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How to Prepare for Employees to Return to Work after COVID-19

As parts of the country start to open back up, you may have some concerns as an employer about how best to bring your team back to work. For instance, should you consider a phased reopening? Or how much information can you request about an employee’s health before allowing them to return to work? As you make your decisions about whether and/or how to reopen your business, here’s some information that you may want to consider. 

Questions about the coronavirus pandemic?

Visit the Coronavirus Legal Center and ask a lawyer today.

Am I allowed to reopen my business? 

Operating restrictions for your business are, for the most part, determined by your local public health orders. Find out what you need to consider when making the decision to reopen using guidance from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, or talk to a lawyer directly. 

How can I bring furloughed employees back to work? 

If you have furloughed or laid off your staff and plan to reopen, you should communicate this decision with your employees. A formal letter allows you to invite your team back to work and gives them a deadline by which they should respond. It is typically helpful to give employees some advance notice before their expected first day in case child care arrangements or other logistics need to be managed. 

What are my legal rights if an employee refuses to return to work?

In general, an employee who refuses to return to work may be fired. However, in some circumstances, employees will be eligible for FMLA or paid sick leave. It is important to understand what relief your employees qualify for and make sure that your policies are documented clearly in your Employee Handbook

There may also be protections for high-risk populations, who may include:

  • Employees who are considered “older adults”
  • Those who have chronic medical conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, or lung diseases
  • Those who have auto-immune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, or lupus

It is best to talk to a lawyer, if you have questions about how to phase your reopening with respect to the rights of your employees.

How can an employer confirm that employees are healthy?

As an employer, you are typically within your rights to: 

  • Ask employees to provide proof of their health by requiring them to submit to a medical exam, such as taking their temperature
  • Provide a physician’s note stating that the employee is fit to return to work
  • Demand the employee indicate that they have been free of symptoms for a specific time period, using a screening form or other format.

Keep in mind, you must be able to provide objective evidence that the employee’s condition would prevent them from adequately carrying out their assigned job duties or that it poses a direct threat to others in the workplace.

If you have any uncertainty about HR best practices in relation to the pandemic, check out the Coronavirus Legal Center and ask a lawyer for free. 

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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