Back to Work After COVID-19

An employer’s guide to preparing the business, the workplace and employees for the transition

U.S. businesses are entering a new phase of the pandemic and employees are headed back to work after COVID-19 shelter in place orders expire. While each state has different timelines for return to work phases depending on your worksite location and type of business, it is critical to plan for this transition. Proper planning and communication are critical to reduce the risk of worker illness or further outbreak, maximize productivity, and show concern for the health and safety of your employees.

The following checklist includes many considerations but is not all-inclusive.

However, it will guide you through making key decisions to help keep your employees safe and your business thriving during this transition. We highly recommend you work with your internal HR team or outsourced HR partner on each of these items.

Back to Work Transition Planning Checklist:

An employer’s guide to transitioning employees back into the workplace. (PDF)


Prepare your Workplace

● Increase the physical distance between spaces that employees, customers, or visitors will occupy to comply with social distancing guidelines. Use markers such as colored tape, retractable barriers, or ropes. Consider these common areas:

  • Workstations (spread employees out)
  • Assembly lines
  • Water cooler/fountains
  • Bathrooms
  • Vending machines
  • Checkout lines
  • Copiers and other collective office equipment
  • Time clocks
  • Breakrooms
  • Waiting areas

● Maintain a rigorous cleaning schedule

● Display posters and notices of good hygiene practices and expectations, especially in areas like bathrooms and breakrooms.

● Determine what safety and personal protection equipment (PPE) is needed in your workplace based on regulations and purchase the necessary equipment.

  • Masks
  • Gloves

● Ensure cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, and handwashing stations are available in common areas.

● Confirm applicable new Federal or State notices have been posted in common areas (such as FFCRA notices).

● Decide which meeting spaces you will use and post capacity notices on the entryway of each space.

● Decide employees will clock in and out (for timeclock users) and post signs about expectations for cleaning surfaces when finished. (Be mindful that timeclocks may malfunction when exposed to alcohol-based cleaners.)


Prepare your Business

● Decide how many employees you will bring back to start

  • Determine which positions throughout your organization are most critical to have physically in the workspace.
  • Based on your state’s guidelines for your industry, know your office space capacity requirements for the current re-opening stage.
  • With these two lists, determine which employees should come back first, if you do need to open up in stages.

● Those able to telework with little to no business impact, should continue to do so.

● Establish if any of the following precautionary measures are necessary, how they would be administered, and where the data will be maintained. Be consistent with all measures taken and confirm the practice is still acceptable under Federal or State law, as guidelines may change during this transition period.

  • Symptom questionnaire prior to coming back to work.
  • COVID-19 testing (Americans with Disabilities Act requires the mandatory medical tests must be “job related and consistent with business necessity”).
  • Taking body temperature
  • Screening employees for symptoms of COVID-19.

● Create processes or procedures for PPE

  • Training required by OSHA
  • Proper care, maintenance, and disposal of PPE.
  • Do employees have to enter the facility/site wearing PPE or will it be provided upon arrival?

● Establish a process for when an employee has a confirmed case of COVID-19

  • Who should the employee report the information to? Who else will be notified?
  • Employers have an obligation to notify employees that there has been a confirmed case in the workplace, but the name of the employee should remain confidential.
  • The employer should determine who may have been exposed to or in close contact with the confirmed case and send those employees home to monitor symptoms.
  • The rest of the workplace may continue working, but should be notified to self-monitor and report symptoms if they develop.
  • Determine how, when, and where you’ll record and report a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the workplace pursuant to OSHA standards.

● Prepare any payroll changes

  • Determine if employees will be brought back to full hours and pay. If there will be any changes to an employee’s schedule or pay rate, provide notice before the employee begins work. Remember to make applicable status changes within your HRIS system.
  • Will you pay employees for time spent on safety and precautionary measures? The recommended approach is to compensate this time as hours worked.
  • Employers can make prospective changes to pay as long as employees are paid minimum wage and exempt employees are paid the minimum salary threshold of $684 per week.
  • Don’t forget to consider employee work-related expenses (such as a personal phone used for work calls or internet service). For employees making at or close to minimum wage, these expenses may drive them below the minimum wage limit. How will you reimburse them?

● Know how benefits are affected

  • Review all benefits plan provisions with respect to eligibility and elections
  • If returning workers need to re-elect benefits, incorporate it into your 1st day back or pre-arrival paperwork. Note if there is a waiting period they need to adhere to.
  • Review insurance carrier updates
  • Employees may be required to pay back premiums through a Benefit Payment Schedule

● Determine if and how many visitors or customers you will allow in your place of business and whether or not there will be additional protocol to enter your workplace

● Prepare for increased absenteeism


Prepare your Employees

● Provide adequate notice so that employees can plan accordingly.

● If an employee doesn’t respond and fails to show up to work follow your policy related to job abandonment.

● If applicable, communicate to employees why a remote work arrangement will no longer be available. If some positions will continue to telework while others will not, be prepared to address that as well.

● Remind employees they may utilize their Employee Assistance Program (EAP) benefits when they experience trouble finding childcare or anxiety about going back to work

● Remind employees who are sick or have been exposed to someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 to stay home

● Plan a “back to work orientation” for their first day back to review any new policies, procedures, expectations, and employment or benefit paperwork as determined while preparing the business.

  • Reporting requirements for illness, symptoms, or coming in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19
  • Personal protective equipment and safety requirements (note your state laws)
  • Travel restrictions
  • If you’re administering COVID-19 tests, taking temperatures, or asking about symptoms upon arrival
  • Workplace safety and training
  • Anything else prepared or changed while preparing the business for reopen

● Ask managers or employees to stagger their meals and rest breaks

● Provide cleaning supplies at each desk and notify employees of cleaning expectations throughout the workday.

Future plans

● Restructure and/or consider teleworking being made to future operations

● Cross training the workforce to accommodate more employee absences.

● Adjustments to performance measures/quotas/expectations as needed


Return to Work Resources

Regulations are changing daily. It’s important to leverage the most up-to-date information directly from the sources

Workplace Safety Post Requirements

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Impact of COVID-19 on anti-discrimination laws enforced by EEOC.

Department of Labor Wage and hour issues, FLSA, FMLA, OSHA, unemployment compensation, and Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

Centers for Disease Control Cleaning, disinfection guidelines, and maintaining a healthy workplace.


If you do not have an HR partner, Tandem HR is happy to help you with this process. Fill out the form below or give us a call today at 630-928-0510.

Tandem HR is an IRS Certified Professional Employer Organization (CPEO) providing hundreds of businesses with high-touch and custom HR solutions. We provide payroll, benefits, risk management, employee relations and much more.

Share this blog post on: