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Employers: 10 Questions to Answer as Employees Return to the Workplace

If there is one certainty about the ongoing conavirus pandemic, it’s that nothing is certain. Each day — and sometimes each hour — brings new information. The good news is that there is growing (albeit cautious) optimism that the worst may be over, and that some semblance of pre-crisis normalcy is on the horizon. No, things will not be exactly the same. But considering that in the span of about a week we went from being advised to “wash our hands regularly” to being ordered to “shelter in place,” it’s definitely a welcome development. In fact, it might even be worthy of a virtual parade. 

Provided that medical experts are not forced to revise their models and advice, this means in the coming weeks and months employees will start returning to the workplace. To make the transition and re-integration as smooth as possible, here are 10 questions that employers should be prepared to answer:

  1. How much staff do we need at one time in the workplace?
  2. Can we stagger shifts or implement flexible start/end times in a way that is fair to all staff?  
  3. Do we make it mandatory or optional for staff to come into the workplace? 
  4. How do we handle staff who do not want to return to the workplace?  
  5. How do we enforce social distancing in the office? The Government of Ontario has released sector-specific guidelines that include (for office environments) discouraging the sharing of telephones, keyboards, desks or workstations; whenever possible holding virtual appointments; and repositions workstations to increase physical distances or install barriers and partitions.
  6. Do we view parents with children at home as a separate group until schools/childcare options become available? If so, what are the anticipated implications and consequences? 
  7. How do we ensure, maintain and monitor office cleanliness and hygiene? And how do we ensure that returning staff complies with higher, stricter standards? 
  8. Will staff be required to wear PPE? If so, who will provide it to them? It is important to consider the psychological impact this can have on returning employees; some of whom may feel better, safer and more productive working from home vs. in an environment that looks like something from a science fiction movie. 
  9. How can we lean forward and help employees handle the stress and strain? Yes, they will be relieved to get back into a daily routine (at least to a some extent). But they have gone through — and may still be going through — a traumatic experience. 
  10. Do we need a separate policy/protocols regarding visitors and clients? If so, how do we communicate these expectations to staff and ensure that rules are followed? 

A Final Note

While it’s vital to be prepared, employers also need to remain fluid. There could be an unexpected spike in community spread, or on a more positive note, we might see the approval and availability of treatment therapies that accelerate flattening the curve. Regardless how things unfold, employers should act responsibly, and demonstrate that they care about the safety and wellness of their employees. 


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