Returning to workplaces will be anything but “business as usual” for the hundreds of thousands of organizations and nonprofits shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic. For small to midsize businesses grappling with when and how to reopen, we’re here to help. Now is the time for employers to reshape their workplaces for the betterment of employees and their businesses altogether. In this article, we’ll discuss the main things to consider when creating your return-to-work plan.

Return To Work Plans: Why Your Business Needs One

A return-to-work plan is typically created to help reintegrate workers who have been injured or on leave; it includes details on how the worker will gradually return to work and any job-related specifics. In preparation for reopening after COVID-19 closures , it’s imperative that employers construct a similar return-to-work plan for their employees to keep everyone healthy and safe.

Putting a thoughtful, comprehensive plan into place doesn’t only benefit employees but employers as well. Done right, the clarity and direction provided by such a plan usually leads to increased employee engagement, reduced turnover, improved communication, and higher morale. Employees who are provided return-to-work plans are able to get back to work quicker than those who don’t; employers generally see increased work productivity following an employee’s return to work.

The benefits of return-to-work plans are undeniable. While these plans are typically customized on an individual basis, employers can use the basics of a return-to-work plan to build their approach to how employees return to work following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Need to create a work-from-home policy, but not sure where to start? Get best practices, policy guidelines, and two templates in this free guide.

Your Return To Work Plan: 7 Considerations

While employers may need to tailor their organization’s COVID-19 return-to-work plan to employees’ specific needs (e.g., child care arrangements, caregiving responsibilities and health issues), having a generalized plan in place can help them safely reopen their business.

Your COVID-19 return-to-work plan should include the following:

1. An Anticipated Return-to-work Date

With the uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought, it’s important to be clear about the date employees are being asked to return to work. However, while you should strive to communicate a specified date, it’s important to be flexible, as local and state orders are frequently updated.

2. Disinfecting & Cleaning Measures

COVID-19 can remain on surfaces long after they’ve been touched, making it necessary for businesses to frequently clean and disinfect the facility. Some best practices include:

3. Social Distancing Protocol

Be clear about your policy regarding social distancing, or deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness. Social distancing best practices for businesses include:

4. Employee Screening Procedures

To keep employees safe, consider conducting screening procedures to identify potentially ill employees before they enter the office. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) permits employers to measure employees’ body temperatures before allowing them to enter the worksite. Any employee screening should be implemented on a nondiscriminatory basis, and all information gleaned should be treated as confidential medical information under the Americans with Disabilities Act—specifically, the identity of workers exhibiting a fever or other COVID-19 symptoms should only be shared with members of company management with a true need to know. Be sure to notify employees of the screening process to avoid any surprises.

5. Employee Safety Training

A return-to-work requirement should be creating detailed information around new safety policies and procedures to ensure all employees understand how they can prevent the spread of COVID-19. The plan should include the following:

6. Mental Health Considerations

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased stress levels for everyone. It’s important that employers consider ways they can help manage the stress, and that the return-to-work policy communicates the options employees have with regard to managing mental health.

7. Process For Individualized Requests

Every employee faces a unique situation at home or with their health. Even though many people will return on a regular schedule, some may need special accommodations. Thus an employer’s return-to-work plan should include information about how employees can go about making individualized requests for changes to a return-to-work plan. Some may have underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk of severe illness with COVID-19, meaning they may not be able to fully return to work. Others may need to make special child care arrangements due to school and daycare closures. Employers should be flexible and compassionate in response to individualized requests.

Best Practices

As business slowly returns to normal, consider the following best practices to keep staff motivated and your reputation unharmed:

Be Prepared To Reopen—Successfully

If you’d like help developing and customizing your company’s return-to-work plan, reach out to us at Genesis. We know that COVID-19 has likely been a challenge in all aspects of HR, and as New England’s premier PEO, we’re here to assist. Our partners get access to every solution we offer, from HR practices and policies, to benefits selection and administration, to compliance, payroll processing, and more. Learn how a partnership with Genesis can serve you—sign up for a free consultation.

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