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Leave Lessons and Return to Work Considerations During A Pandemic | Part 1

Employees working in their modified workspace during COVID-19

This year has been a challenging one as employers and employees have been forced to navigate an ever changing work environment. COVID-19 has brought drastic changes to the workplace - everyone adjusting to working from home, leave case managers handling more leaves due to the illness and quarantine orders, and implementing new leave laws like the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), etc. 

As restrictions begin to lessen and workplaces reopen, it’s important to understand return to work considerations during a pandemic, from a leave management perspective. In part one of this blog series, we’ll be discussing how to plan for employees generally returning to work, record keeping, and how to return employees who have been sick with COVID-19! 

Leave Considerations When Bringing Employees Back To Work

Plan Ahead

Before employers embark on returning employees to work, there are a few leave-related issues that should be addressed. One of these issues involves reviewing old policies and updating them to reflect the new reality of the workplace. This includes being flexible with employee leave entitlements (i.e. if they must care for a sick family member) while complying with federal, state and local laws. 

Policies should be reviewed with an eye towards the realities of working during a pandemic and may need to be updated temporarily or permanently. Policy updates should be practical, such as allowing employees to work remotely part-time. In this respect, employers may consider doing so even after restrictions are lifted, assuming that productivity levels remain high. A recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) report found that 68% of employers have adopted a broader, more flexible work from home policy. 

Employers need to stay on top of the ever changing landscape of leave laws surrounding COVID-19. They need to incorporate new entitlements into existing policies while also being aware of how the new entitlements affect existing benefits (i.e. parental leave), other requirements (i.e. documentation), and whether they run concurrently versus stand-alone. 

Subscribe to industry resources and look to industry experts to stay on top of leave law changes. We updated our systems for our customers with new COVID-19 related leaves and developed a FREE best practice guide for managing leave during COVID-19 that anyone can access. We’re constantly monitoring the leave law landscape for upcoming legislation and will continue to update the guide accordingly.

Another foolproof method to stay compliant with leave laws is to have a cloud-based leave management technology in place. Solutions like Presagia Leave enable employers to efficiently, compliantly and securely manage leave from anywhere during this time - no paper or spreadsheets necessary! 

Interested in learning more about Presagia’s solution? Set up your free discovery call today

Record Keeping

While managing leave and record keeping may be challenging during this time, it’s essential for employers and leave case managers to be diligent about this to ease the return to work process for employees. Proper documentation is also crucial in the event that an employee challenges whether proper pay and leave were given to them. 

Records that employers should keep when employees take leave under the FFCRA (regardless of whether the employer grants or denies leave) include:

  • Name of the employee requesting leave.
  • Date(s) of the leave being requested.
  • The reason for leave.
  • A statement from the employee that they are unable to work because of the reason.

When it comes to employees who request leave to quarantine or self-isolate, or care for an individual who must do so, there are a few additional pieces of information employers should document:

  • The name of the government entity that issued the order if the employee was subject to quarantine or self-isolation or is caring for an individual who was advised to do so.
  • The name of the healthcare provider who advised the employee (or individual they’re caring for) to quarantine or self-isolate.

If the employee requests leave to care for their child (whose school, place of care of their child caretaker is unavailable), employers must also document the name of the child being cared for, the name of the school, place of care or child care provider that has closed or is unavailable, and a statement from the employee that no other person is suitable to care for the child.

Standard documentation requirements still apply when an employee takes leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

While not required, documents from an employee’s doctor may provide additional insight into their needs (i.e. to plan for the type of equipment they may require). For example, if the employee has a disability that makes them more vulnerable to COVID-19, they may require a face mask to be worn at all times. However, employers need to be aware of state and local laws concerning emergency paid sick leave that don’t allow for the practice of requesting medical certifications.  

Returning Employees Who’ve Had COVID-19 to Work

When returning employees who’ve had COVID-19, it’s crucial for employers to keep an employee’s COVID-19 health-related information as a separate, confidential record

The United States Department of Labor (DOL) has provided guidance to help employers return employees to work if they’ve been sick with COVID-19 and took FMLA leave. Employers may request a doctor’s note as a condition of return, however they should be aware that it may be difficult for employees to obtain one, since the healthcare system is severely overwhelmed. Employers are also allowed to require a medical examination or that employees remain symptom-free for a period of time before they can return to work. The DOL also provided guidance under the ADA - employers are allowed to request the above actions when they have a reasonable belief that the employee’s condition would either: 

  • Impair their ability to perform their essential job-related duties (either with or without an accommodation). 
  • Pose a risk and put others in the workplace at harm. 

A best-practice taken from FMLA guidance, is when employers do require a medical release (or fitness for duty) for employees’ return to work, they should notify employees well in advance. As previously mentioned, employers should be aware of state or local laws which limit the practice of requesting medical information, or the terms of a collective bargaining agreement that dictate an employee’s return to work. Another important takeaway is that when employers are providing more information around the spread of the virus to their staff, it’s important that they don’t disclose the names of employees who have been infected.

While this time brings about a lot of uncertainty, it’s important to be proactive and stay “ahead of the curve.” Stay tuned for part two of this blog series, where we’ll explore other tips to help you safely return your employees back to work.


About Presagia

Founded in 1987, Presagia has a long history of helping organizations solve complex business problems with easy-to-use solutions. Today, this means providing cloud-based absence management solutions that enable organizations to be more efficient, control lost time and risk, and strengthen compliance with federal, state and municipal leave and accommodation laws.

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