CoAdvantage- At long last, the potential end of the pandemic may be in sight, as Americans are being vaccinated in huge (albeit slowing) numbers. As of the end of May 2021, more than 50% of Americans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccination and over 40% had received both doses.
Indeed, the United States has had one of the most successful vaccine rollouts of any country in the world, with 88 doses delivered per 100 people, according to The New York Times.
With increased vaccination has come a drop in the prevalence of COVID-19, with daily deaths at its lowest rate in nearly a year. These circumstances are allowing Americans to begin getting back to normal, and that includes getting back to the workplace. What do employers need to be considering as they adjust or roll back work-from-home (WFH) arrangements?
1: Implement any appropriate ongoing safety measures
Many safety and wellness policies enacted by employers during the pandemic may well be made permanent or continued for the indefinite future, even after employees return to the office. Employers need to decide how they will handle ongoing health screening procedures, provision of personal protective equipment to employees, whether they will continue to use elevated cleaning procedures, what physical distancing measures they may continue to use, when and how to resume business travel, and how to ensure that they remain in compliance with all Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA) requirements and guidance.
2: Make any appropriate policy changes
Next, employers should update or create new policies that reflect any changes made during the pandemic that will be extended or made permanent. For example, if the employer continues to offer WFH on an optional or part-time basis, written policies should formalize and operationalize how it will work. Who gets to work from home, when, and under what conditions? Similarly, if the business implements any permanent or long-term safety protocols, those should also be formalized in written policy.
3: Determine how to recall workers
The actual return of employees to the workplace is itself a logistical process that may include recalling employees who had been furloughed or laid off. Employers need to articulate procedures for handling this process. For example, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), as part of its “COVID-19 Back-to-Work Checklist,” recommends phasing in employees returning to work on the basis of “nondiscriminatory factors for selection.” It may also be necessary to notify state unemployment agencies of any employees who have been recalled.
4: Make reasonable accommodations if appropriate
Employers also need to be prepared to handle employee requests from those who may feel uncomfortable or unable to return to the physical workspace. Indeed, a survey from SHRM in February 2021 found that more than half (52%) of US workers said they would never return to the physical workplace if given the option. Given the fact that 40% of U.S. employees have said they probably or definitely will not get the COVID-19 vaccine (many even if the employer requires it), employers may wish take the concerns of other employees seriously.
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