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Since the coronavirus pandemic began, one question has been on everyone’s minds: When can we go back to normal? Of course, many areas are seeing cases and hospitalizations drop. And more of us are getting vaccinated. So that question has become: When can we go back to work? Or, from the perspective of employers: How will the best companies safely begin the workplace reintegration process while reducing risk and taking good care of employees?
Unfortunately, this issue comes with a great deal of gray area — especially among workers that remain concerned for their safety. So on this episode of #WorkTrends, we set out to learn the answers to these questions. And we had just the right person to ask…
Our Guest: Phillip Maltin, Commercial & Employment Risk Control Attorney
Joining us on #WorkTrends this week is Phillip Maltin, a trial lawyer for litigation powerhouse Raines Feldman LLP. Phil is Chair of the firm’s Commercial & Employment Risk Control Department, which provides advice, counseling and trial representation in employment and commercial matters.
Early in our conversation, I asked Phil a question on the minds of many business and HR leaders: Can an employee — perhaps due to a fear of catching the virus — refuse to come back to work? Phil’s answer shows us just how carefully companies must approach this and other sensitive issues:
“The employer gets to control the workplace. If they need the employee to come back, that person’s got to come back. But if the employee has a disability — an auto-immune deficiency that puts that person at greater risk to one of the COVID variants, perhaps — the employee and employer must enter the interactive process required by state and local laws.” In other words, an employer must assume there may be no two situations exactly the same — and they must be ready to take each case one at a time. Phil’s advice: Engage directly with the employee by saying:
“Let’s talk about the things we can do for you that will help you get the job done — and help you get back here safely.”
Workplace Reintegration: Focus on Respect
Phil and I went on to talk about many other elements of a successful return to work strategy, including how to handle workers who wish to stay remote. We also discussed how the harsh political landscape and headline issues like social justice and sexual harassment might impact the workplace once we’re back in the office. Phil continued to dispense solid advice:
“We must remind folks of their obligation to treat people with respect. To honor the feelings and choices of others and to support anti-harassment and discrimination policies. Go through this with the common theme of respecting each other.”
As you know, the process of workplace reintegration won’t be easy. But after listening to this important episode of #WorkTrends, please take Phil’s advice — and treat everyone with the respect they’ve earned since the COVID-19 pandemic began.