How to Create a Plan to Return to Work


The state of Louisiana is entering phase 2 of its economic reopening plan, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t exercise extreme caution as we return to work. Returning to work during COVID-19 is a balancing act, but being prepared helps you tip the scales towards health and safety for your employees.

“We’re all learning, and things will continue to change,” says Nakimuli Davis-Primer, shareholder at Baker Donelson. “It’s important that employers are prepared, but also ready to respond and adapt.”

Here’s how to reopen your workplace while still ensuring your employees’ health and safety.

Create a Return-to-Work Taskforce

The first step to returning to work is researching regulations and guidance at local and national levels. It’s a lot for one person to keep track of, so consider creating a return-to-work taskforce consisting of people who can help you understand and implement those regulations.

“A human resources person and a health and safety representative are great people to have on your taskforce,” Davis-Primer says. If your startup has access to legal counsel, invite them to sit on your taskforce as well. Also consider including an employee liaison. They will be more familiar with effective workflows on the floor and be able to provide input on successful implementation.

In addition to city and state reopening regulations, make sure you and your taskforce consider federal guidelines as well as guidances from OSHA and the CDC.

Mitigate Risk with New Processes

If you want your employees to return to work, they will want to know that you have policies in place to protect their health. Work with your taskforce to develop new processes to support social distancing in the workplace, such as rearranging workstations or staggered scheduling for both shifts and breaks. Train employees on changing workflows and ways they can support health and safety at work.

“You need to develop policies and procedures for protecting your employees under the lens of requirements laid out by the state, CDC and OSHA,” Davis-Primer says. Plan to screen for symptoms and supply face masks, hand sanitizer and gloves.

Most importantly, develop protocols in the event of exposure or diagnosis in the workplace. For example, have contact tracing measures in place and be prepared to thoroughly clean and disinfect areas that have been exposed to the virus. In the case of a COVID-19 diagnosis, make sure you are aware of both OSHA and your local government’s reporting regulations.

Communicate Evolving Policies to Your Employees

In order for your return-to-work plan to be effective, you need employee buy-in and support. Make sure your employees understand the importance of your evolving health measures and are prepared to abide by new policies. “There needs to be ongoing communication between employers and employees on how to work together,” Davis-Primer says. Both parties need to be held accountable for protecting workplace health and safety.

Be prepared to offer accommodations to older or otherwise immunocompromised employees. These could include continued remote work, if possible, or designated workspaces with minimized contact with the public or other employees.

Finally, make sure your employees know that they will not be punished for not coming to work if they are sick. “Employees are uncertain of their livelihood,” Davis-Primer points out. Educate employees on their right to leave under the FFCRA so they don’t feel compelled to hide any symptoms from you.

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