Bringing furloughed or laid off employees back to your business

If your business was impacted by the coronavirus pandemic that brought on social distancing and forced closures, you may now be dealing with how to bring back furloughed or laid off employees  that were let go when you shut your doors. 

There is no certain end in sight to our new sense of normal. But states are slowly looking to reopen their businesses—which means you might be thinking about a reopening plan. The first step in doing so is to figure out how to bring back the employees you temporarily let go.

For many business owners who never had to deal with a closure or laid off employees, this can be tricky. Here at Homebase, we made the extremely difficult decision to proceed with a layoff. We’ll be looking ahead to determine the best plan for bringing our laid off employees back to work. 

As we figure out the next steps, we wanted to share our learnings with you so that you can make the best choices. This article will help you understand the top factors in determining how to bring back employees, who to bring back, and how to stay compliant in the re-onboarding process. 

Prepare for every scenario 

As a business owner, you should be prepared for a variety of scenarios. While different experts predict a V-shaped recovery, which represents a sharp economic decline followed by a sharp rise, others lean toward the U-shaped recovery, which points to a more gradual rise. 

With so much unknown, we need to be prepared for anything. What will you do if the recovery is slow? How about if the the government lifts restrictions but customers take longer to return? Do you have a plan for an increased outbreak in the fall?

If shelter-in-place is reimposed and you rehired too many laid off employees, you may need to reinstate furloughs. So it’s important to be cautious when rehiring. 

Many employers are adopting a “wait and see” approach. While some states, such as Georgia and Texas, reduced restrictions quicker, some businesses in those states chose not to open yet. They’re waiting to understand customer confidence and behavior before committing to rehiring staff. 

You should also think about how your business will change and how that will affect your team. Operational changes could mean it may not make sense to bring everyone back. If so, consider only hiring back certain types of employees and not others. 

Perhaps in your new business model, you need less servers and more delivery drivers. Or perhaps you will see reduced occupancy  and will only hire back a smaller staff percentage. In that case, document your rationale. Did you base your decision on a business need? Tenure? Performance? Experience? Adaptability? Quality of work? Quantity of work? 

Whatever your thought process was behind the number of laid off employees you brought back, document it just as you would document your rationale for termination and layoff decisions to protect yourself against any potential discrimination claims. 

Communicate with laid off employees before bringing them back 

Check in with any team members you plan on hiring back from time to time during this period of unemployment. If you planned  for different scenarios and find yourself ready to rehire some of your team, feel free to ask them about their interest in returning.  But be cautious of promising employment in these uncertain times. 

With the $600 per week “replacement rate” provided by the CARES Act in addition to unemployment compensation, some of your employees may effectively be making more money than they did when they were employed, which means it may be difficult to rehire. 

Communicating with your team to get an understanding of who’s doing what will help you exponentially when building out your new team structure.

Are there any compliance risks when bringing back laid off employees?

As I said before, it’s very important to document your decision-making process when choosing who to bring back to your business to avoid any discrimination claims. On top of that, you also need to make sure you’re complying with any new federal, state, or local regulations on PPE usage, sanitization, occupancy, etc. not only for the sake of your customers, but also your employees. 

It’s general best practice to have laid off employees re-complete new hire paperwork when being rehired to ensure that they have updated any tax information and signed the latest versions of any documents or policies within your company.  

With regards to the I-9 form, you can complete an entirely new one or complete section 3 on the employees earlier I-9 form, but you must do one or the other.

If for any reason you must decide to impose layoffs again after bringing your team back on, remember the requirements. If you have 100 or more employees, you may be required to give 60-days notice if you’re laying off 50 or more people under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act.

Read more about potential WARN Act requirements here. Many states have their own state specific WARN acts with differing requirements. Be sure to review the requirements in your state.

Additionally, with the impact of COVID-19, some states such as California have modified their WARN requirements to be more favorable for employers who need to move quickly and may not be able to adhere to the required notice periods.

How do I boost morale after bringing back my team? 

Maintaining a good workplace culture might be a little difficult after bringing back previously laid off employees. The first step: find your sense of purpose. Define a vision for your organization and customers in the post-COVID world. Make sure to rally all employees around that new vision.

Once you have your sense of purpose, train your team. Train them not only on that purpose, but also on all of your new policies. Getting them up to speed on your new normal as quickly as possible is key to instilling confidence. 

Don’t overwork your team because you’re afraid of hiring too many people. An overworked team could feel as if you are taking advantage of them, and that sense of community could be shattered. Take a realistic view of who you actually need to make things run smoothly and efficiently. 

After your team feels trained and confident in their roles, celebrate! Everyone will most likely be excited to be back together and working again. Gather your employees and give them a chance to share their shelter-in-place experiences, challenges, and stories. Celebrate your successes, big and small. 

Transparency is the best way to avoid any tension that might come with rehiring some of your employees. Employees understand  that as a business you need to balance caution with optimism and planning.

It is important that they know that you used objective criteria to determine the best reopening route to meet the needs of your business, as well as their needs as employees. 

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