As we get closer to flattening the curve across the U.S., businesses and lawmakers are gearing up to reopen the economy. In some states, this process has already begun. For working professionals, it’s only natural to be cautious about what to expect once everyone makes the return to the office.
Will there be precautions put in place for your safety? What if you have an underlying health condition? What if you are unwilling to take public transportation?
Workplace safety should always be of utmost importance for businesses but even more so during these times of uncertainty. It’s imperative that you know what measures your employers are taking to ensure your safety, wellness and comfort.
The Wall Street Journal recently published an article that helps answer some of these questions for employees. I thought it was appropriate and necessary to share some of this insight along with some of my own commentary. Read the 5 Things for Professionals to Know Before Returning to Work below.
- When your employer calls you back to work, you must oblige.
Most businesses are still planning out their return strategy. The federal guidelines asked employers to use a three-phase approach with the most vulnerable populations returning in the last phase. While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will protect certain employees with underlying health conditions, others who have less serious, albeit still-troublesome medical issues, may have to return to work when called. There is no “enforceable power” to the guidelines, and therefore employers can ask you at any time to return. Of course, you can always discuss other options with your manager such as the Families First legislation for paid time off, other PTO provided by your employer, or requesting to continue to work from home. If you’ve used up the PTO benefits, you can request an unpaid leave. The latter will unfortunately not keep your job secure once you can return.
- Commuting may change.
You should check with your employer about any changes to commuting benefits when you are asked to return to work post-COVID. Some employers are reimbursing for car services or parking charges. If you are part of the vulnerable population and don’t feel comfortable commuting, you can ask your manager to extend your work from home tenure or ask for an unpaid leave until you feel more comfortable commuting. However, as mentioned above, there would be no guarantee that your position would still be available to you once you were ready to return.
- Employers are allowed to take your temperature.
In the Pre-COVID era, it was not permissible for an employer to take your temperature as it would violate the ADA, considering it is a medical exam. However, given the risks associated with COVID-19, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has allowed it. Therefore, don’t be surprised if there is someone standing in the doorway of your office with a thermometer in-hand waiting to take your temperature. This is likely a part of the new normal we will all experience in the months ahead.
- Hand-washing breaks and social distancing should be the new norm.
Federal guidelines recommend that businesses offer hand-washing breaks and enforce 6 ft social distancing measures once everyone returns to the office. If you return to work and these options are not available to you, you should speak with your manager. If you feel your employer does not listen to your concerns, you can contact OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration). While the federal guidelines are not enforceable, complaining to OSHA will alert your business that there are employee complaints.
- There’s no clear answer for childcare yet.
Many professionals with children are facing childcare struggles as most daycares, schools and other childcare services like day camps are likely to remain closed for the remainder of the school year and through the summer. Employees are entitled to consider the Families First legislation for paid time off, as well as other PTO provided by the employer. However, once those resources are used up, that puts many in a predicament. You can talk to your manager to request to continue to work from home, suggest a flexible schedule or discuss a non-paid leave option. It’s best to be upfront with your employer on your concerns so that an appropriate resolution can be made.
If your job has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and you are looking for a new role, visit our Career Portal for all of our current openings.
What are some other concerns employees have as we all brace to return to work in the coming weeks? Feel free to ask in the comments below.