With “return to work” on the horizon, we should anticipate the issues that will arise and how to address them when bringing employees back to the office.
Once stay at home restrictions are lifted, many employees will still be concerned for their health and safety. Therefore, it would be a good practice to start gradually, by introducing small number of employees to the office. Consider staggered shifts, and also reorganizing the office so that employees can maintain social distancing. Some employees can continue working from home.
Can employees refuse to return to work because they are afraid or feel vulnerable? No, not legally, except if they have an ADA disability that you can accommodate. But flexibility and sensitivity are called for; most Americans have been scared out of their wits by this virus.
Definitely understand your existing paid and unpaid leave policies, as well as the temporary paid leave granted under the CARES Act. You may want to consult with an HR professional or attorney to adjust your policies.
In the workplace, make sure that health protections are in place, such as hand washing breaks and enforcing social distancing. All employees should be told to confidentially tell you as soon as possible if they feel ill – they should be sent home immediately. You may also decide to ask employees about whether they have COVID-19 symptoms or have had the virus, before allowing them back to work. Please follow CDC guidelines. Currently you may take employee temperatures, and when a vaccine is available, require them to get it, with certain exemptions.
In sum, communication, flexibility, common sense and caution will win the day in your workplace.