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What’s next? 3 priorities for businesses reopening post-pandemic

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As many states begin the process of reopening, businesses across the country are questioning when and how to safely reopen their doors. For business owners and HR managers preparing to welcome employees back to the workplace, it is paramount to consider the federal, state and local laws, regulations and agency guidance that will impact their business, and the requirements they will need to put in place before business can resume.

According to a recent Paychex study, which polled 300 randomly selected U.S. business owners with 2-500 employees online from May 1-4, 2020, business owners’ top concerns when reopening their doors are that not enough customers will return to their businesses (32%), that they’d feel guilty if employees or customers become ill (26%), and that employees may become infected (18%).

Before recalling workers who may have been working from home, or those who were furloughed or temporarily laid off due to the pandemic, businesses should make sure they have all the boxes checked in regard to business processes, employee pay and benefits, and safety.

These three priority areas can help HR managers prepare and protect employees, customers, and the business when it’s time to reopen.

1 Compliance around new or expanded paid leave regulations
All HR managers should review their obligations under federal, state, and local laws and regulations. There are policies that must be created or updated based on recent legislative and/or regulatory changes before doors can safely open. Additionally, state and local paid sick leave policies may require prior sick leave accruals be reinstated where the rehire occurs within a certain number of days. Prior to recalling employees, read up on these policies and check current internal policies on rehiring to determine any reinstatement of accrued PTO or vacation time and ensure changes are communicated with staff.

Employers should also review both paid and unpaid leave policies as well as new and expanded leave laws at the federal, state and local level. For example, under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, employers with fewer than 500 employers are required to provide paid leave to employees when there is a qualifying COVID-19 reason for their leave.

2 Updated employee documentation based on new policies
HR managers should be aware of the documentation that rehired employees may need to complete when returning to work. Documents may include, but are not limited to, a new direct deposit authorization, Form W-4, and possibly Form I-9, as well as updating personal contact information.

Additionally, reopening provides the chance for employers to update and reinforce company HR policies, guidelines, and employee handbooks. HR managers should consider updating these documents with some of the specific health and safety guidelines instated following COVID-19, such as any requirements around mask wearing, to help ensure employee awareness of and compliance with new and expanded policies and guidelines.

3 Implementation of precautions and safety measures
The first stages of reopening have already begun, and the new normal requires a variety of precautions and safety measures, meaning in addition to guidance from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), employers must review current and evolving guidance from state and local authorities. In the case that employers can accommodate continued remote work, they may be required by applicable law to continue this practice or accommodate certain employees in other ways. Businesses should consider reviewing how they will address their legal obligations and employee requests in this area. When remote work is not an option, businesses should consider how to arrange workstations to allow for at least six feet of distance wherever possible.

Businesses should also consider providing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves, and other cleaning and sanitizing supplies like hand sanitizer and soap. Supplying these items enables employees to take precautions to maintain their health and safety, and helps them to feel more at ease knowing that their employer cares about their well-being. Furthermore, businesses should determine if there are federal, state, or local requirements to provide these or additional supplies.

Prior to reopening any business’s doors, it’s important that all decision makers, including HR managers, carefully follow federal, state, and local regulations and guidance. Keeping safety and well-being top-of-mind should be a main priority and should be communicated as such.

Businesses should ensure that all employee documents and HR policies are updated, benefits offerings and administration are compliant, regulations are implemented and enforced, and employees are supported and well-equipped to stay physically and emotionally healthy at work. Ensuring proper due diligence and understanding the concerns of employees will help businesses prepare to open their doors to a very new reality.

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