There are businesses across the globe that plan to reopen during the pandemic, albeit partially, said Stephanie Sarkis of business news magazine Forbes. She said that companies need to reconsider reopening their businesses, but if they do plan to do so, employers should be aware of the ways they can safeguard their employees’ health.
Americans Feel Uncomfortable Going Back to Work
Qualtrics, a leading experience management software, conducted a study involving over 2,000 Americans about what would make them feel confident returning to the workplace, dining at restaurants, and visiting other public places. Before returning to work, the respondents wanted their company to have a work facility that has been and will be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected regularly (74%) and consult with local and state authorities who say it will be safe to go to work (63%).
The respondents also wanted strict policies regarding employees who will not be able to go to the office such as those who are sick (62%) and masks to anyone who wants one (57%). Further, the respondents also wanted to wear a mask (64%), maintain social distancing at work (61%), and have more flexible sick leave policies that employees can use even with minor symptoms (50%) before going back to work. Americans also wanted to limit the number of people they are exposed to during meetings (49%) and have their temperatures checked daily before entering the building (43%).
A smaller proportion of respondents said they wanted to have the option to skip work without penalty if they feel unsafe (37%), and to continue working from home if they don’t feel safe going to the office (36%). The respondents also wanted to ensure the following to their co-workers before returning to work: Hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies at all times in the office (70%), requiring all employees to wear face masks all the time (57%), and the implementation of social distancing at work (50%).
Qualtrics found that 24% of respondents said they would feel comfortable returning to the workplace right now, 10% answered they felt neutral, and 66% were uncomfortable. To feel confident about returning to the workplace, the following must be seen: The ability to maintain social distancing (38.9%), company leadership says it’s safe (26.8%), sanitary and safe transit options (21.6%), and the reopening of schools and childcare facilities (20.4%).
69% agreed that they trust company leadership to make the best decision on when employees should go back to work. 15% disagreed while 16% were neutral about it. When asked when they will expect to return to work on a daily basis, 8% said between May 1-15, 17% answered between May 16-31, and 28% said in June. 25% said they would be able to return to work on a daily basis between August-December, and 6% answered 2021 or later.
Factors to Consider When Requiring Employees to Return to Work
1. Acknowledge Their Fears
Workers are afraid of falling ill so acknowledge their fears. You need to explain why they need to reopen and why you are requiring your employees to go to the workplace instead of working remotely. Be honest.
If you want your workers to go to the office because you don’t trust them working from home, then you have to remember that they still produce work during the pandemic, which is a commendable feat. Further, if you are not comfortable with remote working, your employees would think that you don’t trust them. However, let them continue working from home if you feel embarrassed to tell your employees why you want them to go back to the workplace.
You also need to ask yourself if you really need to have your employees back at the workplace. The pandemic is here to stay for quite some time and everyone will struggle to adjust to the “new normal” until a vaccine is made. Now is the time to embrace the digital workplace.
2. Provide Employee Support
Practice social distancing and ensure that masks are provided to the employees. Your employees should not pay for their masks when you choose to reopen. If your state only allows the opening of essential businesses, consider reflecting on whether your business is essential. Start providing paid sick leave, family medical leave, hazard pay, or medical insurance if you want them to work.
You can also consider having mental health services offered at employer cost. Some of your employees may have lost a loved one or a friend due to the pandemic. It is strongly recommended to have a mental health professional available at no charge. Most professionals are available through telehealth.
3. Don’t Let Employees Without Kids Bear the Brunt
Some companies have a policies that allow employees with children to continue working from home. For example, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act allows parents and guardians to qualify for extended family or medical leave if their kids’ schools are closed due to the outbreak. Many employees have children at home and making them go back to work would be hard for parents and children.
However, those without kids would be forced to work in an unsafe workplace, exposing them to the virus. It sends the message that employees without children have less value and are expendable regardless of your local area’s act or laws. If your business is running smoothly even if everyone is working from home, keep doing it.
4. Communicate With Them
Again, listen to them. If they have an issue with practicing social distancing at the workplace, try to address it as quickly as possible. You have to resolve this issue without pitting your workers against each other. Employers need to take responsibility for making their workplaces safe rather than telling their workers that a colleague complained about safety.
Knowing the Rights of Workers
If you are an employee, you can file a complaint with OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) if you think that your employer’s response to the pandemic creates a “serious safety hazard” or if you think they are not following federal work safety standards, advised Nichelle Smith of USA Today, an internationally distributed American daily middle-market newspaper. The OSHA requires employers to create a workplace that is free from hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to workers and to follow CDC guidelines.
Employees have to know their rights while employers need to take measures to ensure safety at the workplace. It’s time for employers to take measures to protect their workers from the virus and to think about embracing a work from home setup.