Almost four in ten of all the U.S. jobs lost since February of 2020 were in the leisure and hospitality industry, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Thankfully, things are improving, COVID-19 vaccines are widely available, pandemic-related restrictions are easing and people are itching to leave their houses to go out to eat and do fun things. As employers make plans to re-open or increase their workforce to address this new demand, they must figure out how to do so safely, efficiently and cost-effectively, while adapting to the “new normal” of a post-COVID world.
Identify Changes in the Workplace
As workplaces re-open, they may look different than before. This is a good opportunity to think about how the workplace functions and be intentional about making changes. Some employees may be able to work from home, some job responsibilities may be redefined, some positions may be eliminated while others are expanded, compensation packages may be re-worked, and budgeting may be impacted. Full time positions may now be part-time and vice versa, and exempt workers may now be non-exempt, and vice versa. The first step for an employer in re-opening or expanding their business is to give serious consideration to these changes, because that will impact all other re-opening decisions.
Hiring New Employees versus Re-Hiring Former Employees
There are many benefits to re-hiring former employees who have already been trained and are known to be qualified and experienced. Also, the cost of locating, hiring, and training new employees is far greater than re-hiring former ones. Of course, some employers will not have a need to re-hire all of their laid off employees, in which case, employers should be careful to make re-hiring decisions in a non-discriminatory way.
The re-hiring of employees may trigger a new employment verification process. If a former employee is rehired within three years from the date his or her original Form I-9 was completed, the employer can rely on the previously executed Form I-9; otherwise, a new Form I-9 will be required, and the E-Verify process may also need to be completed.
Other things employers should consider: the necessity of background checks and drug screenings, and confirmation that any required licenses and certifications are still valid.
Update Policies and Procedures
The re-opening of a business or increasing the workforce is a good time to re-think and update company policies and procedures. The following is a non-exhaustive list of policies and procedures employers should consider:
- Remote working policies – what positions are approved for working from home, what are the expectations for the remote positions, how do remote employees keep track of their time, how will the remote positions be supervised;
- Safety protocols – mask-wearing and social distancing, handwashing, the sharing of equipment and supplies by employees;
- Wage and hour policies – how employees track their time, overtime, scheduling of shifts;
- Leave (time off) policies – expectations if employees should not report to work due to sickness and communication protocols;
- Internal communications – how information will be disseminated to employees, and how, when, and to whom employees should report things to management.
Many employers are unsure whether they can or should require their employees to obtain COVID-19 vaccinations. Generally, employers can do so (subject to medical and religious accommodations), and consideration should be given to whether or not such a requirement is necessary to protect employees and/or the public. If not necessary, employers may wish to simply encourage their employees to get a vaccine by providing a financial incentive, a paid day off, a paid lunch, etc.
Review CDC, EEOC, and Local Guidelines
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have implemented guidelines for employers addressing COVID-19 issues and concerns. These guidelines are a good resource for all employers. They will change from time to time as more of the population becomes vaccinated.
State and local authorities may also have implemented guidelines and/or restrictions, with which employers should be familiar.
Re-opening a business is an ideal time to update its website. Technology can also be very useful to facilitate stronger and easier internal communication amongst employees, as well as communications with customers. In addition, there may be industry-specific programs and systems available to improve operations, increase efficiency and productivity, or assist with safety protocols. For example, some restaurants may want to look into contactless payment systems and automated ordering systems.
Prioritize a Strong Company Culture
A positive workplace culture is more important than ever to retain employees and attract customers. Businesses in which the employees feel valued and are engaged will enjoy more loyalty and will attract better, more hard-working talent. Company core values should be defined and communicated effectively to the workforce, employee feedback should be encouraged, and employee and customer concerns should be promptly addressed. It is important that policies and procedures are enforced consistently, and employers should ensure that such enforcement is fair and non-discriminatory.
There is no one-size-fits-all plan for re-opening or expanding a business. The above suggestions are things to consider when preparing a comprehensive plan, but there may be other important things that are specific to a particular business. A good attorney and accountant can be very helpful in preparing a re-opening plan, updating policies and procedures, and/or addressing unexpected situations. Industry groups can also provide resources and support. The key is to develop a comprehensive plan for the business and implement procedures for implementing that plan. Deliberate, intentional planning is essential for a smooth transition.