This series is intended to give general guidance during our current pandemic environment. Scenarios discussed may be dependent upon multiple factors not included in these discussions and nothing contained herein should be considered legal advice.
The talk on the street is “re-opening America,” with some states boldly moving forward. Hopefully, we will have much more testing available before that happens, but in addition to assessing the readiness of your business, you should be assessing the readiness of your people to return to the workplace.
Conducting surveys for NC employers, my team is getting some interesting answers to our question, “What is your willingness to return to work once restrictions are lifted?”
Overwhelmingly, people are ready to return to work if their employer is taking safety precautions. They want to know about Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and practices like distancing in the workplace to ensure the health and safety of themselves, their co-workers, and their customers.
Some folks have legitimate concerns around childcare or family members with fragile health. We are also hearing from a vocal minority who are saying they are making at least as much money on unemployment and want to sit things out until the federal subsidy runs out. How can you get back in business if your people will not come in? Now is not the time for a heavy hand or a one-size-fits-all approach.
Child care or family concerns: The Families First Act is clear about paid leave for employees who do not have child care to return to work. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-employee-paid-leave.
If you have less than 50 employees and claim exemption from these mandates, you still have a valued employee who is unable to return to work, regardless of any flexible scheduling you may be able to accommodate. If you have PPP funding, you may decide to pay them regardless. If you don’t have funding, consider all factors to determine if it is appropriate to keep this one on furlough for a while. Caution should be exercised to avoid discriminatory decisions.
Safety concerns: The CDC and OSHA have issued guidelines for physical workspaces that employers must make their new daily protocol indefinitely. Additionally, the EEOC has determined that it is not an ADA violation to take employee temperatures or ask COVID-related health questions daily. Reminder posters, employee education, and daily checklists are your new reality. If you are complying with recommendations and you still have an employee who cites fear about returning to the office, they may still have ADA protection if they have a diagnosed mental health condition, such as anxiety. Compassion is key, especially if you have to ask for documentation.
Although our teams may be idle, we should all be busy preparing for the new reality. Health and Safety include physical preparation of the workplace, establishing new protocols using science-based recommendations, and modifying or developing new employee policies. It is not only good business, it is a demonstration of caring. Employees who feel safe and cared for are more likely to help get us all back in business.