restrictions that have been keeping employees away from the office, there may be some hopes of a return to a semblance of normalcy. However, it won’t — and shouldn’t — simply be business-as-usual at the office anytime soon.
Employers need to be ready for a new normal, and prepared to adapt their policies and procedures to reflect changing public health recommendations and needs.
Here’s what employers need to do as employees prepare to return to the workplace:
Implement Physical Safety Measures
The physical safety and sanitization measures are the first and perhaps most obvious thing about the workplace that will need to change right away.
Employers should start by understanding what your local, state, and federal governments recommend when it comes to safety. Your industry may provide some guidelines as well. Their recommendations may involve:
- Employees wearing masks while at work
- Employees maintaining safe distances in the workplace
- Employers taking employees’ temperatures upon arrival
- Employers limiting the number of people in a single room or area at a time
- Employers staggering shifts so that employees have minimal contact with one another
- Employers enforcing rules about hand washing and sanitizing
- Employers scheduling deep cleaning in between employee shifts
Even if these precautions aren’t technically required by law, implementing them can make your employees feel less anxious about the prospect of coming to work and possibly getting infected.
Letting employees know which precautions will be in place ahead of time may ease their fears about coming back and reduce any confusion when they do.
Make Additional Mental Health Accommodations
Besides the understandable anxiety about the possibility of infection, most of the employees who do return to in-person work will still be dealing with a host of personal pressures and stresses. Most still don’t have access to the full support networks that they had before the pandemic.
As an employer, this is an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with employees by giving them access to resources that they will appreciate — and that will help them do their jobs to the best of their abilities during a difficult time.
Mental health resources extended to employees may include:
- Allowing employees to take time off to manage their mental health
- Allowing employees to make up for vacations or family visits they may have missed during stay-at-home orders
- Offering mental health services such as coaching or therapy, or reminding them of what’s already covered in their benefits plans
Finally, if you want employees to feel comfortable and less anxious, make sure that they have an easy way to communicate with management.
They need to feel like they can alert managers to violations of workplace safety protocols, air their concerns about changes in the pandemic’s forecast, or report discriminatory or illegal workplace behavior. As we mentioned in our post on Virtual Training During the Pandemic, the pandemic has paved the way for racist stereotypes about the origin of the virus and health privacy violations as employees discuss whether colleagues are infected or contagious.
Employees also need to know that they can get their questions about new employee policies and procedures answered right away.
Change Relevant Employee Policies
Your employee handbook may require some temporary or permanent updates due to all of the changes brought on by the pandemic.
You should consult legal professionals before you modify your official documentation, of course. That said, these are a few of the specific policies that might require updates that employees can sign off on before they return.
- Sick leave: Employees need to know under what conditions they can return to work after they’re sick. Here’s what the CDC recommends: All employees should stay home if they are sick until at least 24 hours after their fever* (temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 37.8 degrees Celsius or higher) is gone. Temperature should be measured without the use of fever-reducing medicines (medicines that contain ibuprofen or acetaminophen).
- Illness at work: Let employees know that they may be asked to leave work if they exhibit signs of illness. According to Engage PEO, in most states, an employer can ask for a doctor’s note stating that the employee can return to work. Make sure not to violate their privacy by prying into an employee’s medical condition.
- Work-from-home policies: Just because employees can legally come back to work doesn’t mean that they should come back. You may have already done the hard work of creating a fair work-from-home policy that outlines expectations and guidelines for remote work, and keeping as many employees home as possible reduces the risk for everyone. Just make sure that the policy is administered fairly and under clear and transparent criteria so there’s no accusations of favoritism. Many employees will still be responsible for caring for their children or for sick family members, and work-from-home options will be especially valuable to them.
It’s also worth noting that new laws, such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, are emerging to guarantee employees additional emergency medical leave. You’ll have to make sure that your policies stay in compliance with this and any other new regulations.
Remember: Leaders Must Emphasize Values
With all of the new safety requirements and stresses of this pandemic, it’s easy to lose sight of the values that may have been taken for granted during simpler times. However, this is the time when values become even more important.
As our founder Stephen Paskoff wrote: “Enterprise values are put in place not just for periods of calm and uncertainty. They can help us get through challenging times delivering our best efforts as we work together to identify solutions and minimize harm. Leadership should set the tone by working together with respect, inclusion, and civility even as difficult issues arise as an antidote to uncertainty and fear. It’s time again to remember that as we approach this newest crisis.”
To get more help from ELI during these difficult times, please reach out to us.