After weeks of social distancing and non-essential businesses shutting down because of COVID-19, the time is just about here when people can start returning to work again. As a business owner of a small business, this means you can finally get back to your routine and generate revenue, making up for the lost time. However, though it may seem easy just to call your employees up and tell them their start date, coming back after a pandemic is not the same as a typical leave of absence. It involves much more planning, alterations, and even entire protocol restructuring if need be to comply with new OSHA and CDC regulations and guidance. Though you can find a complete checklist on everything you need to do with the HR Toolkit, here is a simple breakdown so you can truly understand what you need to do before your employees return to work.
1. Safety First
Before anything, make sure that your small business hosts a safe environment for your employees to work in. Consider doing several deep cleanings prior to their start dates, distribute employee health screenings to make sure only healthy people enter the building, and update policies to include the use of masks and glove-wearing. Other things you can do and notify your employees of beforehand include:
Updated stay at home requirements
Updated cleaning procedures
Reviewing CDC and OSHA guidelines
Enforcing physical distancing measures accordingly
Limit Customer contact
Limit business travel, at least for now
Enforce no hugging, handshaking, or any direct contact between employees if able
These might sound strict, but it will give you and your employees the best chance of staying healthy. Employees who see that you have taken the time to re-test the business's safety measures will feel much more confident to return to work, knowing that you put their safety at the forefront of your mind.
2. Recall Procedures
Foremost, contact your state's unemployment office about your employees who you have recalled to work. This will significantly help you save on unemployment taxes for anyone who chooses not to go back to work.
As for some tips, you do not want to return all employees at the same time. People will be nervous for a long while after this pandemic, so bringing everyone in all at once could feel overwhelming, and possibly be unsafe. Additionally a phased approach will help ease your financials and allow you to test the other policies you have implemented such as safety measures. You can also consider reducing in-office hours for the time being until everyone gets back up on their feet. If you have any employees fearful of returning to work, do not push them or give them an ultimatum, such as if they do not come in, you will fire them. Give them some time to adjust and work out family arrangements if need be. You do not have to wait forever, but if your business can handle it then that will benefit your company in the long term.
3. Review Employee Benefits
Some benefits programs that may require your action before you return your emploeyes to work include health insurance eligibility, flex spending accounts updates from the Dependent Care Assistance Program, 401K complications because of layoffs, and any paid leave requirements with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). These are all fundamental areas that need to be reviewed, addressed, and remediated properly so you can deliver the updates to your employees and be able to answer any questions they may have about policy changes or eligibility issues since COVID-19. Communicating these details with your employees should be your top priority, aside from safety.
4. Compensation Changes
For small businesses, the lack of customers or the closing of business for weeks on end could have resulted in severe net losses. This means you may not be able to provide substantial raises the next compensation increase cycle or allow for bonuses right now. You have to decide if pay cuts will need to occur, if employee statuses will shift (such as going from exempt to nonexempt under FLSA), and if any full-time employees will have to become part-time. Though this may not last forever, you need to look at the entire picture because if you allow everyone to come back the same as before, it could hurt more than help right now until you get "back to normal."
5. Think About Long-Term Remote Work
Did you allow your employees to work remotely during social distancing? If so, you have to decide if you want to keep that in your business rhythm or not. Telecommunication was proven to work wonders during this pandemic for many companies, connecting people and keeping businesses running. This could be an excellent alternative for someone to work in some capacity if they are feeling too unwell to come into an office, but are feeling good enough to work. It is also a great way to keep excellent employees working with you who are too scared to go into the office right now. Not every business can thrive with this structure, but if yours can, it could be an ideal way to expand, save money, and give yourself a competitive advantage over businesses who do not offer remote work once the pandemic is over. Generally workers enjoyed remote work and will look to work for companies that have some level of remote work moving forward. If you can be this company, then you may attract and retain a stellar workforce.
6. Employee Communications Updates
Even if you had clear communications before, you will want to go over them again to see if there can be any improvements, such as adding in workplace safety trainings and disinfection policies. You will also want to have some media communication ready to send off on specific topics, such as workplace protections, staying home regulations, and disinfecting protocols so you are prepared to announce and/or send refreshers on the organizational plans when your employees return.
7. New-Hire Paperwork
Make sure that if you need to have any updates done to your new hire paperwork to do it before business doors open back up. The reason is because, though employees who stayed on the payroll will not have to fill this out, the ones who were laid off or separated from their roles should. Updates on this can include any changes in employee benefits, as mentioned before, adding in remote work if desired, and determining if your employees will need to fill out the Section 3 of their original 1-9 or will need to complete a new one.
8. Update Policies
Nearly all businesses are going to have to make some changes to their policies to some degree. You may want to consider updating them to reflect any new paid-leave regulations, time off procedures, updated sickness protocols, any telecommunication processes, and safety policies. A common one that is being implemented in policies is flex scheduling since many people are adjusting with returning to work and balancing their family life at the same time. So having procedures set in place for this is ideal and suggested to incorporate if you do not have them already.
9. Business Continuity Plans
If you are like many small businesses, you may not have had a business continuity plan in place before COVID-19. If you are one of the many who does not have this yet, then now would be the time to do that. In this plan, you should create or amend emergency information and responses to global disasters, updated contacts, pandemic task forces, and document employee emergency plans. Once you have this, make sure to test it out to find any loopholes to remediate, making it a reliable solution. You never know when another business threat will arise, and this plan will allow you to be prepared if it happens.
Do you have some union workers? If so, you will need to take an extra step and find out if there are any additional obligations you need to be aware of. Look for things such as hazard pay, changes to mandatory bargaining like wages and benefits, and perhaps install a no-strike clause in case there are any future infectious outbreaks. Taking the time to go over this data point will protect yourself from any uncontrollable contractual obligations.
Give Yourself the Leverage with A Return to Work Checklist
As you can see, there is a lot that needs to happen to make sure your employees return back to work as smoothly and efficiently as possible. From safety precautions, preparations, to all the internal operations, they are all vital elements that cannot be overlooked. However, since there is a lot that needs to occur, give yourself the peace of mind knowing you got it all by downloading in the HR Toolkit, which contains the ultimate Return to Work Checklist. This checklist is something you should take advantage of to be confident you will not miss any essential steps your small business needs to take. With the inevitable stresses already in place since COVID-19, take the burden off of yourself and use the tools available to you to not only make your life easier, but allow your business to thrive now that it is about to be back up and running.