May 19, 2020 | COVID-19, Workforce Solutions

Last Updated: November 30, 2022

Q&A For Returning Workers

As business owners prepare for employees to return to the workplace, there are several questions that will come up. We want to provide some insight and assist employers as they welcome employees back to the workplace.

1. Do I have to report to the workplace?

Yes, employers reserve the right to instruct employees to return to work. However, employers will want to be certain that, when directing employees to return, employees are not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and do not qualify for an FFCRA leave. Employers should also be sure that employees are not requesting a delay to return to work as a reasonable accommodation.

Employers will also want to ensure that employees feel safe in the workplace. They should communicate the proactive safety steps that are being taken, such as social distancing, deep cleaning, staggering shifts, limited traffic for common areas, etc.

2. Does my company have the right to ask about COVID-19 symptoms and take my temperature?

Employers are allowed to ask about coronavirus-related symptoms and take temperatures from employees under guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  However, privacy rules apply, and employers may not share an individual employee’s temperature reading with any other employee. If employers will take employees’ temperatures, there are several considerations.  Employers need to provide a confidential place within the business to take temperatures and also need to maintain temperature records in the same manner as employee medical records.   In addition, employers may not inquire about any underlying medical conditions of employees.

3.What should I do if I don’t feel comfortable returning to the worksite?

Employees who do not feel comfortable returning to the workplace should consult with Human Resources or their Manager. They should ask about the types of safety protocol that is in place.  Employees who are at high risk may want to consider asking for additional accommodation, such as an alternate work shift or an isolated work area.

4. Will employees be required to wear masks?

It depends. Employers are able to require employees to wear masks when there is a potential safety issue, such as employees working in very close proximity to each other. The CDC is now recommending that individuals wear masks to prevent the spreading of COVID-19.  If employers do not require employees to wear masks, they should allow employees to wear masks in an effort to make employees feel more comfortable.

Certain states require that employers provide masks and additional PPE for employees (such as Georgia). Employers should also be mindful that they need to follow the OSHA general duty to provide a safe work environment.

5. What happens if I get sick? Will I get paid for time off? What if someone in my family gets sick and I have to care for him or her?

If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, waiting for a diagnosis, or under quarantine, you are eligible for emergency paid leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).  Employees are eligible for up to 80 hours of paid leave in connection with COVID-19.

If you need to provide care for an individual who is diagnosed with COVID-19 or under quarantine, you are also eligible for emergency paid leave under the FFCRA.  Employees should note that they are only eligible for a total of 80 hours of paid leave under FFCRA per calendar year.

If an employee exhausts 80 hours of emergency paid leave and cannot return to work, the employee should consult with Human Resources to check other types of leave that may be available.

6. What if a co-worker gets sick? How will I know?

Your employer will inform you that you were exposed to COVID-19 and require you to quarantine and obtain COVID-19 testing if you experience any symptoms. However, your employer needs to comply with privacy and HIPAA laws.  This means that the name of the employee who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 cannot be shared with other employees.

7. What are some proactive steps that employers should take to ensure a safe workplace?

Employers will want to ensure there are practices in place for handling COVID-19 exposures.  Employers should also ramp up safety measures. This includes supplying an adequate number of hand sanitizer units, enhancing cleaning schedules, controlling employee traffic in shared areas, and limiting or banning business travel.

8. How can employers mentally prepare employees to return to work?

Employers need to be mindful that the COVID-19 outbreak has been stressful for employees. They should show compassion and remind employees about safety practices that are in place. Employers may also want to host a welcome back town hall meeting (virtual or small groups) and encourage managers to hold one-on-one meetings with employees.

9. What are some additional resources for employers?