Protecting High-Risk Employees When Reopening

Reopening the Workplace

After several months of sheltering in place, some states are beginning to open up and employers are beginning to create workplace reopening plans. However according to the PwC Study“Reboot: Employees Want Safety and Wellbeing Prioritized,” 70% of employees state they won’t be able to return to the office or are uncomfortable about returning to the office. This is mainly due to the fear of contracting COVID-19, especially for those who are at higher risk for COVID-19. This anxiety also extends to employees who might not be high-risk themselves but live with someone who is. As outlined by the CDC, high-risk individuals include older adults and those of any age with underlying medical conditions. Medical conditions known to increase the severity of COVID-19 include:

  • Kidney Disease
  • COPD
  • Obesity
  • Serious heart conditions
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Recent organ transplants

Since COVID-19 is a new disease, it is not yet known how other medical conditions, such as asthma, high blood pressure, type 1 diabetes, or pregnancy, will impact the severity of COVID-19. For their safety, those with any underlying medical condition are advised to take extra precautions. For more information, visit the CDC.

Protecting High-Risk Employees

As outlined in a recent Harvard Business Review article, here are some steps you can take to help protect high-risk employees and their family members:

  • Support Remote Work Options: If possible, allow your high-risk employees to continue working from home. Doing this protects their safety and keeps the number of people in the workplace to a minimum, giving those who are physically present more space to socially distance themselves.
  • Have a Q&A System in Place: Employees already have a wide range of questions when it comes to returning to work, and this will only increase once offices actually open. Many questions and concerns will be coming from high-risk employees and their family members, so have an organized process in place so employees know where to go and who to ask.
  • Provide Training for Managers Before Reopening: Managers not only need to know the answers to all the questions they will receive, but they also need to fully understand the organization’s process for handling questions. As part of their training, managers should also learn how to tune into how others are feeling and express empathy.
  • Keep Everyone Included: High-risk employees may feel separated from the team, so it is important to keep all your employees included during reopening. Continue virtual meetings so both those in an out of the office are participating and connecting. You can also leave the virtual “water cooler” and chat spaces open for everyone, not just those working from home. Another idea is to split your low-risk employees into two separate teams. Those teams will then alternate weeks in the office. This further lowers the number of people in contact at the office and makes it so high-risk employees are not the only ones working from home each week.

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