Wherever your organization is now, you need a plan for what is next. My clients range from those whose business kept on as essential, those who moved all to remote work from home (WFH), to those with 1-2 people left. Your plan needs to look ahead across various options. What has already changed, what other possible changes may be likely? What are you going to do now? Over the summer? In the fall? If there is a second spike, as predicted, this fall?

No-one knows how many ‘phases’ we are likely to go through to any ‘new normal’. Some think the ‘new normal’ will be pretty much the same as the past, while others see a whole new world of work evolving.

What does ‘back to work’ mean for your organization? How do local or state restrictions and regulatory compliance affect you? How will you incorporate your culture and values into your planning?

Infectious disease specialists think that wearing masks and maintaining social distancing will be with us until a vaccine is available to all. How does that assumption impact your planning? HR people are discussing all sorts of office redesigns, staggered work-days or shift work, more remote workers, core hours, limiting meetings and travel, extra cleaning, and more.


What will you consider in terms of Covid-19 testing? Are you required, by state or local agencies, to do anything specific? Some businesses are considering daily temperature checks and routine testing. Temporary Federal regulations allow you to ask if an employee has Covid-19 symptoms and ask for a doctor’s certification.  You may require sick or quarantined employees to stay home

The EEOC allows temperature checks and Covid-19 testing – through the end of 2020 – as long as they are safe, consistently applied, and non-discriminatory. The CDC now lists a fever of above 100.4 as one of many possible symptoms, and asymptomatic cases appear to be common. Taking people’s temperatures can be fraught with reliability, confidentiality, process, and paid time issues. Tests have the same problems. Having temperatures checked or testing requires full PPE and may need a trained specialist to administer, with the expense of both the tests and the testing raising your costs. Remote temperature checking equipment is not very reliable. If your workplace does not have facilities where social distancing is possible, it still may be a wise move. Otherwise, would a daily self-certification work better? How would you manage that?

You can require employees to wear masks or PPE. While few people have medical issues with face-masks, you can require medical certification. Deal with these under the ADA process (mandatory if you have 15 or more employees.) Provide masks for employees – you can get them with your logo if you want. If other PPE is required, provide it too.

You can also require anyone entering your premises to wear masks. Or you may choose to eliminate all visits.

Establish new hygiene practices, with plenty of visible reminders. These may include masks, frequent hand washing, hand sanitizers, cleaning of equipment and workspaces. Provide supplies to help with wiping down shared equipment after each use as well as conference tables and whiteboards. Consider adding touchless garbage cans. Have signs at entry reminding everyone that this is a no-handshake office/company. Many companies are closing their kitchen areas and vending machines. Be aware of the impact on people if you do this but do not want to start providing food at mealtimes.

In many organizations, the biggest issue is a culture of expecting everyone to come to work when ill. Changing this starts at the top and is vital now.

Track and retain all meetings info for a month following it: date, time, place, attendees. This practice makes contact tracing easier if you do have someone diagnosed with the virus.

There have already been lawsuits against employers for exposing people to the coronavirus, for terminating employees who are quarantined, etc. Take a realistic look at your risks and what you can do to minimize them. Seek advice as needed.

Social distancing is probably one of the toughest aspects of return to workplaces. Will you consider moving desks? Adding partitions? Using conference rooms as workspaces instead? Staggering days worked? Having work shifts? Retaining some WFH arrangements? Almost half of employers in one recent study expect to modify their offices.

What do employees want to see from employers to return to the workplace? An April study says: Face masks worn by all (46%), disposable gloves (43%), and hand sanitizer (42%) top the wish list.

CDC Guidelines for Offices (there are others)


What will you do to protect your employees? You do not want to be the small manufacturer whose owner stated to all complaints that the coronavirus was a hoax and refused to take any measures to protect employees. Now they are the largest cluster in their county, and the press has been covering employee complaints and fears.


You also need to gather data to see what issues your employees are facing which may impact their ability to return to the office. A simple questionnaire to each employee, best done by email for documentation purposes, could look like this:

What return to the office to work issues do you have? Check each that applies:

– I have child care responsibilities for a child living in my home
– I have caregiver responsibilities for an elder living in my home
– I am concerned about my health risks
– I have the coronavirus or am in recovery from it
– I live with someone who has the coronavirus or is in recovery from it
– I am concerned about my safety working in the office
– I am concerned about taking public transportation to/from work

Please describe anything that will help you feel ready to return:

The answers should help you assess who comes back to work during your planning process.

Assessing who returns and when starts with an assessment of what you need now and at future stages. What work has priority to ensure the organization achieves its goals? What can you afford now? Based on this:

  • Which positions must return to the office?
  • Which can WFH on a temporary basis?
  • Which may be candidates for long-term, part-time or full-time, WFH
  • Which positions could be eliminated?
  • Which positions could be converted to part-time?

In looking at your return to work plans, consider any state or local restrictions. Given the information from the employee survey who needs to WFH?  Then develop your return plans.

If you need to do any lay-offs or terminations, do them before you bring people back. Where possible, offer these people a recommendation, either on LinkedIn or as a letter.

If you are bringing people back from lay-offs or furloughs, do it with a personal contact followed by a written one with date, title, pay, and any changes.

If you elect to allow longer-term WFH, don’t forget to consider what policy adjustments you need to make. Studies show many people prefer a mixture of WFH and in office. Also add considerations related to safety and ergonomics at home to protect your organization from workers compensation claims.

If returning employees will be bringing back equipment, be sure to have cleaning or sanitizing completed as they return.

You may reduce risk if you require returning employees to certify that they have reported all hours worked and that their paid leave or PTO is correct.


Once you have a plan for return, start communicating it to all employees. Start with the basics of what is going to happen next. Remind everyone of basic company values and how those helped develop your plans. Talk about the fact that future changes are likely as the virus impact and business needs change. Keep the communications frequent through the return and at least a month after it. Encourage managers to talk directly with each person about their situation and the plan.

Expect that the first day back for those who have been WFH will be a bit scary all around. Put reminder signs up about distancing, hand-washing, mask-wearing. Place a welcome back note on a bottle of hand sanitizer on each desk. And a ‘thanks’ note on one for each person who has been working in the office too.

If you have had to let people go, tell everyone on the first day that you had to do so and suggest they offer any support they can – job leads, an ear, whatever – to those people.

Compensation – A quick checklist.

  • Check the FFCRA rules for paid sick and family leave benefits you must offer.
  • If you had pay cuts, create a plan to address what you will do on them when.
  • Review any employees who are moving from exempt to non-exempt positions or changing status between full-time and part-time for pay actions needed.
  • If you need to do so, tell people whether they can take leave this year. If you have caps on carryover of leave, tell them what you will do to adjust those if needed.
  • Are you reviewing any employee benefits for the next calendar or fiscal year?

Other Resources

OSHA Covid19 Guidance
OSHA Coronavirus Info

The ‘Safe Six” re-opening plan – considerations for facilities
How To Reopen guide

Inc. Article on five basic issues for re-opening
Leadership Tips

Changed COBRA rules and  forms https://www.bipc.com/irs-and-dol-extend-cobra-election-and-payment-periods;-introduce-new-model-formsby  

PPP and forgiveness
Forbes article on PPP Forgiveness