As stay-at-home restrictions ease in the coming months across the United States, businesses will begin to reopen, and many employees will return to their workplaces. While the health and safety of employees and customers will be the top priority, how employees are transitioned back will also be vital to successfully resume operations.
This is not a return to the status quo; it is a transition to a new normal for the foreseeable future. As businesses reopen, they will need to develop processes for employees working from home to return to work, for furloughed or laid-off employees who are returning to work or rehired, and for those employees who may need to transition into new roles that satisfy new market demands.
Applying a Consistent Screening Process for Returning Employees
Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach that will span every industry and business type, there are general best practices that can be used as a starting point to develop processes that will work for your specific business.
The first among them is the need to establish consistency and guidelines that ensure the same process is followed for all new and returning employees as they resume their job functions. Businesses should also take into consideration whether employers screen only during preemployment or if they have recurring screening or ongoing monitoring programs for existing employees.
As furloughed employees (or laid-off employees who are being rehired) return, companies should consider including a simple and consistent rescreening process. This could be a straightforward screen for any potential policy violations that may have occurred during the time such employees were not working.
Factors for consideration may include:
- Duration of the furlough (or layoff)—Employees who have been out of work for more than 30 days, for example, may require a rescreen that may typically include the basic components of the initial preemployment search itself, with one notable exception: The typical preemployment standard of 7 years of scope can potentially be reduced to 1 year, for example (depending on the length of the furlough), to save both time and money on such screening processes as Social Security number (SSN) traces, national criminal and county criminal searches, and perhaps COVID-19 testing.
- Level of supervision or independence in the role—Employees who will return to customer-facing roles with low levels of supervision, for example, may need to be part of a more thorough screening process, including a full 7-year scope for their SSN; national criminal, county criminal, and sex offender searches; and perhaps COVID-19 testing.
- Safety sensitivities—Employees returning to an office, a store, a restaurant, a warehouse, a factory, or another enclosed indoor area may need to be subject to additional health and safety screenings, e.g., COVID-19 testing or temperature checks, to ensure a safe work environment.
Overcoming Workforce Screening Challenges
There is also the likelihood that many labs, courts, and even public records repositories will remain closed, or have limited access, beyond when many employers will be bringing their workforce back. With this in mind, companies will need to remain flexible and adapt to alternative screening processes.
For example, drug testing could be done through a point-of-care drug screening process, such as oral-fluid employment drug tests, if lab-based testing and collection sites are unavailable. If limited access to public records persists, companies may also consider conditional hiring and plan to resume background checks and criminal searches when the courts and public records repositories are open and able to fulfill search requests.
Best Practices for Safe and Secure Business (Office and Retail) Reopenings
As businesses reopen in the coming months, it’s vital they enact policies and practices that ensure a safe work environment and, for those employees with customer-facing roles, ensure the safety of their customers.
These policies will differ depending on each company and will depend on many factors, including company type, industry, number of employees, and location. However, every business should plan to solicit input and ongoing feedback from decision-makers, key stakeholders, and influencers across the company as they decide how and when employees are ready to return to their workspaces.
For some businesses, it may be possible and even prudent to consider revising or extending a work-from-home policy or give employees the option to return to a communal office or continue to work from home for a longer duration. Businesses may also decide to stagger business hours to reduce the number of employees in the office at the same time.
For corporate businesses, establishing a core cross-functional task force may be prudent to ensure the office space is safe and secure for all employees. This task force could include team leads from each major business department, from sales and marketing, product, and engineering to finance, HR, IT, and legal. This task force would oversee the important steps and procedures necessary for a healthy work environment, including:
Reimagining office space. Redesigning office layouts to ensure social distancing measures are followed, e.g., individual workspaces are 6 feet apart. Access to common areas is limited to a specific number of people at any given time, and there are staggered work hours to limit the number of people in the office at once. This could even include creating “one-way” paths through the office to allow social distancing as people move around the work area.
Educating employees on best practices. Each employee is a stakeholder in the overall health and welfare of the work environment, whether it’s an office, a retail location, a restaurant, or otherwise. It is important every team has access to up-to-date information on changing office procedures due to COVID-19. Empowering employees to be responsible for both their own safety and their teammates’ will be key to a successful return.
Customer meetings and travel. Businesses should ensure that any customer-facing employees who will be making in-person visits to customer, partner, and manufacturing sites have the appropriate personal protective equipment.
There should also be a policy in place for off-site, in-person meetings that ensures employees are compliant with the visiting company’s guidelines and protocols, as well as any state and local restrictions and policies. It may be prudent to limit travel or visitors to the office and continue to rely on the technology platforms that have been used during the work-from-home period.
For businesses with retail locations. For retail locations, it will be key to limit the number of customers allowed in the store at a given time. Larger stores should consider employing a person at the entrance to monitor traffic; implementing an easy, mobile-friendly online ordering system for curbside pickup or delivery; prominently placing hand sanitizing stations at entrances, checkouts, and high-traffic points throughout the store; and a frequent, regularly scheduled sanitation regimen for high-touch areas (such as door handles) and shared items, including shopping carts, point-of-sale checkout machines, etc.
The reality is that different companies and industries may be at different stages of readiness, depending on state and local laws, the nature of their work, and the overall comfort level of employees. There will not be a one-size-fits-all approach to returning to work. However, with the right proactive practices and policies, businesses around the country will begin to reopen as we all transition to the next phase of work life.
David Wheeler is Chief Legal Officer at Accurate Background with responsibility over the various legal matters facing Accurate Background as a trusted provider of automated workforce screening for both U.S. and international clients across various industries. He previously spent 13 years in the corporate department at Latham & Watkins LLP, where he represented numerous public and private clients in a variety of transactions and counseled them on various general corporate governance matters. Prior to joining Latham, he served as the General Counsel & Executive Vice-President of Fuse Mobile, Inc., a venture backed retail wireless company, from July 2005 to February 2007.