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How is your Business Thinking about Employees Returning to the Office?

With more and more people getting vaccinated each day, companies continue to think about preparing their employees to return to a physical workspace. Some establishments, including restaurants, grocery stores and other retail shops, have already had to think about these issues since their employees have been back to work in some capacity for a while. Other businesses still have most of their employees working remotely since the start of the pandemic. With varying timetables, companies are evaluating what needs to be done to re-open safely and keep their employees motivated, healthy and productive.

If you are an owner or a manager, here are some areas to think about as you contemplate bringing your business back to “normal.” Some companies are targeting a June 2021 return while many others are thinking about re-opening after Labor Day as most schools and daycare centers anticipate being back onsite on a full-time, regular basis. Whatever your business is contemplating, here are some areas to consider.

Be Flexible

Since the pandemic has been going on for over a year, the transition back to work may be challenging. Not all employees will want to return to the office. Some employees may be scared and wary of returning to work since the Covid-19 virus is still a real health concern. Some employees have enjoyed working from home because they no longer had to spend time and money commuting to work, and have been able to spend more time with family. Others believe working in an office environment helps them become more productive, freer from distraction, and cultivates a more collaborate work experience. For all these reasons, the most important thing for employers is to be flexible and open to the wants of their employees while also keeping the company’s best interests in mind. Making adjustments such as staggering work schedules and days in the office can go a long way in showing your employees you care.

Have Safety Measures in Place

Businesses have to think about having a safe environment for their employees. Have you increased the HVAC ventilation and established a regular office cleaning schedule? Will you have lots of hand sanitizer on hand and require wearing masks? Will you conduct regular health screenings of your employees? If you have an office, think about how you might rearrange desks or cubicles to give your workers social distancing space.

Hybrid Work Schedules

Many employees are still concerned about being exposed to people outside their loved ones. Do you want to create a staggered schedule so not all employees are physically in the office at the same time(s) and day(s)? Some companies have established a hybrid schedule where people can be in the office a couple of days a week and telecommute the other days, while also allowing employees who do not wish to return to the office the option to continue working from home. These varied schedules and work options have helped ease the transition for many employees, and can help limit exposure as more and more people get vaccinated.

Solid Telecommunications Systems

Another area to consider is to make sure your business has a solid telecommunications system and a large enough workspace in the office to hold your Zoom, Google Meet or Teams meetings. With a mix of in-person and virtual attendees, you want to make sure these meetings can take place without a hitch. There may be a need for increased internet speed with more people working in the office while conducting business virtually. Many companies have already addressed this issue with virtual meetings being so commonplace.

Communicate Clearly

Most importantly, businesses need to communicate expectations and guidelines clearly and regularly, so employees understand what is expected in terms of their work productivity. If hybrid work schedules are being considered, management needs to explain their expectations and the employee options. Managers should take time to listen to their employees’ concerns and make changes, as necessary. Many companies have surveyed their employee population to determine employee concerns and preferences with respect to a return to office. Employers that include employees in the process by actively engaging with and listening to employees, and then giving support throughout the work transition have happier, productive employees and a positive environment – a win-win for employers!

The COVID-19 pandemic threw many companies, employees and families for a loop, and there is no clear road map on how to get back to “normal.” Hopefully, the areas outlined above can help you think about what type of work set-up would be best for your business. If you need help or want to talk through your ideas, please reach out to Answer Human Assets. We serve small to mid-sized businesses with their Human Resource needs and would be happy to help you. Please reach out to us at spanzer@ahahr.com for a free consultation.

How is your Business Thinking about Employees Returning to the Office?2021-03-21T09:28:15-05:00

Extending the FFCRA to 3/31/21 (for now) – a Matter of Choice

Provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) expired on 12/31/20.  The recently passed (signed 12/27/20) Coronavirus Relief bill gives employers the option to continue following the provisions of the FFCRA.

The FFCRA provided up to 80 hours of paid sick and family leave under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA), along with up to 10 weeks of partially paid family and medical leave under the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA) to eligible employees who were unable to work due to certain COVID-19-related reasons. For private employers, the requirement to provide these paid FFCRA leaves was offset by dollar-for-dollar tax credits for wages paid to employees taking paid leave.

