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COVID-19 Return to Work Plan

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major interruption in our economy and in how you’ve had to manage your business. Perhaps you’ve moved your employees to work from home, or you’ve had to cut back on staff or services, or close down altogether. Now that the Ontario government is starting to gradually reopen the economy, it’s crucial to prepare your business to reopen in this new reality. It’s no longer a matter of simply returning to “business as usual”; each decision must be carefully calculated and executed in compliance with government regulations. Continue reading to discover tips on how to create a return to work plan and protect the health and wellness of your employees.

Creating a Return to Work Plan “Task Force”

As a business owner, you have employees with various strengths and skills that can help you strategize and create a return to work plan. Lean into the strengths of those team members by designating a ‘task force’ of employees to oversee and conduct the risk assessments, implement workplace controls to minimize risk and plan for the logistical technological challenges of returning employees. This team should be thinking through the moving pieces and adjustments you’ll need to make associated with COVID-19. Be sure to stay up-to-date with all government requirements from reliable sources. Part of your return to work plan may involve determining which employees will continue working from home and which teams should return to the office.

Here are a few steps to get your team started on your return to work plan:

  1. Learn – find accurate, updated information for business that are looking to reopen, starting with government agencies and public health organizations. Each province is governing the return to work.
  2. Plan – create steps or a phased return to work plan to gradually increase your capacity in anticipation of government changes. Create well written guidelines on how to follow regulations, provide safety for workers, and evaluate security for at-home workers.
  3. Communicate – speak with your employees about your business reopening plan, reconvene with your vendors/partners, and provide updates for your customers.
  4. Execute – develop a time frame for your business as best you can given the circumstances, lay out a marketing plan, and adapt to changes or challenges as they arise.

Value Your Employees’ Health in your Return to Work Plan

While things remain uncertain, you should do everything possible to encourage the health and well-being of your workers. This may include preparing your property with a deep clean before the return of workers and performing regular sanitization, providing information on proper hygiene practices and determining regulations for personal protective equipment (PPE). In addition, here are some ideas to promote mental health in your workplace.

Unfortunately, you can’t expect that all your employees will want to return to work, even after taking all necessary safety precautions. Some employees may also face special circumstances (compromised immunity, child/elder care obligations, or illness). Handle these situations with consistency while following your employer policies, obligations of occupational health and safety legislation, employment standards legislation, and human rights legislation. Your return to work plan should determine how you’ll handle all operations if employees still want to work from home and how to treat employees fairly.

Readying the Workplace for Social Distancing

Social distancing is still crucial in mitigating the spread of COVID-19, especially in enclosed areas. Develop a plan to promote social distancing in your unique space, whether it be limiting the number of people in your building at a given time, laying out arrows and place holdings on the floor to direct traffic, or adjusting your products and services to offer more curb-side/delivery services. Start with the basic questions such as:

  • How many customers can you have at a time?
  • How many employees can you have in the building at a given time?
  • What will you do about shared spaces for employees (fridge, breakroom, coffee machines, etc.)?

Once you’ve tackled these fundamental questions, move into reconfiguring the physical space. You might consider protective items such as a plexiglass barrier to protect customers and staff or including a visitor questionnaire before allowing customers or clients into your workplace. Be sure to schedule regular sterilization and deep cleaning of the facilities.

Assess Your Business Needs in your Return to Work Plan

Many businesses have struggled financially through this crisis. Fortunately, the Canadian Government is offering many Emergency Benefits for businesses including access to credit and wage subsidy programs. As you re-evaluate and modify your business plan, you’ll need to honestly assess your business needs in light of the situation:

  • Your budget – how much capital can you access? How can you best put that money to use?
  • Your supply chain – can you use existing partnerships or meet short-term needs with new vendors?
  • Products/services – how can you shift to relevant products and services to anticipate customers’ needs?
  • Revenue impact – what are the losses? How much do you expect to recoup once fully operational again?
  • Staffing requirements – can you alter schedules to prevent large gatherings of employees? Would you be offering part-time hours or bringing employees back full-time?

Developing a COVID-19 Infection Response Plan

An important part of your return to work plan should include a contingency plan to respond to workplace disruption while ensuring business continuity. How will you move forward if an employee contracts COVID-19 or another contagion leading to a potential outbreak in your workplace? Develop a policy that will provide guidelines as to how long an employee should self-isolate if they become ill and a process for monitoring employees symptoms. It’s important to reiterate sick and paid time off policies to employees and discourage them from coming to work if they feel ill.

After taking all of these aspects of business into consideration, we still have to recognize that this situation is ever-changing. We must constantly re-evaluate and learn to adapt to new developments and regulations. If you do make any significant changes to your business, be sure to consult with one of our commercial brokers who can advise you if any changes are required for your policy. BIG will continue to serve our clients with the best service possible as we navigate returning to a new “normal.”

By: Amy Legault