Written by David Huntley
While the Department of Labor, Center for Disease Control, and Minnesota’s Department for Employment and Economic Development all offer guidance on what businesses must do before they can bring their employees back and open their doors, they offer very little help on how to manage your return to work. The COVID-19 pandemic had an unprecedented impact at the intersection between health concerns and the workplace. As all of us are aware, in attempts to stop the spread of COVID-19 most businesses were required to cease operations from their brick and mortar locations, and those in industries where workers couldn’t work from home had to temporarily shut down completely.
With Executive Order 20-56 coming from Governor Tim Walz, we see the first semblance of a return to normal, with most businesses being allowed to reopen to customers starting May 18th, though with contingencies in place requiring halved capacity (as determined by the Fire Marshall’s maximum occupancy limit). While EO 20-56 strongly suggests continuing to self-isolate, wear face coverings while in public, and socially distancing while in public, it mandates several requirements for customer facing businesses. These mandates include requiring employees that can work from home continue to work from home, health screenings of employees to prevent sick employees from being allowed to work, social distancing, source control, and disinfecting surfaces. The rest of how to manage reopening your business has not been addressed, so here’s a few tips I hope are helpful:
1. Don’t Try to Return to Normal, Instead Try to Achieve Performance Standards. While I think we all miss “normal”, it’s probably not going to come back. Workers that have become accustomed to working from home, and have proven that it’s a viable option for completing their work, are not likely to give it up. Workplaces that emphasize returning to how things used to be instead of competing in the post-COVID marketplace may find that their talent leaves for work-from-home pastures. Likewise, brick and mortar businesses that can show both their employees and their customers that they’re adapting to the new context instead of reverting to what was familiar will likely be the businesses that retain talent and capture new sales. Accept that change has happened, and you might have to explore several new options for handling employment.
- Unemployment is Going to Make the Talent Pool Get Wavy. I think that there are going to be a few types of employees as return to work begins, including those who are excited to get back in the office, those who are (validly) concerned about the pandemic, and others. The type that’s going to be least familiar to business owners are those who were making more on unemployment than they were while working. In Minnesota, many employees made more with the federal kicker on the state’s unemployment insurance payout than they did at work. It might be hard to convince some people to make less money to come back to work. An essential step is going to be sending a written, signed, and dated letter through first class mail, while retaining a copy, which invites them to return to work and details the precautions you’re taking to ensure the health of your workers and customers. When you reach out to your employees, a small portion of them are going to want to remain on unemployment for as long as they can. It is unfortunate for businesses and the unemployment program, but an unsurprising choice for some individuals. The best recourse you’ll have is to provide the state with evidence that you recalled them to work, in a workplace that does not create a risk to their health or to the health of others, and that they declined.
- You May Not Be Able to Recall All Employees at the Same Time. While I think that customers are going to come back with a bang instead of a whisper, some industries might have work trickle in at first and won’t be able to bring back their full workforce. The first consideration when recalling employees is to ensure that you follow any collective bargaining agreements to which you’re subject. Barring union presence in your workplace, you need to have a defensible reason for who you recalled and who you didn’t. I’d recommend writing a couple paragraphs on the reasons why you recalled some employees first and why others weren’t recalled. These paragraphs should focus either on objective results of their work or the specific parts of their job that the business needs, or at least evidence from past performance reviews about why they’re a better worker than others. Subjective things like “they don’t fit the culture as well” or “they have a bad attitude” aren’t going to be strong, especially if coincidence leads to your recall appearing discriminatory. Carefully consider each employee on the merits of their work and how they mesh with the needs of your business.
If you have questions that are unanswered by this blog post or other resources available, feel free to ping me on LinkedIn or submit a contact request to Info@terchandassociates.com and I’ll help as much as I can. Good luck and stay healthy!