benefitexpress May 8, 2020 8 min read

Returning to Work Post-Coronavirus: What to Expect

What employers can expect post COVID-19

Much of the United States has been under strict COVID-19 related stay-at-home orders for nearly two months now, but as restrictions slowly begin to lift across the country, employers and employees alike are wondering how they will return to the office safely.

Research suggests that about a quarter of businesses are planning to return to the office gradually, while another 12% says all employees will return at once. A surprising 29% said they don't have a re-opening plan at all, and only 10% have done "extensive" planning. 

Amidst all the controversy and uncertainty as to when both “essential” and “non-essential” businesses will reopen, one thing is certain: at some point in the future they will reopen. That said, businesses planning to reintegrate back into their regular on-site premises need a plan that maintains safety and rebuilds morale. To help you plan your organization's return to the office post-coronavirus, we've answered some of the most pressing questions from employers and employees. 

What do employers need to do to open safely?

All businesses are different, and safety protocol may differ based on location. However, there are a few common precautions all businesses should consider before opening their doors to employees. Let's start with the basics: make sure employees understand sanitation. Train them on how to wash their hands, how to maintain a sanitized workspace and social distancing. You'll also need to give them the right tools to do so, such as hand sanitizer, face masks and space to maintain social distancing. Speaking of social distancing, you may need to consider re-opening in phases, starting with a limited amount of employees or a staggered schedule. 

Pro Tip: Use your communication channels (or the communications team within your benefits administration provider) to keep employees in-the-know on proper hygiene and sanitation. For example a weekly e-blast, posters in restrooms or text message notifications. 

What if employees don't feel safe returning to work?

It's best to prepare scenarios for employees who won't feel safe returning to work, even when stay-at-home orders are completely lifted. If possible, be open to the possibility of remote work for a percentage of your staff for the foreseeable future. Since the start of cornonavirus, more than 75% of employees are working from home, and the number of employees who continue to work remotely post-pandemic is expected to increase by 10%. If the continuation of telecommuting is not doable, present employees with their options for time away from work such as the FFCRA (Families First Coronavirus Response Act). 

What are employers obligated to provide?

While there is no specific OSHA standard covering COVID-19, there are several requirements that apply to preventing the virus, especially when re-opening businesses. This includes Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), Hazardous Communication Standard (sanitizers and sterilization), and the “General Duty Clause,” which requires employers to furnish workers with “employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”

For more detailed information on prepping your office, refer to OSHA's guide “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19”.

Can employers check employee temperatures? 

Yes—and this may become standard practice for some companies as doors open but coronavirus concerns continue. In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) gave employers the green light to take employees' temperatures in efforts to ward off the spread of COVID-19 in guidance updated March 18. While taking temperatures on the job is permissible (and in some cases encouraged), it's important to remember that the presence of fever is not a clear indicator of infection, and some COVID-19 cases present with no fever at all. When in doubt, send any employee who is presenting illness home (and encourage testing or a check-up) until they are fully recovered, and encourage all employees to stay home when they are feeling sick.  

The global pandemic has certainly turned our worlds upside-down, and the re-opening of businesses presents a whole new set of challenges. Whether your office is already open or you're in the planning phase, communication and transparency is of utmost importance. Keep the line of communication open with employees on your plans for reopening, a potential timeline, and what to expect upon returning to the office.

Looking for more? Updates on coronavirus and the workplace are being released daily, and we're committed to keeping our community as up-to-date as possible. For more information, check out the COVID-19 section of our blog and subscribe today.