As COVID-19 continues to impact businesses everywhere, some employers are facing increased challenges communicating changes impacting their business. Whether the need to communicate stems from recalling furloughed workers or sharing critical safety standards, consider these five scenarios for tactful communication during times of uncertainty:
Scenario 1: You don't have up-to-date contact information for each employee.
COVID-19 has affected various aspects of everyday life, and for some, this includes their living circumstances. To ensure paychecks are sent to the correct address, to recall furloughed workers, or for contact tracing purposes, encourage your employees to inform you whenever their address or other contact information changes.
Best practice: For all employees, maintain their current phone number, e-mail address, home address, and emergency contact information.
Scenario 2: Employees ask for a pay raise due to COVID-19 safety concerns.
First, consider whether a raise is possible for frontline employees. If a raise is not possible, explain that you considered it and acknowledge that the decision was difficult. Let employees know how much you value them during this difficult time and, where appropriate, look for other ways to recognize them.
Best practice: Review your budget and manage employee expectations. Establish, define, and communicate the criteria you use to determine eligibility for raises and merit increases, and apply all criteria consistently.
Scenario 3: A customer breaks safety protocols.
Employers must comply with all federal, state, and local safety requirements applicable to their business and industry. If a customer or employee breaks safety protocols, take the necessary steps to remediate the situation. For example, if face coverings are required indoors, and a customer removes their mask inside a store, request that the customer put their mask back and remove them from the premises if they fail to comply.
Best practice: Take preventive steps, such as marking areas on the floor to promote social distancing, ensuring that all employees and customers are wearing face coverings when required, and limiting occupancy in accordance with all state and local rules. Consider additional signage explaining safety rules, increasing employee training, and posting all required safety notices applicable to your business.
Scenario 4: You're ready to recall furloughed workers.
Under federal, state, and local laws, employees may be entitled to certain notice and reemployment rights following furloughs or layoffs. If you’re preparing to recall employees, consider sending them a letter explaining the timeline for reopening, what steps you’re taking to protect them from COVID-19, and the deadline for them to confirm that they’ll return to work. Your return to work letters should typically include the terms of employment, highlighting any changes in pay, benefits, leave, policies or procedures, contact information for questions, as well as an at-will employment statement. Additionally, include a statement that expresses your appreciation for their commitment, understanding, and flexibility during the COVID-19 crisis.
Best practice: Keep in mind that if you can only recall a portion of your workforce, all decisions regarding who to bring back must be neutral and job-related. Your decision may not be based on protected characteristics, such as age, race, pregnancy, or other factors unrelated to the job, such as who might be less susceptible to contracting COVID-19. For example, the first wave of rehires may be your most critical workers or those that have been with the company the longest. Make sure to document your objective, job-related reasons for determining which employees to call back to work and when.
Scenario 5: You notice employee morale is down.
During this time, employees may be working extra hours, facing financial hardships, adjusting to new safety protocols, or struggling to balance family demands. Aside from taking the necessary steps to make the workplace safe and contamination-free, support employees emotionally as much as possible.
Best practice: Communicate with your team often. Share any updates and changes related to the business in real time. Also, consider sharing your own concerns and some ways you’re coping with the added stress. Where possible, offer employees extended rest breaks, flexible schedules, and time to rest and recharge.
Ask employees for their honest feedback on your business communications about the public health emergency. Use their input to help inform how you update your communications and to help manage some of the uncertainty they may be experiencing.