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An Outlook for Returning to the Workplace

Article updated September 2021. First published June 2021.

According to the Mayo Clinic, around 53% of all American adults have been fully vaccinated from COVID-19, as of the end of August. While there is an increasing vaccinated adult population and stronger regulations to hold employers accountable for the safety of their staff, variants like the Delta and Mu are causing concerns about reopening.

Whether or not current events are delaying an organization’s decision to return to the office in the Fall, we wanted to proactively highlight some insights that organizations may find helpful when creating their return to workplace guidelines.

As the CDC posts new regulations on COVID-19, local state governments may modify and adjust theirs accordingly. Since 72% of adult New Yorkers have received at least one vaccine dose as of September, NYS has relaxed certain COVID-19 related guidelines such as social gathering limits, capacity restrictions, and social distancing, making it optional for commercial settings such as offices.

As a result, organizations can align their policies with NYS recommendations or customize their policies according to factors such as their employees' comfort level. While businesses are authorized to continue requiring masking and social distancing for employees, it is important to stay compliant to applicable laws and regulations (for example, certain businesses are required to ask for proof of vaccination). On the other hand, organizations may want to adopt an incremental approach to revising their policies, such as cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces every other day (previously at least once a day) to give employees some time for adjustment.

Settings such as pre-K to 12 schools, nursing homes, and health care settings must still adhere to existing CDC COVID-19 health protocols and unvaccinated individuals continue to be responsible for wearing masks. Moreover, the Department of Health still advises masks to be worn in indoor settings where vaccination status is unknown.

In addition, NYS-based organizations should keep track of the New York Health and Essential Rights Act (“NY HERO Act”), designed to protect against the spread of airborne infectious diseases in the workplace. This Act provides a model prevention plan, a prevention standard, and guidance specific to industries.

When planning on returning to the workplace, organizations have to plan both strategically and operationally. When considering and deciding the organization’s future work style, it is important to consider existing employees’ and potential new employees’ preferences (according to the Job Seeker Nation Report, 74% of candidates said remote work would affect their decisions to reject or accept a job offer).

Knowing this, most organizations may likely consider adopting a hybrid/agile work model, which has proven beneficial in the past year and meet a variety of employees' needs. Organizations have to operationalize it based on their own culture and business model.

Some key questions to consider when drafting your policy:

  • How many days will be remote versus in the office?

  • Will the teams be asked to physically commute to the office for specific days when there are team meetings?

  • Will remote employees be required to work in certain time zones?

  • Does the benefits selection need to be modified for national coverage?

When creating the organization’s strategy and policy regarding returning to the office, it is important to monitor regulatory changes to stay compliant while adopting the best approach that fits your business needs and your organization’s culture.

For more information on this topic, reach out to the Kiwi Partners' HR Services team.

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