1. Health and safety planning is critical before employees return to the workplace. Following federal and state safety and health standards, employers should develop a plan for cleaning and sanitizing the workplace, including contacting cleaning companies as soon as possible to schedule deep cleanings, if necessary. Employers should also develop and implement a social distancing plan and a communications plan for employees, vendors, and clients/customers.
2. Employment policies need to be created or revised before employees return to work. New employment policies will need to be drafted for areas such as testing/screening and face coverings. In addition, certain parts of existing employment policies will need to be revised given the COVID-19 pandemic, such as travel and leave of absence policies. Training employees on these new and revised policies is an important step to help effectuate a smooth transition back to the workplace, and can be done remotely before the physical return to work.
3. The return-to-work atmosphere presents potential data privacy hazards to address. If your company will be collecting new types of employee data (such as body temperature information or COVID-19 test results) it is important to consider how you will be collecting it, what you will use it for, how you will protect it against unauthorized use or disclosure, to whom you will disclose it, and for how long you will retain it. Consider whether you need to issue new privacy notices to employees, modify policies on data access and use, and add privacy provisions to vendor contracts. A comprehensive data privacy program should follow these principles to minimize risk for your company: lawfulness and transparency, purpose limitation, data minimization, accuracy, storage limitation, integrity and confidentiality, and accountability and auditing.
4. Employers should anticipate that some employees will resist the return to work. Employers should follow the interactive process when addressing employee requests for accommodations in the return-to-work process due to medical issues. Employers may not be legally bound to grant accommodations related to non-medical issues, such as travel and childcare issues, but business realities may counsel in favor of flexibility. The key in granting requests for accommodation will be to avoid discrimination claims by treating employees equally.