By Tara Gibson - July 21, 2020
Businesses across the United States, and the world, began shutting their doors and moving to remote and work-from-home models as COVID-19 swept the globe. Unfortunately, many businesses could not function in a remote setting and had to temporarily close and reduce their workforce to protect their company from devastating financial losses. Instead of laying off employees, many businesses chose to furlough their workers with plans to bring them back to work when it was safe to.
SumTotal explains that from a business standpoint, furloughing employees helps the company survive the economic downturn while still retaining the talent the business needs to get back up and running. From the employee standpoint, furloughs provide workers a peace of mind that they have a job to return to when the time comes.
With some states lifting the strict shelter-in-place orders and slowly reopening the economies, certain businesses are now allowed to reopen and bring those who are furloughed back to work. While this is an exciting time, we’re still living through a pandemic and certain cautions must still be taken to ensure everybody remains healthy and safe. Employees may be nervous returning and have questions that businesses must be ready to address.
As businesses begin to receive the green light to reopen, there are some questions about your employees you’ll have to answer internally before welcoming them back. Because of the pandemic, job functions are likely going to have to be adjusted, different work shift times and staggered hours may have to be put in place, and changes to day-to-day work life may be temporarily or permanently changed. Before communicating with your furloughed workers, be sure to answer these important questions.
Some employees may be extremely weary about returning to work, especially if they are vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 or have at-risk family members or friends they’re in close contact with. Provide workers with a comprehensive back-to-work plan and what changes have been made in the workplace to protect them.
Businesses don’t want to wait for weeks to determine whether an employee is planning on returning, and Workest recommends asking workers for a reasonable amount of time for them to notify you on whether they accept the changes made and will return to the workplace.
It’s likely there will be many changes to workplace as employees begin to return, such as temperature checks upon entering, limited in-person meetings, and no common areas such as cafeterias and break rooms. It’s recommended that a company communicates with employees what the newly instated safety protocols are, which can be done by using a mass notification solution. Some platforms also have polling capabilities, which allows users to request a reply and can be greatly helpful when determining if employees understand the new workplace protocols.
Training employees on new safety procedures, which will have to be adjusted prior to them returning to work, is also extremely important. Fire drills, workplace safety threats, and the way companies responded to emergencies is likely going to have to change to account for continued social distancing enforcement.
The pandemic has caused a lot of strain to many people’s mental health. It’s important for companies to provide additional mental health resources and emotional support to those who are struggling. Furloughed workers faced some uncertainty about their jobs and may face some hour cuts or worry about contracting the coronavirus.
Send out as many mental health resources and other supporting resources to employees before they return and as they begin to get back to work. Employers can also check-in on their employees by sending wellness checks through a mass notification solution to ensure they feel comfortable and safe returning to the workplace.
Some employees were furloughed with full benefits, and therefor will not have to reinstate them. If employee benefits were suspended during the furlough, employees should have the option to reenroll if they wish to, according to Workest. Employers should also inform returning workers on where their PTO was before furlough, what they utilize during their time off, and when new accumulations will begin if they were suspended when COVID-19 hit.
Communication during this unprecedented time is key. Still, little is known about where we’ll be in the coming weeks and months, and the possibility of a second wave may send workers home again depending on the severity. By communicating consistently with employees, they’ll have a good understanding of current protocols and what steps your company is taking to keep them safe.
Tara is a Marketing Coordinator on the Rave Mobile Safety marketing team. She loves writing about all things K-12, State & Local, Higher Ed, Corporate, and Healthcare, and manages the Rave social media channels. When she's not working, she's taking care of her smiley, shoe eating, Instagram-famous fur baby, Enzo!
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