Transition back to the workplace
A return to the physical workplace may be necessary for some portion of your workforce. Note that employees may have strong feelings about returning to work, both for and against. If possible, allow employees to express these concerns and play an active role in planning their transition back to work, if possible. How employees are treated now will likely affect their long-term loyalty to the organization.
When planning for a return to the workplace, several relevant considerations are important:
Testing and protective gear
1. Common challenges:
- Employers may consider workplace testing to help allay concerns over physical workplace safety. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance addresses certain diagnostic testing, but in an environment where employees may want to know the status of their coworkers’ health, maintaining data privacy may be more difficult.
- Employers may still be required to accommodate employees with disabilities, including those with a higher risk for severe illness.
- The availability and efficacy of protective gear for both your workforce and visitors and customers should be considered, and OSHA may have issued specific guidance for your industry related to protective gear.
- Require that managers and other leaders are well-trained and frequently updated on procedures related to testing and the requirements related to protected employee health data. It is critical that this data not be used in employment-related decisions (such as raises and promotions).
- Establish protocol related to accommodations and employee health considerations. Managers should not be making these decisions on their own.
- Be proactive in securing the appropriate protective gear. Typical supply chain systems may not be functioning as usual, and timelines may be extended while shortages in supply are to be expected.
Facilities and customs
1. Common challenges:
- The pre–COVID-19 trend toward coworking, hoteling, and shared or creative spaces may make returning to the workplace more challenging.
- Workplace hygiene standards will be significantly more important to workers, but may be difficult to meet. What may have been previously unnoticed will likely be met with intensified scrutiny.
- Mail distribution and deliveries can be a source of concern.
- Consider renovations to the workspace that may include the installation of no-touch options, screens, or partitions between employee workstations. The office may need to be reoriented so that employees do not face others and can maintain the appropriate distance. Common and community spaces may need to be closed or limited in their use.
- Review and renegotiate contracts with building maintenance and cleaning crews to include provisions related to using FDA-approved disinfecting products and techniques. The frequency and scope of cleaning may need to be expanded as well. Be sure to set up communication channels so employees can report concerns with office cleaning routines.
- Establish mail- and package-handling protocols that may include requirements to wear gloves when handling, disinfection of packages, and holding mail for a sitting period prior to distribution. Train staff on appropriate protocols.