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Post-Shutdown Restart Plans Need to Protect Your Greatest Asset

One more sign of these odd times: Until recently, articles recommending actions tied to some near-universal change would often begin with pleasant allusions to upcoming graduation parties, or lengthening days and warmer temperatures. Now we refer to declining infection rates.

Unsettling yes, but no less welcome. Employers are at last preparing to bring themselves out of standstill as the COVID-19 outbreak appears to be coming under control. I almost described the shutdowns as “suspended animation,” but that hardly fits. Because while we’ve been sheltering in place, many employers have been all too busy – revising revenue forecasts downward, tracking declines in cash, and having searching phone calls with banks and once-stable customers.

Under these sleep-robbing circumstances, it’s understandable for employers to formulate restart plans that consist of slamming their people back into the building and cranking operations back up within two seconds of the governmental all-clear. However, don’t be too quick to say “yep, that’s the one I’m going with.” Because if there was ever a time to take care to preserve your greatest asset, it’s now.

I’m not talking about your employees (see my earlier post, “Your Employees Are Not Your Greatest Asset” for an explanation as to why). I’m talking about your reputation, in particular as it extends to your employees and their families. Good employee relations, as an extension of your reputation, are built over years, can be squandered in a moment, and often regained never. In the present moment, no matter how dire the business need, employers must recognize the fact that many of their employees see the situation with a markedly different set of priorities.

The most recent ABC News/Ipsos poll finds that Americans generally support social distancing guidelines; and in the matter of restarting the economy, fully 72% say they’re more concerned about proceeding too quickly – and risking more infections and deaths - than too slowly, even though that means more job losses. Echoing the point, a Variety poll showed that 47% of respondents still say they plan to eat out less than before, even after they aren’t forced to stay cooped up.

With so many people concerned about the ongoing risk of infections, even to the detriment of their livelihoods, employers need to make sure that their restart plans demonstrate the business’ own concerns for their employees’ health and wellbeing, regardless of what the government does or doesn’t continue to require. Here are a few steps that might help:

- Allow concerned employees to continue teleworking, at least for a predetermined timeframe. Many people have had a lot of practice at it by now, anyway.

- Encourage people to continue social distancing.

- Allow them to continue wearing masks.

- Allow or encourage employees to keep meeting online rather than in person.

- Relax attendance requirements in the event schools, childcare, or eldercare needs can’t yet be properly addressed, even if FFCRA says you don’t have to.

- Require employees recovered from a coronavirus infection to submit a COVID-19 Employee Self-Certification to Return to Work. You may not want the paperwork, but it would demonstrate to the workforce that you’re keeping track of infections in the workplace as best you can.

- Remind employees that those exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms may be sent home by the company (Before you get your ADA hackles up, remember that the law always has allowed employers to deny employees access to the workplace when they pose a “direct threat”).

Employers need to resume full operations with all hands giving their absolute best. That’s why the most successful restart plans will be those founded on reciprocity. The quickest way to get your employees to care about your needs is to demonstrate that you care about theirs.


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