COVID-19 Return to Work Guidelines

As stay-at-home orders begin to expire, and governmental plans for businesses to reopen are being drafted, it is time for employers to start thinking about how to bring staff back to work. As an HR leader, we are in the position to ensure the safety of our workforce and that there are strategies and protocols in place to protect and safely bring staff back when reopening business locations.

What The CDC Has To Say

With the recent release of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines on how business should prepare to reopen, they suggested that you should not reopen unless you can answer positively to the following:

  1. Have significant restrictions been lifted in your business location that no longer limits operations to designated essential critical workers?
  2. Will you be able to limit nonessential employees to those from the local geographic area?
  3. Do you have protective measures such as teleworking or ways to minimize contact risks?

But even if you are able to meet these requirements, the CDC recommends that businesses do not open until they can implement the following safeguards:

  • Enhanced cleaning and disinfecting
  • Social distancing
  • Telework
  • Cancellation of nonessential business travel
  • Seating distance of at least 6 feet, reduce staff gathering with staggered shifts
  • Restricted use of any shared workspace or work equipment
  • Training on safety procedures

Further, the CDC recommends that businesses should not open until they have protocols in place to monitor the health and of employees such as:

  • Guidelines on when sick employees should home
  • Routine, daily employee health checks
  • Procedures to monitor absenteeism
  • Flexible time off policies
  • Protocols for employees with presumptive positive or who test positive for COVID-19
  • Emergency communication channels for employees
  • Communication procedures with state and local authorities

But even these suggested practices in place, businesses will face other challenging questions and decisions that impact employee safety. HR professionals will need to work closely with their executive team or business continuity team to address the following.

Which Employees Return First

While it will be highly unlikely that all of your employees will need to return at once, your business needs should drive what departments or teams should return first and how they will follow proper saftey protocols such as social distancing. No matter what your plan is, make sure you document the legitimate business reasons on which employees you select to return in the event your decision gets questioned.

Social Distancing Procedures

Consider reducing the number of employees on-site, staggering work hours or days for workgroups, or even reconfiguring your workplace. You may want to consider the following social distancing practices:

  • Communicate social distancing rules electronically and in hard copy, before employees return to work and post at workstations or in strategic areas
  • Provide online training on the new procedures before employees return to the worksite
  • For employees who can work remotely, offer the option
  • Maximize social distancing with stagger start times, shifts or days
  • Will, the layout of your workplace, accommodate social distancing, if not, what changes can you make to meet social distancing needs
  • Consider airborne barriers and how you can meet minimum distances requirements as recommended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
  • The CDC recommends installing six-foot visual markers on the floors
  • If your building has an elevator create protocols to prevent crowdings
  • Close or modify access to common areas, such as lunch rooms, time clock stations, meeting rooms, and waiting areas to ensure social distancing
  • To reduce traffic in or out of the building, encourage staff to bring meals or snacks that do not require microwaving or refrigeration
  • Restrict nonessential vendors or visitors from entering the facility
  • Require deliveries to be dropped at a designated location outside the facility door

Continuing With Remote Work

Let’s face it, remote working is not for everyone, but some of your staff my grown and flourished in this new work arrangement. When thinking about reopening, to accommodate social distancing, and which employees to consider to continue working remotely, perhaps an employee survey on the pros and cons of working remotely may be in order. The survey will help you to understand your employee challenges better and learn what you could offer to support them in this new environment. It may also help you discover who is uncomfortable with their arrangement and may need to return to the office immediately.

In-Person Meetings & Conferences

If in-person meetings are deemed necessary, you will need to arrange the meetings with social distancing requirements and safety procedures in mind. You will need to plan for sanitizing meeting spaces between meetings and plan to have PPE’s and cleaning materials readily available throughout the workday.

Business Travel

With shelter-in-place protocols in place, unless essential, businesses have suspended all travel for their employees. As you look to reopen your business, travel policies will need to be reviewed and revised with safety in mind. As a reminder, CDC travel guidelines included a two-week quarantine for employees traveling more than 100 miles from work facilities.

Employees Impacted by the Virus

Should an employee who test positive for COVID-19 or presents symptoms without officially being diagnosed, what will you do? The CDC issued guidance on this subject and suggested the following depending on the scenario:

Presenting Symptoms of COVID-19

Employees who claim to have suffered from a fever, cough, and body aches which were not positively diagnosed for COVID-19 and have recovered, and meet the following conditions, may if they they satisfy the following guidelines:

  • A minimum of 3 days has passed with no fever for at least 72 hours and no use of fever-reducing medicines like aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen to reduce abnormal temperature
  • Their respiratory symptoms have improved
  • A minimum of 7 days have passed since symptoms first started

Confirmed Case of COVID-19 with No Symptoms

For employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 but have not presented symptoms or become ill, the CDC recommends isolation following their diagnosis but can return to work after meeting the following guidelines:

  • A minimum of 7 days have passed since the date of their first positive COVID-19 test
  • Following an additional 3 from isolation, the employee maintains social distancing and continue to limit contact with others
  • The employee continues to wear a mask or face covering of their nose and mouth to limit exposure

Confirmed Case of COVID-19 but Not Requiring Hospitalization

Employees who have tested positive for COVID-19, or who are mildly or moderately ill due to the virus but were not required to be hospitalization, should be capable of returning to work providing the following conditions are met:

  • At least 3 days have passed since recovery, absent of fever for 72 hours and the employees has had no significant temperature for 72 hours or used any fever-reducing medicines like aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen to reduce a fever.
  • Respiratory symptoms have improved
  • The employee exhibits no symptoms of COVID-19
  • A medical professional has administered and confirmed two negative COVID-19 tests spaced at least 24 hours apart

Confirmed Case of COVID-19 Requiring Hospitalization

This group of employees presents the highest risk of spreading infection across your workforce. For any employee who has received a positive test and who were hospitalized, they may experience longer periods of viral detection compared to those with mild or moderate symptoms; the CDC recommends that they receive rigorous testing before returning to work.

Do you need more information on how to implement a return to work program or a copy of YPTHRM’s COVID-19 Return to Work Checklist?

CLICK Checklist”

Contact us today at 516-522-0078 or

Your Part-Time HR Manager – Providing no-nonsense, cost-effective solutions to your HR Dilemmas!

Your Part-Time HR Manager provides advisory services to our clients and newsletter subscribers. None of the information contained herein should be construed as legal advice, nor is Your Part-Time HR Manager engaged to provide legal advice. Although we go to great lengths to make sure our information is accurate and useful, we recommend you consult your attorney or legal department if you want assurance that our information, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate to your particular situation.

Posted in

Your Part-Time HR Manager

Leave a Comment


Join our Mailing List, Never miss an HR Blog or White Paper