This is the first part of a four-part series in which we will look at a variety of things that small businesses must consider when planning next steps and bringing employees back into their jobs or back into a work environment.
It goes without saying that the way we have worked and what we have been doing day to day since about mid-March is nothing like it was prior to that time and it won’t be as it has been moving forward. Given that, this is the first part of a four-part series in which we will look at a variety of things that small businesses must consider when working through the process of bringing employees back into their jobs or back into a work environment.
Whether the workforce, in whole or part, was able to work remotely during this period or if they were laid off or furloughed, the transition back to work requires a lot of planning and strategy. Depending on if the workplace is opening completely or in conjunction with a phased approach, the first step is to determine who comes back and when. That means identifying essential employees and planning out the return to work schedule from there so that not all employees are brought back at the same time.
The next step is ensuring that the workplace and policies are aligned with returning to work. That is where we come in. The Employers Advantage LLC team has developed this checklist to help small businesses through this process. Let’s take a look at the checklist for the first step of Reassessing the Work Arrangements and what that means for your small business.
If the workforce shifted to working remotely during the pandemic, it is very likely that employees will prefer that option going forward either in a full time capacity or the option to have a flexible schedule.
In that case:
Review work from home productivity and technology capabilities – In looking at how to transition back to business, assessing the work that has been done during this time will help determine if a return to a full office environment may even be necessary. If productivity was maintained and the technology allows for work for home, consider making that an option or the new standard. If work from home did not work or is not a feasible long term option, returning to an office environment may not be of interest to some employees and turnover may be likely.
Decide the option for long term work from home arrangements – Once you’ve determined if productivity and technology allow for remote work, determine if this is a long-term strategy for your small business. It does not necessarily need to be a full remote work environment, but it could be that employees have the option for a part time work from home option. As an example, allowing for 2 days a week work from home and 3 days a week in the office. Not only may it help with employee moral to allow some flexibility, it would help with the social distancing guidelines and office arrangements to have staggered shifts of people in the office.
Communicate the decision to the team – It is important to be clear and transparent in communicating work arrangements to employees and the options, if any, around long-term work from home options. Setting very clear expectations around performance, communication and work standards is imperative to a successful work from home strategy.
Develop new terms of employment letters – Issuing a new terms of employment letter (a version of an offer letter) is a good way to outline the expectations of the new structure of their role. Review this with the employees, get a mutual agreement of work from home terms and have the employee sign off on it for their employee file, similar to a regular offer letter that outlines the terms of employment.
If the workforce is in a layoff or furlough status, the transition back to the workplace will be a little different. Let's look at those considerations:
Is everyone being brought back at once or incrementally? Who comes back first? Are employees brought back on a part time or full-time basis? – For employees that may be in a furlough status or if they were laid off, here again, we are looking at a sequence for return to work. This is going to come down to what the business needs are and what is allowable within the industry that you are in as it relates to the states stay at home order guidelines. The decision of who comes back and when must be based on business needs and performance or there could be some liability and unintended consequences if the decisions are not job related. Just like any other workplace scenario, documentation and consistency around the decisions that are made and why are imperative. Not only is there the potential for Equal Employment Opportunity issues here, there are also Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) guidelines to be aware of. Just as when you put a salaried employee on furlough, it had to be in full week increments, keep in mind that if you are bringing back any employees from a furlough that are salaried, it would need to be at the start of a new work week. If they are brought back to work, or if they work, any portion of the work week, they will need to be paid for that entire week.
Outside of making the decisions and preparing the work arrangements for business to resume, there is the very likely scenario that employees may not either be available to come back to work from a layoff or furlough, they found another job or they don’t want to because they are making more money on unemployment. Every small business owner must account for this in their return to work and back to business strategy and determine the next steps, particularly if the recall is due to Payroll Protection Program loan forgiveness. We do recommend notifying the state that you are hiring and recalling employees back to work, which would then trigger the unemployment process for those employees refusing to come back and preferring to collect unemployment.
There are so many aspects to consider when looking at opening business back up and returning employees to the workplace so assessing this with a trusted resource is important. If you have questions around the return to work strategy for your small business, reach out to Employers Advantage LLC Client Relationship Manager, Robert Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org and let's talk.
In the next series, we will talk about identifying the HR policies that may be necessary to have when returning employees to work.