RETURNING OUR EMPLOYEES TO THE WORKPLACE
It takes many hands and hearts to help keep our churches up and running. As much as we’re all looking forward to getting back out there and working together in person, again, we need to take things slow as we begin reentering the workforce. Each workplace, each congregation, varies in size but under these trying conditions it is important that we treat even the smallest group like the largest crowd.
PREPARATIONS for reopening your church office:
- Contact your facility maintenance staff or the entity/individual who owns the property to increase air exchanges throughout the facility in accordance with CDC recommendations.
- Make sure that all facilities are well stocked on soap, paper products, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.
- Ultimately when considering returning employees to work proceed proactively, and with caution.
Consider creating a RE-ENTRY TASK FORCE to address concerns and establish proper procedures to enforce going forward:
- If regular office functions resume more, be sure staff know to wear masks and maintain social distancing.
- Continue to tend to cleaning and sanitizing the office, paying particular attention to high-touch surfaces, and cleaning hands often
- Post signs indicating symptoms and urging people to stay home/seek medical attention if they have symptoms
- If normal functions resume, make sure to address cleaning needs and agree to observe distancing protocols with any building renters.
- Consider testing procedures with small group gatherings, or council meetings if official business is required
- NOTE: If you become aware of someone in the church or a building user infected with COVID-19, put your communication plan into action, and cooperate fully with contact tracers.
- High risk individuals (people over 60 and those with underlying conditions), be it staff, volunteers, or program participants, should continue to shelter in place.
To avoid a potentially overwhelming influx of employees at once, one thing to consider is RETURNING EMPLOYEES TO WORK IN STAGES:
- Consider asking staff to return to the work-site voluntarily to start.
- Ask yourself/staff,
- How many workers do we need to resume essential operations?
- Can certain positions continue to work remotely, while some of the workforce returns?
- Can certain staffers work X-many days, then switch with the rest of the staff on Y-days?
- Should employers utilizes a staggered approach to a recall (i.e. furloughed employees or employees on lay off) or decides to utilize additional shifts, make sure that you have fair, non-discriminatory, justification supporting the basis for the recall or shift assignment. This means avoiding any claim that the recall favors an employee (or employees) of a certain category.
- NOTE: If an employee handbook or collective bargaining agreement contains recall provisions, ensure that you are complying with the provisions outlined in said process.
Upon returning, employees may have questions about their benefits eligibility (particularly if they lost coverage under any plans while off work). Be prepared to address questions on eligibility for health benefits, retirement, PTO/vacation, and any other benefits offered.
QUESTIONS TO BE MINDFUL OF:
- Employees are likely to ask about accrual or contributions while they were off work. Human resources and/or any benefits specialists should be prepared to address these questions and ensure the consistent dissemination of information to employees.
- If needed, talk to benefit plan administrators and ensure you have accurate information regarding any benefits handled by an outside provider.
Make sure to prepare a CONCISE COMMUNICATION PLAN for notifying employees of their upcoming return to work.
- Appreciation and gratitude for employees during this time, and keep morale up.
- Desired date and time for employee’s return to work (addressing staggered arrival, departure expectations, or new shift schedule).
- Expectations or policies employees must know prior to their first shift back (i.e. temperature testing, self-acknowledgment of symptoms, PPE requirements).
- Establish where to direct questions regarding returning to work/COVID-19 issues.
- NOTE: The pandemic is still evolving, and policies/procedures are subject to change
Amid the shelter-in-place order prepare for one of two extremes: either employees wanting to gather immediately and all at once OR everyone still looking to avoid reconvening. CREATE A PLAN for employees who either refuse and/or request continued remote work:
- Employers should engage in a dialogue with employees to determine the basis for refusal.
- If appropriate based on the dialogue, conduct a leave/accommodation analysis (if an employee qualifies ensure that you are requesting/maintaining appropriate documentation to obtain tax credits and reimbursement for qualifying leave under the FFCRA).
- If an employee objects to returning on the basis of safety, or health-related concerns, confer with legal counsel regarding whether the objection rises to the level of potential protected activity under OSHA, the NLRA, or other applicable employment laws.
There’s no easy path back from this, but if we cooperate with community guidelines and work together (from a safe distance), we will emerge stronger on the other side.