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June 08, 2021

Returning to Work After COVID-19: How to Manage Employee Reluctance

Offices are starting to reopen, but some employees don’t want to return. According to Employee Benefit News, a Flexjobs survey found that 60% of employees say they will quit if they are required to return to the office.

This reluctance – or downright unwillingness – to return to the office is creating a problem for managers who want to get back to normal. If your employees are balking at the prospect of returning to the office, you need to manage the situation carefully to avoid both liability exposures and morale problems.

Is It Safe for Employees to Return?

Before you do anything, you need to understand whether or not you can require employees to come back yet. Many places have eased or ended stay-at-home orders, but you’ll need to check with local and state regulations.

If you have the green light to open, don’t assume this means you don’t have to take safety seriously anymore. The coronavirus is still spreading, and vaccination isn’t 100% effective. In the early days of the pandemic, some employers were hit with wrongful death lawsuits for failing to create a safe environment. As companies ease safety protocols, this risk could emerge again.

What About Discrimination Claims?

Employees who are still worried about catching COVID-19 may claim that they need to work from home for health and safety reasons. Employees with disabilities that make them especially susceptible to COVID-19 may request remote work as an accommodation.

According to the EEOC, employers do not necessarily have to offer continued remote work arrangements to every employee who makes the request. “If there is no disability-related limitation that requires teleworking, then the employer does not have to provide telework as an accommodation. Or, if there is a disability-related limitation but the employer can effectively address the need with another form of reasonable accommodation at the workplace, then the employer can choose that alternative to telework.”

Additionally, the EEOC notes that some employers may have temporarily excused performance of an essential function because the workplace was closed due to COVID-19. This does not mean that the employer has permanently changed the essential functions of the job. Even though telework was used during stay-at-home orders, continued telework may pose an undue hardship going forward.

Each case should be considered individually. If a worker can perform all of their duties from home, telework may be a reasonable accommodation.

Help Employees Feel Comfortable

If you are requiring employees to return to the office, understand that they may feel very anxious.

Many people struggled during the pandemic, but some people thrived. According to the American Psychological Association, 49% of Americans say they feel uneasy about adjusting to in-person socialization.

Help employees adjust:

  • Ease concerns by showing that health and safety are still being taken seriously.
  • Provide benefits that support mental health, such as virtual counseling, stress-reduction apps, and Employee Assistance Programs.
  • Foster a culture that promotes mental health. Check-in with employees to see how they’re doing and what could help them do better.
  • Consider offering a hybrid schedule in which employees work from home some of the time.

If you have any questions about the insurance implications of your decisions, reach out to the team at Heffernan Insurance Brokers. We’re here for you!

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