Employees returning to work sounds simple, right? Have them wear masks, place bottles of hand sanitizer at the reception desk and practice safe social distancing. How could you go wrong? Well, in quite a few ways, actually.

For most companies, it’s still too early to know when your workforce will return to the office. Here at GroupOne Background Screening, our team has been working from home for over five months. It’s a testament to our staff there have been no disruptions in production.

While many employees will not return to work until next year at the earliest, it is prudent for your HR team to start preparing for the eventual day. This is particularly true of states such as Texas that have begun to lift stay-at-home orders.

Here’s a few considerations that companies should consider when designing a plan during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Form a Team
HR departments should establish a team responsible for developing and monitoring a “Return to Work” plan. The makeup of the team is up to you, but it could be comprised of company leaders, HR reps and even information technology.

Companies should also consider consulting public health experts to provide guidance, especially those companies with offices that may need realignment to maintain safe distancing. Given the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, the planning team should continuously monitor issues that arise after employees return. It’s likely going to be a long haul.

Develop a Flexible Plan
“Return to Work” plans will be unique to each company, oftentimes based on location and legal requirements. Factors will include office location, the number of employees, ensuring safe social distancing and employees’ use of public transportation.

It is important to design a plan that is strategically flexible to adapt to evolving pandemic issues, including orders issued by federal and state governments.

Preparing your Workplace
It is crucial when designing a “Return to Work” plan to develop strategies that minimize the exposure risks for employees returning to work. Ways to mitigate liability risks should also be discussed.

Your team would be wise to continuously monitor guidelines issued by federal, state and local agencies. Two important sources include:

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Educate employees on preventive measures and support good hygiene practices. Provide employees and customers with a station to wash their hands. Establish clear policies for social distancing. Finally, perform routine cleaning and disinfection.

Workplace controls are also important. Establish policies to limit the number of employees and customers in the workplace. Set up barriers between workspaces and provide personal protective equipment (masks, gloves and eye wear), with training on the proper use of such protective wear.

Prompt Identification of COVID-19
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has stated it is legal to conduct body temperature screenings of employees as a condition to enter the office. Inspire employees to self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19. Develop policies for employees to report when they experience symptoms of COVID-19.

It should also be noted EEOC has stated that employers must maintain all information about an employee’s illness as a confidential medical record in compliance with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).

A Phased Approach
Companies may wish to consider a “phase-in” approach for employees returning to work. Returns on a gradual basis to limit the number of employees present at the office could allow time for many of the safety plans to become common practice. Staggered worktimes could also be considered. A phased approach also has the benefit of reducing the burden on the company’s cleaning crew when performing enhanced office cleaning and disinfection.

Companies with a workforce that relies on public transportation may want to consider providing commuter benefits to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and thus, exposure of the workplace.

Response Plan
A “Return to Work” plan should be flexible enough to prepare for a sudden increase in employee absences (due to illness of the employee or the employee’s family members). Of course, should there be a COVID-19 outbreak, the plan should also involve when to re-close the workplace.

Mitigating Liability
To mitigate liability when bringing employees back to the office, a company should follow the guidelines issued by government agencies. Ensuring implementation of such guidelines is also crucial. This is especially important due to the possible increase of personal injury lawsuits brought by employees who claim to have contracted COVID-19 at the office. Complying with government and state guidelines will be important for companies when defending against such potential claims.

In Conclusion
As the country slowly begins formulating a plan to reopen, it is important for companies to begin their own planning for employees to eventually return to work. Having a detailed “Return to Work” plan will allow companies to successfully bring employees back to the office and adapt to the ever-evolving regulatory requirements.

The information and opinions expressed are for educational purposes only and are based on current practice, industry related knowledge and business expertise. The information provided shall not be construed as legal advice, express or implied.