Fortunately, we are slowly entering the “post-COVID” world in which businesses are reopening and employees are returning to work. Reopening is occurring differently depending upon the state, and in some cases, the county, in which you live. There are numerous online resources that will help you stay abreast of current reopening information. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has created a comprehensive map that includes the latest guidance, timelines and reopening information state-by-state. There are several places to find the appropriate links to your state government’s homepage and departments, including usa.gov. Additionally, last week, the CDC released a set of checklists to help leaders of businesses, schools, child care programs, mass transit and others decide when and how to reopen their facilities.
In Part 3 of Smart HR’s Strategic Approach to Reopening Businesses, we will offer guidance on possible changes to your existing Paid Time Off policies in light of COVID, workplace physical distancing protocol and effectively communicating with employees concerning workplace and policy changes.
Paid Time Off Policies
Once business operations resume, employees must be advised of any changes to your PTO policy, either temporarily or permanently. You must be prepared to address employee requests to take time off and use their PTO. Remember that the FFCRA, and state and local laws provide COVID-related leave benefits that for the most part are in addition to an employee’s other company provided leave. Many employees will have PTO they will want to use. Can your business handle a significant number of employees taking PTO at the same time, such as around the holidays? Most companies have PTO policies that reserve the right to change those policies at management’s discretion. Once you’ve assessed your short and long-term business needs for the remainder of 2020, some policy change suggestions include:
- Giving priority to “essential” employees required to work full-time either onsite or remotely during the pandemic.
- Impose blackout dates during expected busy times during which employees may not use their PTO.
- Implement a lottery system to decide employees allowed to take PTO during expected busy times.
- Implement a cap on PTO hours that will carry over into 2021.
Other policies that may need to be implemented or changed include work travel, telecommuting, workplace safety, employee health screenings, use of meeting/gathering spaces, visitors and social distancing.
Social Distancing at Work
When 2020 began, most people had never heard the term “social distancing.” We now social distance at the grocery store, in parks, on beaches and, inevitably, at work. An office environment presents unique challenges to social distancing, and here are some ideas to consider as you plan for your employees’ return:
- Impose a limit of 10 employees for all meetings until further notice, even when the meeting area is large enough to accommodate appropriate social distancing. Times for meetings may be staggered, and larger groups divided to meet the 10-employee maximum.
- Manage employee breaks and lunch times to provide social spacing and proper hygiene. Start and end times should be staggered.
- As a dining option, schedule food trucks that have the necessary municipality credentials and are certified by the local health department.
- Consider how your current workspace can be reconfigured to encourage social distancing. Whenever possible, work stations should be arranged to allow separation of at least three feet. Avoid face-to-face desk layouts. Install barriers in between work stations.
- Close all communal spaces such as kitchens and lounge areas until further notice.
- Do you have the ability to prop doors open to minimize door handle touching or to install toe kicks on the doors?
It is imperative you properly communicate all workplace policy and procedure changes to employees before they return to work. Err on the side of too much communication with employees than not enough to alleviate their concerns and fears and to set expectations for their adherence to your policies. Disseminate information through multiple channels like email, video, social media, chat and through actual displays throughout the workplace. Some items you may want to address include:
- Detailed information on sanitation measures to thoroughly disinfect the workplace prior to reopening and any ongoing sanitation measures you will be taking.
- Any changes to PTO, safety/health, visitors, benefits, etc. policies. Implement a system to confirm employees’ acknowledgement of the changes (i.e., return receipt requested via email).
- New workplace practices to promote safety and wellness.
- Mandatory health screenings for employees and/or visitors.
- Whether remote working arrangements and flexible schedules implemented during the pandemic will continue post-pandemic.
- Resources for employees to help them transition back into the workplace.
Some Final Thoughts on Reopening
Although these are uncertain times, you can be certain you cannot anticipate every challenge that awaits you when reopening your business. Some elements may be more difficult than you expected required you to change direction or even completely reverse course. You will make mistakes. Just acknowledge your mistakes with employees and clients and move on. It’s important to have frequent “check-ins” with employees during their first weeks back to make sure they are transitioning well, and, if not, determine what you can do to help them. As you continue to make business decisions and operational changes, be transparent with your employees. Weathering this storm together with respect and trust will build loyalty down the road.
Talk to Your Trusted HR Advisor
We hope this series on reopening your business has been helpful and, at the very least, gives you a path forward in the right direction. As you navigate your new workplace “normal” know that Smart HR is a phone call away. We pride ourselves on timely customer service and adapting our approach to best serve your needs. Your workplace may look a little different when you go back, but Smart HR’s dedication to its clients remains the same.