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Via Area Development

With the easing of restrictions surrounding the Covid-19 outbreak, organizations are starting to bring employees back into the workplace. A successful re-entry program will ensure the safety of company personnel and the public and avoid actions that inadvertently violate federal, state, and local employment laws.

An unexpected benefit some companies have discovered through all of this is that business is more efficient when working from home. Jack Mazurak from the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development says, “Our staff, partners, and clients have adapted well to working remotely… the pace of progress has even increased in some cases…” Using technology-based conference calls and mail correspondence rather than personal meetings are more efficient and less time-consuming. Although the transition to working from home is difficult for many businesses, it does work for most companies.

Most businesses are seeing the benefits of being remote, and are in no rush to return to the in-person traditional workplace. The risk of infection in the workplace is still too high for all employees to safely return. Many employers are planning to gradually bring employees back by staggering schedules and alternating workdays. Susan Gross Sholinsky of Labor and Workforce management practice of Epstein, Becker Green in New York says that in developing policies, businesses “should be flexible and creative in developing policies that maximize productivity and ensure the highest levels of safety.”

With the staggering of bringing employees back to work comes questions of discrimination. There should be no pattern by age, disability, race or gender. Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and Family and Medical Leave Act, “Employers may be subject to retaliation claims when employees are terminated or otherwise subject to adverse employment actions after they have taken sick leave or a leave of absence,” says Sholinsky.

Another set of laws that make it difficult for employees to return to work is the Americans With Disabilities Act. An employer should not deny a request to work from home if that arrangement would be a reasonable accommodation for a COVID-19-related disability. However, the problem is deciding who is at risk and avoiding age discrimination for older employees.

In order for employees to come back to a traditional workplace, there must be trust and communication. The pandemic sets off fear in many people and having a positive outlook will help productivity and the safety of employees. Good communication can calm fears. And given the negative emotions that have surrounded the Covid-19 outbreak, employers should try to present those communications in a forward-looking spirit. As the Kentucky experience suggests, the pandemic might present organizations with the opportunity to retool their operations, find new ways to work more productively and utilize technology more efficiently.

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