Business is Ramping Back Up, But Where Are the Workers?

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Business is Ramping Back Up, But Where Are the Workers? Photo by Tim Mossholder from Pexels

How to Successfully Bring Back Employees as States Reopen

Are you tired of hearing the words "COVID-19" and "coronavirus," as well as the phrases "the new normal" and "getting back to business?" We are too! But, being in the staffing industry there are times we must use them. Assisting employers with finding employees - now that they are "getting back to business" or increasing business - is one of those times when we find ourselves communicating with these terms. After all, reality is, it is because of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and the CARES Act that employers are facing the current staffing challenge.

Was it necessary, a couple of months ago, for your company to furlough some of its employees, due to COVID-19? Is your state now opening back up? Is it time to bring all or some of your furloughed employees back? Are you finding some reluctant to return?

If you answered 'yes' to all of these questions, especially the last one, you are not alone. As a staffing agency, we are repeatedly hearing from employers that "workers who are receiving more [money] through unemployment, and even workers who are receiving less, are reluctant to return to work," due to concerns with being exposed to the coronavirus. This is frustrating for employers who are ready to increase productivity and sales. There are things you can do to encourage your employees to return or to find new hires.

"Fear of the unknown is what makes people anxious and this is especially true in today's climate with concerns about coronavirus..."

Challenge #1: Employees Fear of Returning to Work

Employees' worries about being exposed to coronavirus, when returning to work, stems from their concern of contracting the virus and becoming contagious, then bringing it back to their home and loved ones, or losing time at work due to being sick and not being able to meet their own financial obligations. As an employer, there are a few things you can do to acknowledge their concerns and reduce their fears - and ultimately encourage them to return to work.

Communicate and provide information - often.

Providing updates on what your business is doing to keep the workplace safe will assist in calming the employee and let them know you take the virus and their health seriously. Have a reopen and safe work environment plan, and follow it. Make sure it's consistent with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) criteria, which varies depending on the workplace and job. Be sure to communicate, communicate, and communicate some more, the plans, steps, and procedures to all of your employees.

Empathize and let them know you understand.

Letting an employee know they aren't alone in their concerns and that you want to assist them wherever possible is a little thing, but can help reduce anxiety. Listen to what your employees' new struggles and challenges are and help them solve them. This may require some creativity on both of your parts - be open-minded.

Be creative.

With schools and some daycares closed, as well as summer vacation arriving, many parents have the additional stress of finding safe childcare. As you help them figure out what to do, ask the following questions: Do they have a viable reason to have their furlough extended? If yes, work with them. Is it possible to adjust some of your employees' hours so they are able to coordinate with other family members to care for their children and still be able to work and receive a paycheck? If yes, be flexible where possible. It will benefit your company both in the short- and long-run.

Which brings us to the next employer challenge...

Challenge #2: An Employee May Take a "Pay Cut" When They Return to Work

It was recently estimated that approximately "68% of unemployed workers who can collect unemployment will get benefits that top what they previously earned at work." This is a result of the additional $600 furloughed employees are currently receiving from the CARES Act. This presents a real challenge for employers. The law firm, Fisher Phillips points out that "the additional $600 benefit has created a disincentive for employees to return to work...[creating] a dilemma for many employers (and employees) as businesses start to reopen."

It's important to remember that the unemployment won't continue forever (most likely July 31, 2020), and the employees will need to find work. But what can employers do now to fill open positions? Be creative. Be flexible. And as a last resort, find different employees.

Be creative (sound familiar?).

Things are not the same today as they were four months ago - both at home and in the workplace. It's important for companies to reevaluate positions. What are the actual requirements? Can things been done differently, even more efficiently, allowing you to accommodate your employees' needs? Does a particular position allow your employee(s) to work remotely, either all or part of the time? Can you bring an employee back part-time to begin with, or as a job-share, thus limiting their exposure to working onsite while allowing them flexibility to still earn an income? If you can - read the next point - you may be surprised.

Be flexible - work with your employee.

Are you aware that sometimes working part-time and collecting unemployment results in the same income that a furloughed employee earns while on full unemployment - sometimes more? Check out Massachusetts part-time work benefits calculator! Investigate your state's unemployment rules and have a conversation with your employee to determine if this is an option.

Last resort - termination.

The last thing most employers want to do is to terminate an employee they have furloughed. Unfortunately, at times this may be what happens. Before you take this action it is important you have a conversation with your employee, to understand their refusal or inability to return to work.

Be sure to document the refusal to return to work, which is especially important to do if you have a PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan out. "The Treasury Department recently indicated that an employer's loan forgiveness amount will not be reduced if the employer's written offer to rehire is refused."

Employees need to be aware that if they turn down a job offer from the employer who furloughed them they may lose their eligibility to collect unemployment insurance. It's important for both employees and employers to approach the job market with a long-term, not short-term, mindset.

Over the coming year, as businesses settle into their new reality, adjusting to a new mind-set, expectations, and requirements, it's important to: continue to evaluate and update your plans, maintain open communication with employees, and look for new and creative ways to keep your business and staff healthy. Change is painful at times, but can be very rewarding in the long run!

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