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  • Writer's pictureThe HR Guy

What Should You Know about Reopening during COVID-19?

Video Script: COVID Reopening

My name is Russell Lookadoo, President and Chief Strategist for HRchitecture. I am the HR guy for small business. My firm exists to leverage my expertise and experience in Human Resources so that the small business owner can achieve their dreams through effective use of their team.

Over the past few weeks the workplace has seen disruption in an unprecedented way. But as this video is recorded, businesses are beginning to reopen but the return is not back to normal but to a new normal. Today I want to share 4 key areas of consideration as you reopen.

· Planned Communication

· Place

· People

· Policies/Practices

Communication Planning

The reopening effort must start with thorough communication plan. Leadership communication must start at the top and be frequent, multichannel and documented. Have written, oral communication frequent team meetings and updated, available policies. The communication must be decisive and accurate. I highly recommend you use only official sources such as the CDC, OSHA and government sites.


Have a plan to prepare your physical space for the return of your employees. Do you need physical barriers, directions for entrances, hallways, staircases and/or elevators? Consider establishing a sign in and sign out process so that you can document who is in the building at any given time in case there is exposure.

Establish physical cleaning policies for public spaces such as copiers, kitchens, breakrooms, bathrooms and meeting spaces. If you are a building owner consider installing touchless plumbing, automatic doors, plexiglass screens or cubicle shields. Common spaces may need to be either closed or establishing a maximum number of people who are allowed in a break room or cafeteria at one time.

Communicate what you expect each individual employee to do with their own personal space. Consider requiring the employees to remove knick-knacks and clutter and provide cleaning supplies for their spaces.

You may want to consider providing personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizers and cleaning supplies. If you require, you supply.


Next let's consider your people plan. Can you phase returning on a voluntary basis? Some employees may be more productive working remotely. If it must be mandatory, can the return be done in phases based on business function or depth of talent. Create safe space for high risk employees where they are in a less traffic zone.

Communicate what the requirements are for screening or testing when employees do come back to work.

Can employees refuse to come back to work? The answer depends on if you have an employee who cannot return or is will not return. In the latter case the answer is you can require them to return. Even so, it is important to be empathetic and take the time to explain to them what precautions are being taken and understand their concerns. If they are unable to return to work because they have been exposed or even have the virus you cannot require them to come back until they are clear.

Refusal to come back to work should be treated as a voluntary resignation. If that happens, you need to get their refusal in writing. Be aware attorneys are waiting to sue, so be careful and try to work with the employee. Give them written communication of the precautions you're taking to provide a safe workplace. Report the refusal to return to work to the unemployment insurance administration so that they don't receive benefits when refusing to work.

Establish training for employees that are returning to work. Hold virtual town halls before anyone enters the building. In the return to work training remind people that this is not normal and ongoing but revised policies are in place during the emergency and when all is clear these policies may be rolled back.

If you implement screening of employees to enhance workplace safety, have standards or procedures that are uniformly applied. If a returning employee exhibits two or more symptoms the CDC recommends that you have them remain at home until they're clear. Likewise, if the employee has been exposed to someone who has the symptoms it is recommended that you require them to stay at home as well.

Many employers are implementing screening mechanisms such as temperature checks and blood tests. The Federal Government has waived privacy requirements during this emergency. If you screen, you should maintain privacy and dignity of the individuals. It is recommended that testing be performed by a trained individual and it not be someone in a supervisory position. I recommend you hire on a temporary basis a CRNA or an EMT to perform the screening.

The screening needs to be done in a manner that minimizes dense crowds to maintain social distancing. The time they are in line waiting to be screened is compensable time for hourly employees. In other words you have to pay them while being screened. One innovative idea is to have the employee perform the temperature checking at home taking a video they can send to someone before they arrive at the workplace.

If they fail the screening, the employee needs to be sent home until they can return to work following CDC guidelines. Be kind and empathetic with the employees who may be frightened. You cannot retaliate and do not discuss the failed screening. Notify only those who need to know that the employee is not working and leave it at that.


Look at your policies for any potential impact. Review programs such as employee group health, flexible spending accounts, 401K/retirement plans, paid time off for sick leave, disability and bereavement. Review processes on new hire paperwork, benefits enrollment and terminations.

Review your business continuity plan. Update or implement a succession plan that covers those who are out for an extended period or in worst case scenario who do not return to work. Understand who is the next person on the bench to fill those vacancies on a temporary or permanent basis. Create development plan so that you can understand their strengths and weaknesses.

Revisit your communication processes. Have electronic bulletin boards, communal files, backup telephone systems current contact lists and alternative work locations.

From a people management standpoint this emergency has presented an unprecedented challenge to leaders.

Contact the HR Guy for small business if I can be of assistance. 

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