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Returning to Work after COVID-19: Risks and Responsibilities

Returning to Work after COVID-19: Risks and Responsibilities

Considerations for employers as they reopen their workplaces to employees.

After months of remote work, both employees and employers alike are eager to go back to the office. However, returning to work after the COVID-19 pandemic isn't an easy decision. Reopening comes with risks to employees' mental and physical health, as well as scheduling conflicts for employees who also have to care for family members.

Employers should consider these risks, as well as the responsibilities they have to mitigate these risks, when deciding whether to bring employees back to the workplace.

Is your workplace ready to welcome employees back?

To ease the transition, HR teams need to make changes to policies, procedures and processes to keep everyone healthy and safe. This checklist includes steps to take as you prepare your organization for returning to work after COVID-19.

Get the Checklist

Mental Health

Risk: Employees may feel anxious about returning to work too quickly.

Employees may be nervous about heading back to the office for a number of reasons. Perhaps they or one of their family members have a health condition that makes them more susceptible to the virus. If you live in an area with an increasing number of coronavirus cases, they might feel safer self-isolating at home. They could also fear that they are an asymptomatic carrier who could spread the virus to more vulnerable coworkers.

Responsibility: Provide mental health resources.

As an employer, your employees' mental health should be a top priority right now. HR staff should send all employees a list of free mental health resources employees can access if they're feeling uneasy. This list should also include mental health practitioners that your company's insurance plan covers and information about your company's Employee Assistance Program if you have one.

In addition, communicate all of the new safety procedures you've adopted in your workplace in a company-wide email. Knowing cleaning processes, social distancing measures and where to access hygiene products (e.g. hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes) can help ease nervous minds.

RELATED: 23 Resources to Help Employers Respond to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Physical Health

Risk: Employees may contract the virus from or spread it to their coworkers.

The most obvious risk of returning to work after COVID-19 is an outbreak of the virus in your workplace. Spreading a potentially deadly virus through the office would be bad enough, but employees who contract the coronavirus at work could then infect family, friends and other members of the community.

Responsibility: Create a healthy, safe workplace.

If you choose to reopen your workplace to employees, take every health and safety precaution you can. Provide cleaning and hygienic products for employees to use, including hand sanitizer and disinfecting spray or wipes. Schedule more frequent and deeper cleanings for your office and inform employees of these new practices.

To protect employees working in close quarters, install plexiglass cubicle dividers and provide masks for workplace wear. If possible, rearrange the office to space employees further apart. Finally, educate employees about the ways they can protect themselves and their coworkers from the virus while at work (e.g. wearing masks, proper hand washing, keeping six feet apart, staying home when they feel sick).

Employees might need a reminder about your workplace's new procedures. Hang this COVID-19 office safety poster in common areas to help them establish healthy habits.

Competing Responsibilities

Risk: Employees who are caregivers may not be able or willing to return to work.

Many schools and childcare centers are still closed or only offer part-time care. Taking care of their children during the day might conflict with work responsibilities for some employees. Others may have to care for an older family member or one who has contracted COVID-19.

Responsibility: Provide options to the traditional nine-to-five workday in the office.

To help employees who are caregivers, as well as to limit the number of people in the office at once, offer alternatives to the "normal" work day. These could include:

  • Shifted hours (e.g. 6-2, or four hours in the morning and four hours at night with the afternoon off)
  • Full-time remote work
  • Working from home two or three days per week and at the office for the rest

If you have the space and resources, consider starting an in-office childcare service. This would let employees focus on work, boosting productivity while giving them peace of mind about their kids.

RELATED: Returning to Work After the COVID-19 Pandemic: A 6-Step Plan