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Leave Lessons and Return to Work Considerations During A Pandemic | Part 2

An employee creating a safe plan for his employees to return to work during a pandemic

In part one of this blog series we discussed planning ahead, how there’s no such thing as keeping too many records while bringing back employees during COVID-19, and how to return an employee who was sick with COVID-19. 

Now, in part two, we’ll explore the importance of keeping open communication with your employees during this time, having a phased approach to reintroducing employees back into the workplace, and other safety considerations. 

Developing A Safe Return-To-Work Process For Employees

Keep Communicating With Your Employees

Just as it’s important for employers to keep open communication with employees during FMLA leave, it’s equally important for open communication to happen while returning employees back to work. With risk and uncertainty at the forefront of everyone’s mind, it’s crucial for employers to communicate matters such as when the office will be reopening, how employees feel about returning to work, and how employers plan to protect their employees’ health and safety. Your employees are your greatest asset, therefore it’s important to communicate logistics and to understand their needs, because communication is a two-way street.

Consider A Phased Approach To Reopening

Phasing employees gradually into the workplace is optimal for organizations who wish to limit the number of employees physically present in the workplace initially to ensure the proper policies and processes are in place as more and more people return. A major benefit of phasing employees back into the workplace is that it allows time for routine maintenance and doesn’t overburden cleaning staff. Making physical modifications which separate teams and allow for continued social distancing in the workplace is another possibility. This could include using plexiglass, designating one-way aisles, etc. Differing work schedules for employees can also help limit the number of people in the office at a single time.

Safety Issues For Bringing Employees Back To Work

Employees have understandable concerns when it comes to returning to work amidst a pandemic, and as an employer it’s important to address these. Employers are required by federal and state laws to protect their employees and provide a safe work environment, however there is limited guidance on what this means during a pandemic as we are in uncharted waters.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has provided some guidance in regards to safety standards for employers during COVID-19. OSHA’s resources help employers identify risk factors for employees (i.e. employees who are 65 years and older and those with a compromised immune system), safety standards and protocols (such as providing face protection, sanitation, gloves, etc), and much more! 

Knowing and keeping up with your statewide protocols for returning employees back to work is also crucial, especially if you are a multi-state organization.

Providing Accommodations For Those With COVID-19

If an employee has a disability because of COVID-19, or their disabilities are aggravated because of COVID-19, they may be entitled to leave or an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If they request a reasonable accommodation or are vulnerable and would require one, you must engage in the interactive process with them. 

This entails gathering information about the employee’s restrictions and the essential functions of their job, engaging in a transparent dialogue about how they might be accommodated, and making a determination on the accommodation path forward. If an accommodation is achieved, there should be consistent monitoring and dialogue about it until the case is closed.

If you’d like to learn more about the ADA and how technology can help you navigate the interactive process, check out our recently published whitepaper

While this time is a challenge for everyone, we hope that this guidance for employers and leave case managers helps you effectively navigate this uncertain territory!

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