With mass COVID vaccination happening so quickly, many employers are anxious to return to work. Unfortunately, many employees are also anxious about return to work plans. MP’s HR services team recommends approaching these challenges with caution. Burnout is at an all-time high right now. Pushing too hard on a return to the office may also be risking retaining the talent needed to get through the rest of the pandemic (and beyond). Below are five best HR strategies that will help employers gracefully respond to pushback on returning to the office.
- Get the return to work data you need. Employers should start with gathering thorough, updated job descriptions for their team. The most vital information is separating out the essential functions of every role. The EEOC defines essential functions as tasks that are fundamental to the job. You’ll need this information to be able to consider who can continue working remotely, who many need accommodations to return on-site, and who may need to take a leave of absence.
- Work with upper management to decide priorities. Employers will fare better against pushback if they have already discussed how they will handle resistance. MP’s HR compliance experts suggest asking a few questions:
- Do employees need to be physically supervised to perform up to standards?
- Do employees need immediate access to documents or information that is only on-site?
- Do employees need to be able to use certain special equipment or tools that can’t be used at home?
- Do employees need to meet each other face-to-face? (In other words, are phone and Zoom meetings not enough?)
- Do employees need to be in the office to meet with clients and customers?
- How have your workers performed over the course of pandemic? Have they met the goals they needed to? Have they performed their essential job duties?
Employers may find that they don’t need to require employees to work from the office every day, every week, or at all. Creating a solid plan and a list of non-negotiable and more negotiable options will help employers be ready for pushback.
- Build a list of accommodations that can be used before communicating with workers about the return to work plan. As mentioned earlier, it will be a smoother process to respond to pushback if employers already have an idea of what kind of accommodations they can offer. Some examples of accommodations could be:
- Providing extra PPE
- Allowing the employee to work in an isolated space
- Allowing the employee to work remotely except for days there are important tasks or meetings that can’t be remote
- Allowing the employee to work remotely for a few more months and re-evaluating again.
If employees are allowed to work remotely, creating a strong telework policy can be very helpful. To get the best performance out of employees, HR experts suggest laying out expectations for how workers will deliver assignments, be reached, what schedules they’ll work, etc.
- Engage in the interactive process with employees who request not to return to work. Especially if the employee is asking to work remotely because they have a disability that prevents them from getting vaccinated, you may be risking your ADA compliance. Even if the reason the employee doesn’t want to come back to work doesn’t have to do with a disability, the interactive process is still the ideal way to approach the situation. Set up a private meeting with the employee and anybody else who needs to be there. This might include their manager and an HR representative. (If the employer has an HR provider like MP, they can help the managers prep for these meetings.) Have a conversation about why the employee doesn’t want to return to work. Once you figure out their concerns, it will help you determine if they could work remotely for a little longer, work a hybrid schedule, or if there is some other accommodation that might work for both sides.
- Don’t jump to firing the employees who don’t want to return to work. This should be considered a last resort, if at all. It will create significant legal exposure for the employer and deeply damage employee morale (at a time when many employees already report feeling disengaged from their jobs and workplaces). Work with employees to find a compromise that meets both parties’ needs. This might mean allowing telecommuting for a longer time, then re-evaluating the circumstances in the future. Another option could be creating an exit plan, by which the employee looks for a new job and keeps the employer apprised of their progress. Then, the employer can replace the employee with a worker who can complete all job duties successfully.
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