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11 Things to Consider as You Craft Your COVID-19 Return-to-Work Policies

Posted Jun 11, 2020 01:01 PM
In the coming weeks, nonprofits in Washington and Oregon are going to be allowed to resume normal operations and return to the office. While federal, state, and local guidelines should be adhered to whenever possible, you need to establish protocols of your own and communicate these policies clearly to your staff, donors, clients, and volunteers.

Whether your organization has had to furlough employees, halt all operations, or ask employees to work from home, now is the time to work with your executive director and Human Resources representative (whether they’re in-house or contracted through 501 Commons or another provider ) to craft policies for returning back to work.

Make sure you follow these tips as you engage in these discussions.

  1. Weigh whether your organization can “return-to-work.” While many nonprofits may be able to resume normal operations, not all should. It’s important to carefully consider all of your options tailored to your organization’s unique mission, services, clients, employees, risks, and budget.
  2. Maintain social distancing guidelines in the workplace. Depending on how your workplace is laid out, you may need to rearrange desks/cubicles to ensure employees are at least 6 feet away from each other and from clients. This may require allowing only 50% of staff to return to the office (or a different percentage depending on your physical space) or starting a calendar where people can reserve time to come back. Another option is staggered schedules.
  3. Appoint a COVID officer who will ensure compliance. This person can be responsible for coordinating schedules, taking temperature checks, making sure people are following protocol, and working with property management (if applicable) on compliance with building-wide rules.
  4. Make hand sanitizer, masks, and cleaning supplies available to everyone. We recommended previously how to stop the spread of contagions. Just keep following these guidelines for the foreseeable future. You can also add things like asking employees to bring their own utensils, getting rid of communal washcloths, and allowing only one person to use the bathroom at a time. See Washington State's guidelines on wearing cloth facial coverings in the workplace.
  5. Communicate all changes to staff ahead of time. This includes both staff who are still with the organization and those who’ve been furloughed. Transparency is the key to getting buy-in from your workers, some of whom may not feel comfortable returning to the office to begin with. Document all major changes in writing, either via staff memos or your intranet.
  6. Update employee handbook and HR policies to adjust to the “new normal.” While the initial wave of COVID-19 cases may be dissipating, that doesn’t mean COVID won’t be a problem for months – or years – to come. It’s necessary to update your internal HR policies accordingly, especially for new employees you’ve recently hired.
  7. Shift around PTO and leave policies. Apply the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) appropriately to employees with COVID-19, those caring for family members who’ve had it, or those who cannot access childcare.
  8. Reinforce your whistleblower policy. Your employee handbook should include a policy on reporting abuse, unethical behavior, and illegal activities so staff feel comfortable reporting violations that endanger themselves and others.
  9. Budget for additional expenses. Getting all the sanitation supplies and PPE will be an added cost. Reallocate resources where possible and have conversations with funders about flexibility about reallocating funding to help pay for workplace safety.
  10. Promote mental health and wellness. Staff, volunteers, board members, and clients will experience different levels of fear and anxiety. Be mindful of any implicit biases or assumptions about performance that show up around some employees who are fearful of returning to work.
  11. Ensure equity and inclusion are front and center. Be thoughtful about the different levels of exposure risk for different employees. For instance, front line staff who provide direct services to clients may have an increased risk which may also impact their performance. Ensure that your health and safety planning policies and performance expectations are aligned with these issues. Similarly, what are the realities for employees outside of work? For instance, access to childcare is still not readily available. Consider flexible schedules and adjusting performance management expectations accordingly.

Need additional guidance to get the ball rolling? See what 501 Commons’ HR Services has to offer. Our HR Quick Consult services provides affordable assistance at $25 per 15-minute increment. Email hrconsults@501commons.org to get started. We are providing a 25% discount on consults for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic for organizations with budgets under $1.5 million!