Tips On How to Get Back to Business with COVID-19 Challenges

This month’s newsletter has been re-printed with the permission of Barbara Freet, President of HR Advisors.

We would like to discuss three things that may be helpful at this point in our ongoing and constantly changing COVID-19 challenge.

#1: What can you do if employees don’t want to come to work when you have work available?

We are seeing one expected consequence and one unexpected consequence of the need to stay at home and shelter-in-place.

The expected consequence is that some employees are too afraid to come back to work. Some have medical issues of their own, others have the responsibility to care for aging parents, others are pregnant or have pregnant family members, and still others are just afraid. What should you do when these people are needed to work in your workplace in order for you to serve your customers/clients/patients?

Under this circumstance, employers have to weigh the needs of the employee for health and safety with the needs of the business.Communication is key. It is important to have a conversation with the employee on the phone (not by email or texting), to determine what the employee’s specific concerns are. Listening well is critical and so is your tone when you respond. Then, after hearing what the employee has to say about their specific concerns, you should advise the employee about the steps you are taking in the workplace that address those concerns. If the employee has concerns that you can’t address, or the employee is not confident that your procedures will adequately relieve their concerns, you have the option of putting that employee on an unpaid personal leave of absence, Medical Leave if they are ill themselves, or family medical leave.

There are a number of laws that address an unsafe work environment or an environment which employees perceive to be unsafe. We strongly recommend that you plan ahead to make sure that you follow your state and local requirements and also take all the steps you can to ensure your employees and customers/clients/patients also feel comfortable and safe in your workplace. Publicize your methods; put up signs to instruct those that enter your workplace about your expectations for wearing a face mask, social distancing, seating, taking breaks and meal periods, etc. Taking all the steps available to ensure safety along with maintaining a positive attitude may encourage employees to return and your customers/clients/patients as well.

The unexpected consequence of the stimulus money being applied to those who are on temporary layoff or furlough in the form of an additional $600 per week of Unemployment Insurance is that some employees are now making more money on Unemployment than they were making while working. As a result, those employees aren’t too excited about working and earning less. It is understandable that employees want to earn as much as possible to care for themselves and their families. But you need them to return for the sake of your business. What are your options?

One option is to remind them that this is a temporary situation and the extra money being paid through the Unemployment Insurance system will end as of July 31st. If they don’t want to come back before that date, then there may be no job waiting for them at that time. It is a positive short-term fix with a potentially negative long-term consequence. Also, employees are not eligible for Unemployment Insurance if there is work available and they refuse to work. How hard a line you will draw on this subject depends on factors specific to your own business.

Another option to consider is hazard pay, depending on your business. If employees are being put in a high-risk situation with the public, for example, you may wish to offer extra pay for a specifically defined period of time for specific positions. Some counties are already requiring hazard pay under these circumstances.

Again, being very clear about the steps you are taking to keep employees safe is not only required but wise as we move forward with opening up our businesses once again.

#2: Should I give my employees a “rehire letter?”

We are finding that giving employees a rehire letter is a very good idea. Technically they haven’t been permanently laid off if you put them on furlough or temporarily laid them off, but giving them a rehire letter is a good way to determine whether or not you can count on them. It should state their rate of pay, which may be the same as before or it may be temporarily reduced if necessary, the expected start date when they can return, and most particularly, what precautions you are going to be taking to ensure a safe and healthy workplace.

Another advantage to giving employees a rehire letter is to determine if they think they are ready to come back. We are finding that some employees are refusing to come back for one of the reasons listed above along with other reasons such as their own health issues. If the reason is for health issues not related to COVID-19, then putting them on a leave of absence, such as Medical Leave or Family Medical Leave, is a good idea. If they are refusing to return because they are afraid, the rehire letter should help reduce their fears if you go into detail about the steps you have taken and will take to keep them safe. This is one of those cases when more detail is better.

If they are refusing to return because they want to make more money on Unemployment, then you may need to hire someone else. If that is the case, knowing sooner rather than later will help you in your search.The rehire letter says that if someone doesn’t choose to sign it and accept the conditions as laid out in the letter, then they are voluntarily resigning. There may be circumstances that prevent some employees from returning that don’t fit into these few conditions and if they don’t sign for that reason, hopefully they will tell you and you will have the chance to make an exception.

Also, if you have applied for or received the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, you will need to make sure you are mindful of the payroll-related issues if you want to get as much forgiveness of your loan as possible.

Successfully reopening your business is in part dependent on knowing who you can count on when you need them.You may need to stagger the rehire dates, or start with a reduction in hours and increase them as business resumes. The rehire letter can capture all those contingencies.

#3: Can employers screen for COVID-19 or is it an invasion of privacy?

On April 23rd the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC, the federal enforcement agency of the Civil Rights Act, updated its guidelines on this issue.The EEOC ruled that the employers MAY screen employees for COVID-19 without creating a problem under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC said that any mandatory medical testing must be job-related and consistent with business necessity. “An employee with the virus who enters the workplace will pose a direct threat to the health of others,” the agency said. One thing the EEOC says is that an employer may refuse to let the employee into the workplace if they refuse to be tested. For more details please visit the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

If you have questions regarding any of these topics, please contact Barbara Freet of Human Resource Advisors:

Barbara Freet, President
Human Resource Advisors<br/ >Email:
Phone: 925-310-4824 

As always, all of us at E-COMP hope that you, your families and your employees stay healthy and positive as we navigate the difficult challenges together.