In our previous posts, we addressed two topics that affected employers at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic: paid leave and return to school. Recently, as the downward trend in COVID-19 cases continues and the world tries to return to some semblance of normalcy, Michigan’s Governor announced that the State will permit in-person office work—even if remote work remains feasible. As you develop your return-to-work plan, keep the following considerations in mind.
First, you should carefully consider how to return employees to the office while maintaining the social distancing and other safety requirements outlined in MIOSHA’s recently-amended COVID-19 emergency rules. Your employees may still have safety concerns about returning to the office, so you may want to consider implementing a rotating schedule or permitting a hybrid of in-office work and remote work, at least at the outset.
Second, your employees may need or prefer to work remotely for child-care reasons. You should carefully consider and weigh the situation, necessity of in-office work, and eligibility to take leave. Consistency among employees is of the utmost importance.
Third, and as a practical matter, you should recognize that many of your employees have become accustomed to working remotely, at least on a part-time basis. Going forward, your employees may expect some level of flexibility. The expectations of your employees should be among the factors that you consider when you develop your return-to-office plan. And, again, consistency among employees is key.
Another consideration is whether to require face coverings in the office. In the amended emergency rules, MIOSHA clarified that unvaccinated employees are required to wear a face covering when they can’t consistently maintain a six-foot social distance. In most circumstances, fully vaccinated employees aren’t required to wear face coverings, even if they can’t maintain a six-foot social distance. But, you may choose to continue requiring face coverings in the office.
Mandating Employee Vaccination
Another consideration is whether to mandate employee vaccination. Earlier this year, the EEOC provided some guidance. According to the EEOC, you may mandate the COVID-19 vaccine. But, in some circumstances, the ADA and Title VII will require you to make accommodations for employees who report that they’re not vaccinated because of a disability, sincerely-held religious belief, or pregnancy. You should exercise caution to ensure that any vaccination policy you implement doesn’t disparately impact employees based on protected statuses. Many professional corporations have opted to encourage, rather than mandate, the COVID-19 vaccine.
Takeaway for Professional Corporations
In a nutshell, you should tailor your return-to-work plan to your organization and take into consideration the EEOC’s guidance, MIOSHA’s emergency rules, and other applicable laws or regulations. Consult with your legal counsel if you have any further questions regarding your return-to-office plan.