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Labor Law: Returning to the Office and COVID-19 | Local business news

By KAREN MICHAEL Special Envoy

Employees working for the Commonwealth of Virginia must return to the office on July 5, unless they receive permission to telecommute one day a week from the agency head. For additional telecommuting days, employees must seek approval beyond the agency head within Governor Youngkin’s administration.

The move by organizations to require employees to return to the office after the pandemic is gaining momentum across the country. For example, Elon Musk told Tesla employees they had to return to the office full-time, 40 hours a week, telling employees that if they didn’t show up, he would assume they would quit.

Two years and three months into the pandemic, it’s time to bring employees back to the office if they’ve teleworked due to the pandemic.

Here are some tips on how to do this:

  • Be clear about expectations. While Tesla’s policy seems rigid, the expectations are clear.
  • Be prepared for employees who don’t want to return to the office. There are many reasons why an employee may be reluctant to return to work. Some reasons include COVID-19 fears, child care, elder care, pet care, travel, and the convenience of working from home. Employers must anticipate all these objections and be fully prepared to respond to them.
  • Employers should assess the “COVID” reason on a case-by-case basis. Certainly, some employees will use COVID as an excuse to stay home even though they are otherwise living their normal lives outside of work. The fact that an employee fears catching COVID while going to the workplace, at this stage of the pandemic, will generally be insufficient for an employee to qualify for an exception.
  • Employers must follow the Americans with Disabilities Act. Some employees will have a disability that will prevent the employee from being exposed to others. This could include, for example, an employee undergoing active cancer treatment. When receiving such a request, employers should initiate the discussion and obtain medical documentation of the need for the accommodation. It is not because an employee asks to telework that he is entitled to it. Even if an employee was previously in accommodation, the employer is entitled to up-to-date medical documentation that substantiates the need to work remotely. Most employees, including those with disabilities who may be immunocompromised or have asthma, are likely safe to return to work with mitigation strategies, such as mask-wearing and social distancing, by square. The employer may consider alternatives to remote work as long as they are effective. If in-person return is now an essential function, the employee is not qualified for the position and may be moved to a vacant position or face disciplinary action and even termination.
  • Create a strong telecommuting agreement. Before the pandemic, employees who worked occasionally or always remotely were generally required to certify that during work time they were not engaged in other activities such as childcare or elder care. . Although the occasional need may arise from home, remote work should not substitute for childcare, and most telework agreements specify that an employee working remotely with young children must have childcare. of separated children. Post-COVID, these restrictions are likely to be relaxed, but employees actively involved in childcare or elder care while working are likely distracted and won’t be in a fully working environment. engaged. Employers have tolerated this in the unique circumstances of the pandemic, but finding common ground will be important.

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In general, flexibility will be key to ensuring employees feel supported in their work-life balance. Many employers are considering a hybrid model.

Studies reveal the burnout of living primarily at work. A Work Human study showed that 50% of employees hired during the pandemic (and largely onboarded remotely) plan to seek new employment within the next 12 months. Remote employees find it difficult to connect or engage with company culture, which is problematic for organizations trying to build trust and collaboration. That’s why a hybrid model might be the best approach.

Karen Michael is a lawyer and president of Richmond-based Karen Michael PLC and author of “Stay Hired”. She can be contacted at [email protected]