22 July 2020

How to Prepare: Return to Work Checklist

Two colleagues wearing masks at work

While states grapple with how to reopen economies (not to mention schools), non-essential businesses are navigating how they can return to work and keep employees safe.

U.S. companies, that haven't already, intend to return to the office some time in the fall or by year's end. Whether your business has returned or is gearing up, there's no time like right now to protect your employees and prepare your workplace with these guidelines.


The Practicalities

What does "return to work" mean for you, as an employer? It won’t be going back to the way things were. Work will look and feel very different.

Protecting each employee's safety and wellbeing requires something different from every company. Here are the commonalities all companies need to keep in mind.  

FREE DOWNLOAD: Have questions about social distancing, furlough, vulnerable workers and wellbeing as employees return to the workplace? Download your free Return to Work Guide.

All businesses need to assess and manage the risk of COVID-19. As an employer, you have a duty to protect workers. Assess the risks of employees returning to work and take reasonably practicable steps to reduce these risks.

Guidance on risk assessment includes:

  • To identify what work activity or situations might cause transmission of the virus
  • Think about who could be at risk
  • Decide how likely it is that someone could be exposed to that risk
  • Act to remove the activity or situation, if that isn’t possible, to control the risk

Follow any relevant sector-specific guidelines produced by the government or approved trade association.

Basic rules: if you can maintain social distancing, do it. Not possible? Only reopen if you can and will put suitable measures in place to control the risk of transmission.

For example:

  • Put up plexiglass or other solid barriers between people in shared spaces
  • Require masks be worn when employees cannot social distance
  • Mark spacing and safe traffic patterns on the floor to help employees keep distance
  • Provide ample ventilation and cleaning supplies to your employees

If you employ 50+ people, consider publishing your completed risk assessment and policy on returning to work on your website. It's important to make information about what you're doing to keep workers safe easy to access — for your current workers and future employees, too. 


The Challenges

After spending so much time at home and being able to control whom they have contact with, it's understandable that employees will be concerned about returning to work.

If an employee does not want to return because of fears of coronavirus, meet with the person. Hear them. Take time to understand their concerns. Provide reassurance that all reasonable steps have been taken to minimize the risk of infection.

If someone refuses to attend work without a valid reason, and if there is no evidence of discrimination, then you could take disciplinary action.

If an employee can’t attend work because of childcare issues, you should allow a degree of flexibility, like continuing to work from home or unpaid parental leave.


HR Issues

There are some HR issues you will need to consider when returning to the workplace, including:

  • Furlough – you must provide reasonable notice when recalling people back into the workplace. If you're not bringing everyone back, you'll need to have a selection process for who will return. Be mindful not to discriminate. Keep a record of how you reached your decision in case you’re asked to explain it.  
  • Redundancies – if you have to make people redundant, you must follow a fair process. Consult with employees in a timely manner. Make sure that your decisions are not discriminatory.  
  • Changing working patterns – you may need to introduce temporary measures, such as staggering start and finish times. If your contracts don’t allow it, consider talking to your employees without a formal consultation process. If they object, you'll have to go down a more formal route. Any changes must be confirmed in writing.  
  • Whistleblowing – employees who raise concerns about health and safety risks in the workplace, which they consider are in the public interest, could exercise whistleblowing rights. If they put their concerns in writing, it could be considered a protective disclosure against health and safety concerns.


Return to Work Checklist

Use these action steps to prepare your workplace and help employees feel confident about their return. Print your Return to Work Checklist and track your progress.

  1. Do a thorough risk assessment of the workplace to ensure the safety of staff and minimize the risk of infection.  
  2. Conduct a deep cleaning (or hire a professional to do it) of the workplace before employees return and periodically after.  
  3. Provide hand sanitizing or hand washing facilities. Plan for regularly ordering supplies and stocking these stations.  
  4. Communicate absence procedures to all employees. Create an action step to confirm all employees have read them.  
  5. Place six-feet markings on floors. Mark on/out routes of spaces. Communicate social distancing protocols to all employees.  
  6. Create an onboarding process that reintroduces all employees to the health, safety and wellbeing measures in place.  
  7. Provide documentation and access to resources for mental wellbeing and support for people returning to work.  
  8. Build your strategies to protect vulnerable workers and support their needs, even if it means continued remote work or furlough.  
  9. Take time to understand furlough guidelines and clearly communicate return-to-work details to furloughed employees.  
  10. Review work patterns to consider staggering schedules and other options to support social distancing.  
  11. Review your cafeteria and communicate how you'll safely provide sustenance to employees while these facilities are closed.  
  12. Ensure you have a clear annual leave policy. Communicate this policy and create an action step to confirm all employees read it.




Return to Work Guide

Return to Work Guide

Get solid advice on getting back to the workplace and preparing your employees for a post COVID-19 environment.

Blog tags

Back to blog listing