The unknowns of COVID-19 and a cautious reopening of society are causing a lot of stress for employees and employers alike. Employers are facing myriad considerations as Massachusetts businesses gradually return to a new normal. Employees, meanwhile, may not want to return to work because of fear or they are making much more money with unemployment and CARES Act subsidies than they made on the job.
Businesses that communicate to employees and customers that safety is their top priority will ease fears. If employees prefer to continue receiving subsidized unemployment benefits, their employers will have to show them the value of working for the company by enticing them with 401K and other retirement plans; paid time off, including sick days and vacation days; and such fringe benefits as tuition assistance.
Employees may not realize that unemployment benefits are temporary. Though the money is tempting, the subsidies will end in July. Those who aren’t having taxes withheld from their unemployment benefits or paying estimated taxes will have to pay the full amount when they file their income tax returns.
Some employees may be wary of returning to work because they are at high risk of developing complications if they get COVID-19 or they live with high-risk family members. Their doctor can provide a note certifying the risk. Have discussions about putting protections in place, at least temporarily. Employers will be obligated to follow the policy that protects the employee and to address safety concerns.
Businesses are busy working with HR, quality and safety departments to develop procedures and policies to protect the health of visitors and employees. The planned procedures and policies must be submitted to Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration. Nonessential businesses must submit the information and be approved before they reopen. Essential businesses, which have remained open during the pandemic, have until July to submit their plans. I’ve downloaded the forms and posters from Gov. Baker’s office to help my clients draft protocols and keep their workplace as safe as possible.
Employers who need to hire new workers should try to keep the best candidate ready to bring on board when the time is right. Offering hiring bonuses would encourage good candidates to accept a job offer. People will be looking for jobs because they want to work and they know the unemployment benefits are going to end.
Some of the return-to-work issues employers face today are:
- Whether to check the temperatures of employees and visitors before entering the business.
- How to prevent people from congregating in common areas and the cafeteria.
- How to accommodate employees at high risk of complications from COVID-19 or living with high-risk family members.
- Office space logistics such as whether the company has cubicles and rooms with windows.
- How to address 25 percent occupancy limits.
Gov. Baker’s administration is hoping businesses will continue to allow some employees to work remotely. On site, businesses are looking at staggered work shifts and staggered lunch breaks.
As business prepares to ramp up for government approval, here is a checklist of critical considerations for employers:
- Workplace safety: Implement screening, cleaning and social distancing procedures. Provide personal hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment (PPE), including face masks and gloves.
- Recall procedures: Develop an organized approach for how and when employees return to work.
- Employee benefits: Notify employees of any benefits changes. Changes may be needed in health insurance or flexible spending plans to remain compliant. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provides emergency sick leave and funding for free coronavirus testing for some employees.
- Compensation: Employers may have had to make changes in compensation during the coronavirus crisis, including pay cuts. Consider how to catch up with missed annual pay increases or bonuses and whether to offer hazard pay.
- Remote work: Consider whether to continue telecommuting, which may have worked well during the pandemic, or pull it back, stagger shifts and update technology to keep up with the changes.
- Communication: Establish a clear communications plan to allow employees and customers to understand how the organization plans to reopen and re-establish business processes. Detail policies for staying home if sick, maintaining social distancing, training and a disinfectant protocol.
- New-hire paperwork: Laid-off employees will need to file new paperwork, so consider whether to follow normal hiring procedures, determine employment application and benefits requirements, adjust orientation procedures if needed and notify state unemployment offices of recalled workers.
- Policy changes: Update or create new policies to reflect the new normal, including paid-leave policies, attendance policies that encourage sick employees to stay home, and time-off request policies that address when the employer can require time off if an employee has to be sent home.
- Business continuity plans: The pandemic has been an eye-opener for businesses, which will have learned lessons about their business continuity policies or lack of policies. If there was no plan, implement one that includes infectious disease control, update existing plans to include the latest emergency information on pandemics and workplace protocols for responding to global disasters, and update resources and contact information.
- Unions: Consider bargaining obligations when making changes to wages and benefits with unionized workers and the possibility of adding a force majeure clause to a collective bargaining agreement to protect the company from contractual obligations in an extraordinary event.
Changing the workplace for a new normal is going to be a challenge, but together, we can make it work.
Information in this article was compiled from the Society for Human Resource Management and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s office.
50+ Job Seekers Networking workshops
The 50+ Job Seekers Networking Group will hold virtual meetings in June. Here are the topics and dates for the upcoming meetings:
- Northampton: 9 a.m. to noon Monday, June 29, “Virtual Interviews.”
No workshops will be held in July or August. The meetings will resume in September.
The registration page for first-time participants is at https://mcoaonline.com/employment/50-plus-job-seeker-networking-groups/.
Radio show debuts
Darlene Corbett and I are hosting our new show, “Connections Count,” from 1 to 2 p.m. Mondays on Unity Radio 97.9 FM. Our show debuted this week! You also can find us on Unity Radio’s website at https://www.wuty979fm.org/monday. If you’d like to be a guest on the show, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have any questions about Human Resources topics, send me an email at email@example.com.