Tips for returning employees to the office, keeping them safe amid pandemic

Posted at 12:51 PM, May 19, 2020

As states across the country start to lift shelter-in-place restrictions, businesses are starting to evaluate when and how they'll be welcoming employees back to their desks.

For so many offices, this is an unprecedented time.

"There's definitely some challenges and some things that employers need to consider before reopening their offices and returning their employees to work," said Amber Clayton, the Knowledge Center director for the Society for Human Resources Management.

Clayton says their agency has been inundated with questions from employers asking what they can legally do to ensure their offices are safe from spreading the coronavirus.

"Right now, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission has been a little bit more lenient during the pandemic in that employers can actually do-- temperature checking and cover testing of their employee,” explained Clayton. “They still need to follow the guidelines with regards to confidentiality, not sharing those results with others, not asking for more information than is required, such as medical histories.”

And for an employee coming into work sick?

"That could be part of the employer’s policy, that if someone does come in sick to work and they are showing symptoms, the employer can actually send them home," said Clayton.

"To me, it's balancing three different things: How do I keep my employees safe? How do I bring them back to work and still be productive?" said Darcey McAllister, who is the principal consultant at HRT Northwest in Oregon.

McAllister is also assisting employers as they look into transitioning back into their offices.

"The common areas, so if you share Xerox or copier machines, everyone is touching that. What are the protocols for cleaning that? Your lunchroom kitchen or lunchroom refrigerator," explained McAllister.

Employers are also looking into dividing their workers into shifts if their office doesn't have the space for social distancing. They are also thinking of options for those employees who rely on public transportation to get to the office.

"Metropolitan workers who took the train or the bus or the subway into work, do we want them to do that? And a lot of my clients are saying no. So, they're having to find out how to help their employees get to work," said McAllister.

Most importantly, employers need to work with each department in the company to have a plan when considering bringing people back into the office and ensure everyone is treated equally during the transition.

"Making sure that you’re being consistent with those, that you’re not just selecting individuals to be tested, that everyone is being tested to come back to the office. That you’re not discriminating against anyone based on medical conditions," said Clayton.

With so many guidelines from state and national offices, plus recommendations depending on your industry, employers mostly need to ensure they're following all legal protocols, while adjusting to this new normal working environment.