What to do if your business is re-opening but employees do not want to return to work?

With the easing of “Safer at Home” Orders, businesses around the country are making plans to reintroduce some or all of their staff back to the worksite. Many employers are already facing questions from their employees about obstacles they face or fears they have when considering a return to work. Although there is no one size fits all answers to these situations, we want to give you guidance on a few of the most common concerns employers may face and how to address them with your employees. No matter the situation be sure to be sensitive to your employees’ concerns and provide open feedback throughout the process.

 

What if my employees tell me that they do not feel safe returning?

Having a plan of action can help address employee concerns. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has declared COVID-19 a threat to the safety of the workplace and has directed businesses to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to prevent transmission. These guidelines can serve as a reference for employers on how to safely reopen and what considerations may need to be made to help reduce the risk of transmission. Sharing new policies and procedures (such as social distancing expectations or limiting contact with the public) with employees can help put some of their anxiety at ease.

 

What if the employee says that they have a medical condition and they do not feel safe returning to work?

If you have employees that may be in higher-risk populations (those with pre-existing conditions or seniors) the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) can provide guidance on reasonable accommodation requests for these workers. EEOC regulations apply to employers with 15 or more employees. Employees should provide medical documentation to substantiate the reasonable accommodation request. While South Carolina does not have any specific state laws regarding this matter, other states such as New Jersey and New York have enacted legislation on how to accommodate vulnerable workers during COVID-19. If you have workers in multiple states be sure you are up to date on workplace regulations for each job site.

 

What if the employee has been furloughed, laid off, or is receiving reduced hours and they do not want to return to work?

For businesses operating in South Carolina, the Department of Employment and Workforce (SCDEW) has established a process for employers to notify the agency that employees have declined an offer of work. Employees that decline a job offer may not be eligible for unemployment benefits. The Employer Portal on the DEW website illustrates how to report these incidents through their Refusal of Job Offer Guide. You can also find the Offer of Work Form on their site which can be printed out and mailed to the agency to confirm that an employee refused the offer to return. It is important to note that some employees may still be entitled to paid leave benefits due to provisions under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).  Employers should also review any relevant company policies that may apply.

 

What if the employee cannot return due to childcare issues?

While many schools are reaching the end of their academic year, there continues to be uncertainty as to when they and other childcare centers will fully reopen. This can force otherwise willing employees to be unable to return to their places of work. In this case, the employee may be eligible for partially paid leave under the FFCRA. You should make sure that the employee has not already exhausted their allotted leave amount, that you receive the proper documentation for the request, and that you are keeping accurate records of their time within your timekeeping system. In some instances, you may be able to be more flexible and see if the employee can work flex hours or make accommodations for a different work schedule. If not, you may provide unpaid time off to your employees.

 

While these options apply to current situations, guidance from public health authorities and government regulators at all levels is likely to change and evolve throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Employers must stay up to date on these recommendations and adapt as quickly and safely as possible. If you need help navigating this new normal, please reach out to us at Willis HR to assist you through these turbulent times.