SHRM: Employers Consider Safety Precautions for Return to Workplace

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek June 9, 2020
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glass partition at work

​Nearly half of organizations surveyed have not announced a return-to-work date as COVID-19 restrictions ease in some parts of the country, but a majority of HR professionals think setting even a tentative date is a good idea.

The findings from new Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) research released June 9 illustrate how U.S. employers are considering a phased return of employees, staggered start and stop times, health precautions, and physical changes to their worksites.

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Coronavirus and COVID-19


Setting a return date is a good idea, two-thirds of HR professionals said, because it eases job-security concerns among staff, especially for those in physical and service industries such as health care, retail and education. Employers that have established a date prefer employees to return on or before June 30, according to more than three-fourths of HR professionals.

Much of what an organization decides to do depends on its size and industry. 

Large employers—those with 500 or more employees—were less likely to have announced a return date. This was especially true in knowledge industries. However, organizations in those industries—finance, consulting, engineering and administrative services companies—also were more likely to let employees continue to work from home and determine when they want to return to the worksite.

Industries where the work is more physical—construction, manufacturing and transportation—were more likely to have already reopened their physical locations and to implement an alternating work schedule.

chart showing precautions employers are taking for workers

Other strategies include:

  • Staggering the start and stop of employees' workdays as well as break times so as to reduce the number of workers in one location at the same time (75 percent).
  • Reducing the number of customers permitted on site at one time and taking measures such as counting the number of people as they enter (78 percent).
  • Limiting the number of employees or customers on site at one time (81 percent).

The research is based on a SHRM survey that collected responses May 13-20 from a random sampling of 1,087 SHRM members working in HR. Academicians, students, consultants, people who are self-employed or retired, and HR professionals who were furloughed or laid off were excluded from the sample. 

“This research gives a glimpse into how COVID-19 has changed the world of work, and what workplaces will look like once we return,” said Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, SHRM's president and CEO. “Workers should expect to see more masks, fewer handshakes, marked floors, more barriers, and greater flexibility—especially when it comes to remote work.” 

Among employers implementing a phased-return plan, one-third intend to do so by specific departments or functions. Others are first bringing back employees with lower health risks or those in leadership positions. The length of the phased return also varies, from two weeks to more than three months.

"Getting back to work takes a lot of work," Taylor noted, "and HR professionals have played an essential role in drawing up plans that drive organizations forward and protect public health.” 

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