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featured image showing Young Professional Returning to Work After the Pandemic With a Briefcase and Surgical Mask in Hand

How to Handle Employees Who Are Unwilling to Return to the Office After COVID-19

After a long year of remote work, employers may be starting to call employees back to the office to resume a normal, pre-pandemic schedule. In doing so, they may be experiencing some push-back from employees. This guide offers small business owners some recommendations on how to handle certain scenarios. If you would like specific guidance or assistance compiling your documentation, contact the experts at HRinDemand, your total people solution.

Ease Into It

One way to get employees acclimated back to the office is to ease into it. If you can, offer flexible options such as 2 days in the office to start. Then bump it up to three, then four. This will help everyone get used to the new schedule and give employees some freedom and space to figure out issues at home such as childcare.

Determine If Reasons Are COVID-19 Related and Covered Under Regulatory Guidelines

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave may apply when an eligible employee is sick with the virus or is needed to care for a family member who has contracted the virus.

An employee with an underlying health condition that places them at high risk for complications of COVID-19 may be unable or unwilling to return to work after stay-at-home orders are lifted and/or after other types of leave are exhausted. In these circumstances, an employer will want to engage in an interactive process with the employee to determine if a disability exists as defined by the American’s with Disabilities Act, and if so, what reasonable accommodations may be available. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued guidance indicating that a leave of absence may be a form of reasonable accommodation, and employers are being encouraged to allow for telework when appropriate. See What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws. (Source)

Offer Time Off or Leave of Absence

If none of the programs above apply to the employee’s situation, consider offering them time off or a leave of absence. Especially if they are sitting on a bank of unused time. This can give them some extra space to prepare themselves to come back to the office.

Take It Case-By-Case

Small businesses can be more flexible and take each situation on a case-by-case determination. Ultimately, employers are finding themselves balancing business needs with employee relations. Many employers are being as generous as possible. But, they must ultimately ensure their business survives.

Communication and Documentation

Companies can set expectations early on with clear communication and documentation. Have a plan that clearly defines the new expectations and the consequences for not abiding. Name the exceptions, if any, and clearly define each scenario. This will help employees plan and know what to expect. For expert assistance in your Return to Work Plan, contact HRinDemand.

Melissa Marsh, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, is a human resources consultant and founder of HRinDemand, a human resources company in Reno, NV, offering expert guidance and easy-to-use tools to help small businesses with employment regulations, compliance, employee relations, and company growth.