In the midst of the biggest health crisis in a century, Becky and I were blessed with the birth of our second grandchild. Our perfect angel, Mackenzie Grace, is happy, healthy, and safe at home with her parents and big brother.
In a move Becky and I are convinced was intended to keep us from being with our new granddaughter, Gov. Cuomo extended NY on PAUSE until at least May 15. Although it doesn’t feel like it right now, there will come a day in the relatively near future when we’ll spend some time with Mackenzie…sorry, when our workplaces will reopen to our employees and others. Regardless of exactly which day that will be, today is the day employers should develop plans to keep employees and everyone who enters their workplaces safe and healthy when that time comes.
To help you begin thinking about a plan, we’re going to start with a group exercise. (I hate group exercises, isn’t there a checklist you can give me?) Repeat after me: “I understand work can’t go back to the way it was before COVID-19, and I accept responsibility for making significant and necessary changes to our workplace.” Once more, and I want to hear everybody this time! “I understand work can’t go back to the way it was before COVID-19, and I accept responsibility for making significant and necessary changes to our workplace.” (OK, I said it; happy now?) Awesome!
That was the easy part. The rest is going to require we set aside many of our beliefs about work and workplaces. There is no single “right” way to transition back, because every situation, employee, employer, workplace, industry, and location will be somewhat unique. But there are many common starting points.
Before I go any further, I need to ask for your indulgence (I don’t like where this is going). When I don’t sleep much, as I haven’t in weeks, I sometimes default to gameshow mode. I don’t know exactly where this is going (great; anybody want to sneak out the back door with me?), but let’s see what happens!
Welcome to, What the Hell Do We Do Now? Post-COVID-19 Workplace Edition!
The point of this haphazardly created gameshow is to either help employers begin to develop a return-to-work plan, or completely confuse them. There’s a 50-50 chance of either right now.
Time to meet our contestants. Let’s have a round of applause for Connor and Mackenzie! (Wait, those are your grandchildren!)
To determine who goes first, we checked their diapers. Since Connor needs a change (desperately), Mackenzie will go first.
Question 1: What is one important step employers should take to prepare for reopening their workplaces?
Mackenzie: [Silent stare…then cute baby noises.]
I’m sorry, time’s up! One correct answer is to place orders now for supplies like hand soap, disinfectants, antibacterial wipes, and hand sanitizer. It will likely take weeks for delivery, so waiting until you have a firm back-to-work date isn’t advised.
I see Connor is back with a fresh diaper, so the next question is his.
Question 2: Will employees be required to wear masks in the workplace?
Connor: VROOM! [loud screech followed by crashing noises] Papa, look at the big crash! VROOM!
Close, but not the answer we were looking for. Based on current information and examples from other parts of the world, employers should be prepared to require everyone in the workplace to wear some type of face covering or mask in the workplace. Given a recent Executive Order from Gov. Cuomo, it appears likely that employers in NY State may be required to provide face coverings, or at least make them available to all employees at no cost. I also expect that all visitors and others in the workplace will be required to wear face coverings to help keep everyone healthy.
It’s a tight game, with Connor and Mackenzie tied at zero. In the next round, points are doubled. (Hey, Pythagoras, two times zero is still zero.) Back to Mackenzie.
Question 3: How should employers address situations where employees aren’t comfortable returning to the office when it reopens?
Mackenzie: [Sucking on three fingers and then beginning to cry, which is immediately identified by her mother as her “I’M HUNGRY” cry.]
Oh, sorry, the answer is not an “I’M HUNGRY” cry. Employers should consider these concerns on a case-by-case basis. There may be underlying health reasons causing the employee’s reluctance. They may be experiencing symptoms of COVID-19; have a compromised immune system, or live with, or care for a loved one who is especially vulnerable to severe or life-threatening complications from COVID-19 exposure. They may need to stay home and care for their children. These, and many more, are good reasons not to return to the workplace. Reasonable accommodations are necessary in these, and other situations. If work can be done remotely, then allow employees to continue doing so. If that’s not possible, job-protected paid leave or a leave of absence may be necessary.
Connor has the chance to take a commanding lead over his infant sister with this question!
What are three ways the workplace is likely to change after COVID-19?
Connor: Papa Mimi! Papa Mimi! Papa Mimi!
Let me check with the judges…no, yelling the names of your favorite grandparents three times is not a correct response.
First, social distancing will have a significant impact on the way employees interact with coworkers for the foreseeable future. Desks and workstations should be moved further apart. Employees won’t be conducting or attending conferences or seminars, meetings with more than a few people, group new hire orientations, or gatherings in the lobby for birthday cake. Secondly, handshakes are a thing of the past—at least for quite a while. Finally, and likely most impactful, attitudes about going to work sick, and others being sick while at work will dramatically change when workplaces reopen. After this experience, many employers will be more open to remote and flexible work arrangements because their employees—many of whom have been asking for a long time—have proven they work.
OK, a quick recap of our scores; Mackenzie zero, Connor zero. That means our last question is a winner-take-all! The first child to utter a sound will win incredible prizes and family bragging rights.
When and what should employers communicate with employees?
Mackenzie: [Several light pats on her back produces an almost imperceptible burp.]
CONGRATULATIONS Mackenzie! Only two days old and already following in her Papa’s footsteps as an HR expert! (Unless burping is the latest and greatest employee communications tool, you’re daft.)
Employers should already be communicating with all employees and continue to do so regularly. Regardless of whether employees are working, they need to hear from company leaders often throughout this crisis. Consider a weekly email, electronic “town hall” meeting, conference call, or a rotating schedule of each. Anticipate, and prepare responses to employee questions, such as:
- When can we get back to work and “normal” business operations?
- How are the current circumstances impacting the company?
- What actions is management taking to mitigate the impact?
- Did the company apply for/receive a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program?
- Are some employees working?
- Is the company paying employees who are not working, their full wages? If yes, why?
- Is it true that some people are making more from unemployment benefits than if they were working?
Thanks for joining Connor, Mackenzie, and me for, What the Hell Do We Do Now? Post-COVID-19 Workplace Edition! These, and many other FAQs, will soon be available on the HR Compliance Experts website at, https://hrcexperts.com/coronavirus-covid-19-resources/.
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Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only, does not constitute a legal opinion, and is not legal advice. The facts of each situation should be considered and analyzed individually. Therefore, you should always consult with competent employment counsel regarding any issues discussed here.
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