As COVID vaccination becomes more widespread, employers are thinking about their return to work plan. This process should be handled with care because even with vaccination, the pandemic still isn’t over, and workers’ concerns will still be there. MP’s HR services team shares the best HR strategies and return to work guidelines that will help you do things safely, effectively, and without damaging employee morale.
Ten Best Practices for Your Returning to Work Plan
- Form a ‘Return to Work Committee’: Including more people from different areas of your organization will increase buy-in. Include upper management, HR, legal, and consider opening it up to interested employees. Should you not opt to form a committee with your staff, sending out a ‘return to work survey’ (MP’s talent management software can help with this) is another way of helping workers feel involved in the planning.
- Make plans for sudden closures: Prepare so that your offices are ready to close if numbers of COVID infections rise too high or there is a COVID outbreak among your workers. If you have multiple branches, be ready to close some branches, but keep others open. Creating protocol for this scenario now is important because if you need to use it, it’s likely you’ll be in an emergency state and need to work quickly.
- Create a list of accommodations: Workplaces will need to be ready for workers who cannot or will not be vaccinated. They’ll also need to be ready for team members who cannot come back to the office yet because of health concerns, childcare reasons, etc. Make this kind of situation easier by preparing a list of accommodations you could offer. These accommodations could include extra PPE, off-hours scheduling, isolated work areas, remote work options, and temporarily moving workers to teams that can operate in isolated or remote capacities. They may also involve putting the worker on a leave of absence or having them use their sick, vacation, or personal time for absences from the work site.
- Ensure open communication: Share your return to work plan and any other relevant COVID policies (like a vaccination policy or safety policies) early. Share them in a way that workers can refer back to them whenever they need: email, posting on a bulletin board or intranet, etc. Let staff know that you’ll be open to responses, questions, etc. The more your team feels like this is an open dialogue and they have all the information they need, the less anxiety and pushback you’ll get from them.
- Share social distancing requirements: Write out and share social distancing policies on bulletin boards, over email, and on intranets. Make it easy for workers to refer back to them when needed. Retain these requirements even for vaccinated individuals, as there is little data on whether vaccinated individuals can spread COVID. Make no exceptions, because employees might make accusations of discrimination or simply stop following procedures if they see people breaking the rules.
- Clean the office and stock up on supplies: Clean the workplace completely before everyone returns to work. (You may want to use a third party to professionally clean.) Don’t forget your air ventilation systems. Provide hand sanitizer and masks. Put up plexiglass or other borders, and move desks if needed. Make the workplace ready for social distancing requirements.
- Keep medical information private: Never share workers’ medical information, even vaccination status, with people who don’t need to know. Doing so could lead to breaking compliance with the ADA, HIPAA, and other laws and regulations. Don’t mark staff with ‘vaccinated’ buttons or create teams of ‘vaccinated workers’ to handle certain tasks. Ensure that there is limited access to medical records and they’re kept in a safe, secure location.
- Update your sick policy: Reducing the spread of COVID in the workplace will mean encouraging workers to stay home when they are feeling sick or may have been exposed to the virus. If possible, create options for remote work if employees are mildly ill, think they might have been exposed to COVID, or are waiting for test results. Additionally, consider cross training your staff to prepare for increased absences.
- Be prepared for the interactive process: Train relevant members of management on the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and how to participate in the interactive process. Lay out a procedure to use if workers make requests related to the ADA or if they have religious or medical reasons for not getting vaccinated or returning to work.
- Keep updated on new regulations and guidance: Trust sources like MP’s HR consulting team to keep you updated on the latest local, state, and federal regulations for COVID, ADA compliance, and more. Be ready to adapt as the situation evolves.
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