Country leaders are now easing their lockdown and have come up with plans for businesses to start operating again. However, there are many individuals experiencing mental breakdown due to COVID-19 situation and it might take months for them to recover. Most employees are anxious about going back to work in the midst of the outbreak and worried that their health might be at risk. Employees also want to know their rights regarding return to work procedure and whether or not they have the right to not return to work on-site as their company might require. In response to this, HR in Asia shares some experts’ advice for HR and business leaders on how to conduct a safe return to work protocol for both employees and employers.
Return-to-work is soon to be implemented by many industries. In response to this, HR and leaders should be in continuous contact with their workforce. All businesses should have a printed chart of day-to-day protocol along with their response to confirmed COVID-19 cases in the workplace, advised Stephen Michell, managing partner of Columbia’s Fisher Phillips.
Business leaders need to be ready long before they return to work and make sure that employees understand how the company will protect them and why the company should open. In addition, employees need to know that their employer not only has a developed plan but that employers will continue to execute that strategy as time goes on. This is especially needed to omit any unwanted anxieties and mental unreadiness for the return to work practices.
QBS Inc. plans to maintain working-from-home practices for its employees for as long as possible even after the lockdown lifts. David Evette, co-founder and CEO of QBS told Columbia Business Report that for as long as it is conducive for employees to work from home and still be as productive or almost as productive as at the office, QBS leaders decided to continue the WFH protocol. This measurement could be implemented by other businesses where operations are suitable for remote working as it can minimise employee contact. HR can also conduct an employee survey to know their opinions on this matter. Employers should also discourage congregations around the water cooler or request employees bring their own food instead of hosting company meals or lunch meetings to cut down on employee contact, said Evette.
Jeffrey Allen, a partner at Columbia’s Burr Forman McNair, mentioned that businesses need to evaluate whether they need the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds in order to support their operations. HR should also reassess their payroll and headcount and whether they need a PPP fund to keep operating. Businesses that are in doubt whether they need the fund, added Allen, should consider employee retention tax credits or Social Security deferral options.
In the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, governments have enacted changes to employment law in response to the new unprecedented situation. In most cases, the law will emphasise protecting employees, granting paid sick leave to certain employees and an expansion of family and medical leave, as well as focusing on workplace safety for the return-to-work protocol.
For example, under the new Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, employers with fewer than 500 employees must grant up to two weeks (80 hours) of paid sick leave to employees who undergo the following situation:
In Singapore, MOM has enacted more measurements for employers on workplace safety and distancing, as well as providing support to help businesses and self-employed persons who are affected by Leave of Absence and Stay-Home Notice requirements due to COVID-19.