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Return To Work- Covid 19 Reopening

Before employees start returning to work onsite, employers need to define the new normal by creating or revising policies to address a range of workplace issues, including employee relations and benefits.  Additionally, we have prepared a quick FFCRA leave form that employers can use.

When the local Governor lifts any stay at home orders and allows businesses to open, the CDC guidelines shall control business operations in phases. There are three phases put in place for guidance:

Phase I will incorporate the following restricted protocols:

  1.  Continue telework/remote access if and where able
  2. Return employees in phases
  3. Close common areas and enforce strict  social distancing  i.e. 6 ft distance or greater
  4. Minimize non essential business travel
  5. Consider special accommodations for workers who are embers of a vulnerable population

Types of industries to open:

  1. Elective surgeries can resume
  2. Outpatient facilities adhere to CMS guidelines
  3. Sit down dining establishment can operate under strict physical distancing
  4. Movie theaters with strict social distancing
  5. Sporting events with strict social distancing
  6. Place of worship with strict social distancing, no gyms

Continued social distancing may now be a company requirement, rather than a suggestion. While meeting rooms may have capacity limits, we will not be encouraging meeting in large groups or at capacity, and the checking of employees’ temperatures when they arrive each day may be required.

It may make sense for certain employees to continue to work from home or in flexible shifts, employment attorneys advise. HR professionals should review their flexible workplace policies and determine whether it makes sense to update them with expanded measures and protections. There are some jobs and certain workers who may be encouraged to continue to work remotely as we seek to phase people back to the office

Because employers have permitted teleworking/remote access during the pandemic, many employees with children at home have likely not used the emergency family and medical leave provided by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, instead of returning immediately we could see a new wave of employee requests for time available under the new laws.

Many HR professionals suggest adding policies that address:

  • If and how the organization will conduct temperature checks, whether it’s done directly, through a third party or by self-reporting.
  • Cross-training the workforce to accommodate more employee absences.
  • Social distancing in the workplace.
  • Masks in the workplace.

Additional information on forehead thermometers can be downloaded here.

It is an Employer best practice to disseminate the updated policy(ies) and require employees to sign an acknowledgement of the new policies on preventing the spread of the coronavirus (e.g., abiding by any required safety measures and not reporting to work if feeling ill).

The use of masks in the workplace, while not mandated for many, is likely to become the new normal. Employees should be allowed to wear their own masks or facial coverings until the CDC advises otherwise. These coverings could be cloth masks, handkerchiefs or scarves.

Businesses that temporarily laid off or furloughed employees should continue to communicate with these workers. Furloughs could be extended or shortened, depending on the type of business, return to work timelines, and needs of the business. It is advisable for the Employer to create a policy and share with employees about the amount of notice an employee will receive to come back to work. For example, some policies allow for a 36-hour notice, others could be shorter to call an employee back to work sooner than the original furlough indicated. Keeping lines of communication open during a furlough is crucial to the business.

Benefits: Look Out for These Changes

Employees who have been working from home may have made changes to certain benefits, such as reducing contributions to dependent care assistance flexible spending accounts (FSAs) or commuter and parking expenses. Employers should remind employees who return to work to elect these benefits again for the remainder of the year, subject to annual limits for each.  

The Coronavirus Aid, Response, and Economic Security Act allows health FSAs—along with health savings accounts and health reimbursement arrangements—to reimburse over-the-counter medicine and drugs and menstrual care products, effective Jan. 1. Employers should update their plan documents and summary plan descriptions to describe these new rules and communicate them to employees.

Most benefits plans have been very flexible with employees and have not reduced benefits for those dropping below a 30 hr work week. However, if employees lost their benefits eligibility (e.g., because they no longer qualified as “full-time”), employers will need to determine if and when those employees can re-enter the benefits plans. This will require the Employer to review benefits plan provisions with respect to eligibility and elections, including cafeteria plan provisions applicable to health and welfare benefits.

For more information on the re-opening of America, see the full details here

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