Employers Share their Concerns, Plans to Reopen

Nancy Grover

Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – The month of May signaled the start of reopening for many businesses. Employers are struggling with how to keep their employees safe and their operations running as smoothly as possible.

Strategies for return-to-work plans, new workplace safety protocols, labor-related cost savings, mitigation measures, economic outlooks going forward and lessons learned are top of mind for them, according to a new survey of 150 business leaders. Employers are looking for guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the federal government’s COVID-19 task force and, mostly, state and local authorities.

“According to the responses, more than 73% of companies have not yet developed a return-to-work strategy with 56% in the beginning stages of designing a plan,” according to the report from BLANKROME, LLC. “A large majority of companies are thus simultaneously dealing with unprecedented issues such as improving hygiene; providing protective gear for employees and customers; deciding which employees should return to the office, how many employees can remain remote, and whether to allow third parties to access worksites; testing employees for COVID-19, its symptoms, and antibodies; developing social distancing protocols; and updating COVID-19 communication plans.”

Respondents to the survey included C-suite executives, in-house attorneys and HR professionals from an array of organizations and geographies. They were questioned between April 18 and 24.

Safety

The majority of employers – 64 percent – say they will provide some type of face masks, while 36 percent will offer gloves and 5 percent will make available covering for clothing. Less than 10 percent say they won’t provide any additional protective equipment.

Social distancing in the workplace is a challenge for some organizations. More than half say they will mandate it, with some predicting staggered shifts and/or tiered return dates. Some, 12 percent say they will “make substantial reconfigurations of physical workspaces to allow for social distancing,” and “33 percent plan to make minor physical workspace changes…”

In terms of testing employees before they enter the worksite, the employers are generally split with some planning temperature checks and others not planning any form of testing.

Cybersecurity is a concern for many with their remote workers. Some 56 percent of employers say they have educated workers about the increased threat of COVID-19 theme cyberattacks and phishing schemes.

Business Concerns

The financial impact of the pandemic and the potential global recession are the leading concerns among the employers, followed by the effects on the workforce and productivity, a decrease in consumer demand and insufficient information to make good decisions. In response, companies are considering a variety of actions, such as cost containment, deferring or cancelling planned investments, and financial plan changes.

With things changing daily, companies have wide ranging expectations for the next several weeks. Included are

  • Productivity loss over the lack of remote work capabilities – 40 percent
  • Higher demand for employee protection – 39 percent
  • Temporary furloughs – 29 percent
  • Privacy risks – 19 percent
  • Insufficient workforce capacity – 15 percent
  • A combination of the above – 19 percent

Lessons Learned

Employee loyalty and the importance of company culture “have come into better focus” during the pandemic for the vast majority of respondents. Additional lessons noted were the importance of key business relationships, the realization that the company was either well prepared or insufficiently prepared for the risk, the importance of HR professionals and the ingenuity of IT departments.

The majority of companies are planning to develop or substantially change existing emergency management plans. Among the issues to include are emergency contact systems, key management response teams, communication plans, technology readiness, data privacy, cybersecurity, defining essential functions, ensuring redundancies are in place in the event key employees become ill, and avoiding panicked reactions to unexpected negative news.

A reduction in travel – especially to foreign countries is likely to be a lasting consequence of the pandemic, the respondents said. The ‘new business normal’ is also expected to include fully integrated remote work teams, virtual meetings, webinars, and modern technology to replace some face-to-face activity.

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