Employee Return to Work Memo: 9 Things to Make Sure You Include

Here’s what to include in your memo to employees about workplace safety and cleanliness after COVID-19.

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Employers can provide guidance on when staffers should return to work and what they can expect, along with information on changing protocols due to the coronavirus

Workplace safety, always a top priority, has taken on new meaning with the advent of COVID-19. As companies begin to bring employees back to work, businesses should consider developing new policies and guidelines to minimize risk. Organizations are looking to do as much as possible to safeguard staff members and customers, and providing guidance to staff on how we operate safely and sanitarily can help reassure employees and consumers.

A Return-to-work memo to staff can help lay out the policies and procedures you plan to enforce once they return to work. Include guidance on when staffers should return, what they can expect, and how protocols may be changing to adapt to COVID-19.

The COVID-19 outbreak has shuttered some American businesses and left others trying to power through with limited resources. United States businesses are rising to the challenge, but many are anxiously looking forward to a return to normalcy — as soon as safely possible.

As the government begins to formulate plans to put the American workforce back on the job, businesses are looking for guidance. As specifics get released, there are practical solutions owners can use to prepare for the return to work.

Some areas to cover include:

Stay home if you’re sick

A 2019 study found 90% of Americans go to work when they’re sick, either always or some of the time.

A 2019 study found 90% of Americans go to work when they’re sick, either always or some of the time. Only about 10% say they stay home when unwell. While it’s admirable to want to get the job done, that statistic will need to shift dramatically in the opposite direction. Employees will need to stay home to slow the spread. A single person can infect many others in a workplace.

While a 2-week incubation period for the virus can mean an employee has no symptoms, employees who show any early symptoms should be required to stay home. Harvard Health reports early warnings include

  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Loss of appetite and sense of smell
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches

These can last for a week then escalate quickly. For some, the symptoms are mild. Others may see severe symptoms with high fevers, shortness of breath, and a significant cough. In either case, symptomatic employees must stay home.

Employees who begin to show symptoms during the workday should be sent home immediately. Coworkers who have been in close contact with that staff member that day and 2 days prior should be notified and be on alert for any symptoms they experience. The CDC provides precautions for these employees in an FAQ directive.

Staff members caring for a family member who has the disease are particularly problematic. While they may not have COVID-19, or may even have developed an immunity to the virus, their presence should not be allowed back on the job until:

  • More data is available about how the virus spreads
  • Whether immunity can be verified
  • There is confirmation that an immune person cannot spread the disease

Monitor employee temperatures

To slow the spread inside your organization, temperature monitoring is allowed and may be a wise choice. Limit access points and set up an area(s) outside the company to check employee temperatures before they enter the building. Any employee showing a temp of 100° or higher should be sent home. Remember to ask employees to keep a 6-foot distance from their coworkers while waiting to enter.

Wear a mask

Employees who work with the public should be wearing masks. While they are in short supply, there are some resources available to businesses. If you can’t supply masks to staffers, ask them to leverage online tutorials to make their own. There are many no-sew videos that show how to make a relatively effective face covering from common household materials like bandanas, scarves, paper towels, rubber bands, and a stapler.

If employees do work in cubicles or offices, ask them to wear a mask outside their workstation. This may reduce the risk of their spreading or catching the virus from others.

Talk less, email more 

A study in Nature Scientific Reports in 2019 found people emit aerosol particles (which might include germs and the virus) when they speak. The louder you talk, the more particles may be emitted. Encourage employees to avoid face-to-face interactions as much as possible. Message, text, or email should be the preferred method of communication.

Live Science reports walking 6 feet away from someone infected may have a low risk for infection, while talking for some time with that same person 6 feet away may be a higher risk. If at all possible, talking on the phone or online should be the preferred method of communication.

Keep surfaces clean

Even though disinfecting wipes and sanitizers are in short supply, you’ll want to keep common surfaces clean like doors and restrooms. Additional cleaning staff might be needed to address this need. Many organizations are looking to the internet for homemade disinfecting wipes and sprays. You may have to get creative to find ways to keep surfaces clean, but be vigilant and ask employees to do so as well.

Common areas may pose higher risk

Consider shutting down common areas, like lunch and break rooms, encouraging employees to take breaks at their desk or away from others to avoid close contact. If that’s not possible, consider staggering lunch/break times to allow fewer employees in these common areas at a time. Include time to clean the room between sessions. Remove chairs from the area and encourage employees to eat safely distanced from coworkers.

Have distance at work

Ask staffers for suggestions on how they can work effectively with less close contact. Remind them to avoid clustering together.

While there’s no guarantee the 6-feet rule of social distancing is a definitive means to avoid the virus, it’s worthwhile to stay apart as much as possible. For employees in offices and cubicles, this can be easily achieved. When at work, stay at your station. For employees who are in closer contact, spacing further apart may be necessary. Ask staffers for suggestions on how they can work effectively with less close contact. Remind them to avoid clustering together. Distance may be key to slowing the spread.

Bring food and beverages from home

Vending machines may be safe to use when washing hands after hitting the buttons. Office refrigerators and coffee machines are high-traffic/high-risk areas you should consider closing temporarily. Unless your business has sanitary single serve straw and utensil dispensers, ask employees to bring these tools from home, as well.  The caffeine junkie in your office may show up with a mini-Keurig to get through the day, but it’s probably a better option than the communal coffee machine. Portable coolers and mini fridges may turn up as well.

Protect high-risk employees

While guidance from the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act prohibits discussing employee medical information in a public forum, some employees may be at higher risk for dangerous outcomes if they become infected. Current data suggests those who are immunocompromised, or who have significant underlying medical conditions may be more threatened by COVID-19. Organizations should ask all employees to consider their own health and potentially ask for remote work, time off, or other options if they feel their situation warrants additional measures.

Your own sick leave policies, or paid leave options under the new Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act can offer some financial relief for these staff members if they cannot return to work. Although businesses with less than 50 employees are exempt, at least 2 weeks of paid leave is now required under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

These staffers may also have financial assistance under the new state and federal unemployment insurance guidelines.

The key to working safely in the era of COVID-19 is to slow the spread as much as possible.

Use common sense

For employers looking to get back to business — and workers anxious to get out of the house — common sense behaviors and practices may be critical to working safely in this new normal. In addition to notifying staffers of changes as we ride out the pandemic, consider asking for suggestions on how to make the workplace safer for everyone. Front line staffers likely know where they’re at higher risk, and may have excellent ideas to minimize exposure. The key to working safely in the era of COVID-19 is to slow the spread as much as possible.

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