Bringing Back Furloughed Employees After COVID-19
If you’re reading this guide, then there’s a good chance that you’re starting the challenging process of rehiring your furloughed staff. While bringing back your employees should be an easier process than furloughing them was, there are still a lot of difficult decisions to make. We’re here to help.
Create a Safe Plan for Returning to the Office
Precautions need to be taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to make sure your staff feels as safe as possible at work. Simple precautions that every business should take include setting up hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the office, spacing out work stations, and limiting in-person meetings. Here’s a checklist for making your place of work as safe as possible.
COVID-19 Office Safety Checklist
- Install hand sanitizer dispensers
- Space out work stations at least 6 feet from each other
- Limit in-person meetings
- Take temperatures of employees before entering the building
- Close common spaces like kitchens and breakrooms
- Open windows and doors for increased airflow
- Install an air quality and ventilation system (MERV 13+ recommended)
- Increase the frequency of office cleaning to everyday
- Don’t allow visitors
- Let employees work from home if possible
Planning to Reinstate Furloughed Workers
After you have your workplace safety protocols planned out in accordance with CDC guidelines, you should start planning your rehire process for your furloughed staff. This process should start at least a month before you want employees to return to work. Use this time to determine who to bring back and what organizational changes need to be made. You should also provide your furloughed workers with a 2-week (at least) notice before you expect them back at work.
Determining Which Furloughed Employees to Bring Back
Deciding which employees will be brought back and which ones won’t must be based on solely business considerations. Playing favorites here could get you into serious legal trouble, putting you at risk of discrimination claims. For example, you should never choose to let someone go because you think they might be more or less equipped at home to handle being laid off. All employers need to document a non-discriminatory reason for their decision on which employees to rehire. Deciding factors can include past performance, operational needs, and seniority.
Order in Which to Recall Furloughed or Laid Off Employees
When deciding which employees to bring back first, it’s legally important to only consider which job functions are needed the most. At this point in the process, you should not take things into consideration like which employees are being paid more unemployment benefits, which employees are more vulnerable to the virus, which employees have kids at home, or other outside factors. Speculating on those factors could lead to claims of unfair treatment down the road. Accommodations can be made if an employee expresses concerns about returning to work because of circumstances associated with the pandemic.
Determine if Any Job Functions Should be Changed
If you had to furlough employees, chances are you’ll have to make some adjustments to how your business is run. If your company underwent organizational changes or a reduced headcount, you’re your employees’ responsibilities, titles, and compensation may need to change. Compensation should be fairly adjusted if you need an employee to take on more responsibility because of a reduced headcount. All of these changes should be clearly communicated in writing to all impacted employees.
Determine Changes in Benefit Status
You can skip this step if your employees were furloughed with full benefits because there isn’t anything to reinstate. However, if benefits were suspended at any point during the furlough, you need to give your employees the option to re-enroll for health benefits. You’ll also need to inform returning employees of their PTO and sick time status. To do this you first must decide if employees accrue paid time off while furloughed. You’ll include this information in your furlough recall letter.
Employees Who Are Hesitant to Return to Work
There’s a multitude of reasons why your employees might be hesitant to return to the office from furlough. The most common reason employees are hesitant to return to work is a genuine concern that they’ll be putting themselves and their family at greater risk of contracting the virus. Employees with young children may not be able to return to work because their children’s schools are closed. In some cases, furloughed employees may actually be making more money than they did while fully employed too.
No matter the reason, you should listen to the concerns of your staff and make accommodations to ensure everyone feels as safe as possible. Employees are entitled to refuse to return to work under OSHA if they feel like they’re in imminent danger in the workplace. Make sure to have a communication plan in place to reassure your staff will be protected by the new safety protocols you’ve implemented in accordance with the CDC and OSH guidelines.
How to Recall and Rehire Furloughed Employees
While some workers will resist returning to work, most will be happy to be invited to return. In either case, you need to take certain steps to properly reintegrate furloughed employees back into your company.
Rehire Paperwork for Furloughed Employees
It might feel overly formal to send out written offer letters to employees that were only furloughed for a few months. However, a furlough recall letter is an opportunity to give your employees all the information they need to know. The more information you provide upfront, the fewer questions you’ll have to answer to the road.
What to Include in a Furlough Recall Letter
- Employment Offer – a formal offer letter that employees can choose to accept or reject.
- Return to Work Date – exact date and time proposed for returning to work.
- Update Terms of Employment – include any changes to the employee’s responsibilities, salary, hours, supervisors, and exempt/ non-exempt status.
- Updated Benefits Status – details on how furlough has affected the employee’s benefits, accrued PTO, and sick leave.
- Return to Office Safety Procedures – inform each employee on the safety measures the company has taken and what is required of them to create a safe workplace.
- Required Respond by Date – provide a reasonable timeline that employees must sign the employment offer by.
- Invitation to Ask Questions – invite employees to ask any questions they have to provide complete clarity on the situation.
Do I Need to Perform a New I-9 Check?
You can continue using the I-9 form that an employee completed when they were first hired as long as their furlough was treated as a temporary leave and not a termination. If an employee was place in terminated status, then you must either re-verify the I-9 or complete a new I-9 form.
Tips for Re-Onboarding Furloughed Employees
Re-onboarding employees that have been furloughed should feel similar to onboarding them the first time around, just with less introductions and training. You should still try to make it feel like a special occasion by providing lunches or merch with your company logo. After all, returning to normalcy after a global pandemic is a momentous occasion worth celebrating.
Another part of re-onboarding that should feel similar to initial onboarding is meeting with HR to provide total clarity on each employee’s role, responsibilities, pay, and benefits. Update each employee on any changes that have been made with their role and within the organization.
If you’re planning on re-onboarding a high number of furloughed employees at once, consider starting the re-onboarding process remotely through video conferencing software to avoid large gatherings. The greatest risk of exposure to the virus will be during the first week back at the office, so social distancing guidelines need to be strictly enforced immediately.