After months of quarantine, many businesses are gradually resuming normal operations. The first step for many employers is to recall employees who were laid off or furloughed during the COVID-19 lockdown. TPD shares important considerations and tips for selecting and recalling staff as a part of your return-to-work plan.
As any Human Resources manager will tell you, the people make the company. That is why employers need to carefully plan for their laid-off or furloughed staff’s return to work.
There are many elements to consider when recalling employees, including who to recall and how to do so. To help make your return-to-work plan as smooth and effective as possible, TPD offers some tips for recalling employees as the COVID-19 restrictions gradually begin to lift.
Who to Recall
Which employees should be asked to return to work? Established policies or contractual agreements may mandate the process of prioritizing which employees to recall, and this is highly dependent on the unique nature of each company. For instance, unionized workplaces have collective agreements that “often specify the order in which employers must recall employees from a layoff.”
For organizations that do not have specific provisions defined in employment contracts or company policies, managers must first determine if any written or verbal promises or commitments were made elsewhere, such as in layoff notices, memos, letters, or emails. If there are no established promises of recall, then managers are free to choose which employees should return to work. Employers may want to give priority to the longest-serving employees. Because of their seniority, these workers have the experience needed to smoothly resume business operations.
To ensure a diverse range of individuals are returning to work, employers should also select team members who have varied experience and skill sets. If shifts are being staggered to minimize the number of people in the workplace at any given time during the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals who are able to work non-standard hours should be recalled.
Although COVID-19 has a greater impact on immunocompromised individuals and anyone aged 65 or older, these should not be the only criteria considered when selecting which employees to recall. Failure to recall higher-risk workers based on these characteristics alone is discriminatory.
If you are recalling higher-risk personnel, then your workplace must implement the necessary accommodations to protect these more vulnerable workers – in fact, certain regions have made this a legal requirement. HR managers must familiarize themselves with local mandates for protecting higher-risk staff amid COVID-19, as employers in some regions must provide supplementary health and safety training for staff, allow remote work whenever possible, allow employees to take leave personal or sick leave when necessary, and maintain health insurance benefits for their workers.
How to Recall Staff
Before recalling employees, businesses need to determine if it is safe to reopen, and this depends on regional laws and government mandates. Your business should also develop a phased plan for recalling distinct groups of workers at different times.
If it is safe to gradually resume operations, and you have planned how to implement appropriate health and safety measures for the workplace, then you need to send your employees a formal recall notice, in writing.
The recall notice should include the following: the official date of return; the position the employee will occupy on their return, and any related responsibilities; the compensation to be received; the impact of the furlough or layoff on vacation accrual and benefits; and the schedule they will work. Employees should be provided with a form to complete, sign, and submit prior to returning to work.
The minimum length of notice that managers must give laid-off or furloughed employees is determined by any prior agreements or applicable employment standards. According to HR law firm Mathews Dinsdale, “Where there is no minimum recall period specified by law, policy or agreement, the employer will need to provide reasonable notice of recall. What constitutes reasonable notice will depend on the circumstances, including what may have been communicated to the employee at the time of layoff.”
To ensure a smooth transition from workplace closure to reopening, communication and transparency are essential. In addition to providing updates regarding your company’s recall process prior to employees’ return to work, “communication about health and safety requirements, as well as employee rights and obligations, should be regular, clear, consistent, and accessible.” Staff should also be encouraged to ask questions or raise concerns during the transition back to work.
It is possible that workers may decline their employer’s recall due to a number of reasons, such as fear for their health and safety or a lack of childcare.
According to SV Law, “There is a basic principle of employment law that employers dictate how work is to be performed by employees. This is true even if an employee believes that she or he has identified a method that is more efficient or preferable, such as working from home.” An employee who refuses to return to work may be subject to disciplinary action.
However, every work refusal should be assessed on an individual basis, and the necessary response will depend on each unique situation.
If an employee raises concerns about specific safety measures, for example, managers have a legal obligation to address these concerns before asking again for the employee to return. In other circumstances, employees may be entitled to job-protected leave or alternative modes of work, including instances where a parent needs to provide childcare or where an individual must self-isolate in accordance with public-health directives. Employers therefore need to familiarize themselves with their government’s eligibility criteria for job-protected leave.
TPD Can Help
If you require assistance in reopening your organization and recalling your staff, feel free to contact TPD. Our HR experts will help you develop a tailored return-to-work plan, including an effective employee recall plan, for a safe and efficient transition back to work.
Feel free to contact the qualified experts at TPD here, through email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 1.844.873.4745. For additional HR resources, visit our COVID-19 HR Support Centre.