Q: Before March, 2020, I had issued warnings to two of the nineteen staff members. Since the pandemic, many of them have had challenges with COVID-19, schooling issues with their kids, childcare, fear of the workplace and others in close proximity and their performance. Our company is in a remote part of New England, where COVID-19 numbers have been lower than other locations. We are asking some employees to return to the office slowly, beginning in October. Do you have any guidance for us?
A: You are smart to ask! This pandemic has disrupted many businesses and hurt our economy for sure. It sounds like your work environment is an office-type environment, which is helpful to know.
First make sure you are reviewing the compliance requirements. https://www.mass.gov/info-details/reopening-when-can-my-business-reopen is a useful resource for many businesses.
Additionally, think about what roles can be performed remotely (and what roles can’t be performed remotely). Some roles, like a machinist, don’t lend themselves to working remotely. Some roles, like a customer service representative (handling most tasks via telephone or electronically) can probably be done remotely, depending upon the technology available.
If you have roles that can’t be performed remotely, think about how your employees will enter and exit safely. Do they have to ride an elevator? Are there options to encourage social distancing? Can you provide masks in case an employee arrives without one? Can you provide hand sanitizer? Are you able to wipe down frequently touched surfaces like door handles and the photocopier buttons? Much of this is covered in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ guidelines but think specifically about your office layout and the number of employees who can safely work there.
Many of our clients are creatively looking at work schedules to enhance social distancing, while also helping employees balance family and personal obligations. Some are offering employees with the option of working weekend or evening in-office hours. We have one client whose administrative support employee is working a few evenings and Saturdays to also balance child care/remote learning.
I would encourage you to discuss expectations regarding returning to the workplace now. If possible, ask employees to brainstorm different options. Slow but steady may win the race here. Employees also may be anxious about returning to your office.
Regarding your employees who received written warnings, I would watch the quality and the quantity of their work, as you probably had done before the pandemic. Let them know that you hope that they can improve their performance upon return, but the pandemic doesn’t erase the written warning.
Good luck with the office return. You are wise to be thoughtful about the return to the office.