The recently passed Coronavirus Relief bill allows private employers the opportunity to continue to claim dollar-for-dollar tax credits on wages paid to employees taking leave between January 1 and March 31, 2021, consistent with the existing FFCRA framework.  In order to continue to be eligible for these tax credits, an employer must continue to provide FFCRA paid leave (EPSL and/or EFML) to its affected employees. Employers who choose to voluntarily provide leave in 2021 will need to be diligent when determining how much of an employee’s leave qualifies for the tax credit as it will depend on whether or not the employee took any EPSL leave in 2020 and/or took any EFMLA leave during the 12-month period the employer uses for federal Family and Medical Leave (FMLA).

When making the decision whether or not to continue offering paid leave in 2021 consistent with the FFCRA, employers should keep in mind that many states and localities have passed their own paid leave laws related to the pandemic, so there may still be an obligation to provide paid leave related to COVID-19. In addition, each employer will have a unique set of concerns.  On the one hand, continuance of the FFCRA is not required by law and, as such, there is a good argument to no longer offer it to employees.  On the other hand, offering FFCRA has been woven into the COVID-19 world and, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise, removing this benefit may create employee morale issues.  For employers not currently subject to the federal FMLA, providing FMLA-like job protections for these COVID-19-related conditions could be beneficial.  For all employers, the FFCRA essentially gives employees up to 10 days of additional sick time for the year. Employers also should clearly communicate their decision regarding the continued provision of FFCRA-qualifying leave to their workforce so employees understand what leave will be available to them in 2021.

As with many COVID-19-related issues, there is no track record to review. Without any precedent, you cannot see what other employers have done. The decision is yours and you should do what is best for your company and for your employees.

If you have questions, please contact Answer Human Assets at spanzer@ahahr.com.


Extending the FFCRA to 3/31/21 (for now) – a Matter of Choice2021-01-08T14:23:42-05:00

Is Your Company Thinking About These Important Issues Before Year-end?

2020 was not a normal year with the onset of COVID-19, which impacted businesses in so many unexpected ways.  If you have not done so already, take time now to really think about the following areas of your business so you will be ready and prepared for year-end.  Now’s the time for your company to consider implementing changes, if applicable, for 2021:   

Working Remotely

With so many companies in 2020 shifting their employees to work from home, do you know how you want to handle this practice in 2021?  How are you measuring the productivity of your employees?  Have you maintained regular communication channels with your managers and staff to maximize employee engagement?   

Office or Company Safety

How have remote workers affected your office needs?  In looking at your office or retail space, can you reduce the space or move the office to lower your commercial real estate costs? 

Have you implemented alternative work office schedules and/or reconfigured your office space?  Have you implemented return to office policies and procedures to ensure safety and employee comfort?  Do have enough proper ventilation to keep your employees and/or customers safe?  Are you continuing to have enough hand sanitizer and limits on how many people can use the space at one time?  

Since masks are often required to keep people safe while indoors, how will you implement this policy for your business?  Will you have extra masks on hand for people as they enter your store, office or restaurant?   Will you require employees and visitors to complete a health screen (temperature read, certifying health status) before entering the work space?  If so, how are you planning to implement?

Employee Rightsizing

During the pandemic, due to lost revenue, your business may have streamlined the number of employees.  What is the optimal number of employees needed to move forward as business picks up?  Do you have the right number and type of managers and staff?  What is your company’s succession plan?   

Answer Human Assets (AHA) is available to help you with any of these COVID-related issues.  Our experienced HR professionals can talk to you about how these important areas impact your company and your bottom line.

In addition, companies, in general, need to address the following items before year-end: 

Benefits Review

With health insurance being so important during this health crisis, are you offering the appropriate plan(s)?  Take time to review your plan and decide if you want to make any changes.  If so, communicate any adjustments to your employees and schedule open enrollment for your employees.

Performance Review

Since you want to have the most effective and productive employees, make sure you have an employee review process in place that reflects the needs of your company.  Conduct evaluations for each employee and manage out the under-performers.  Think about succession planning and evaluate employees for possible promotions. 

Cares Act and Retirement Plans

If you modified your retirement plans and allowed employees to take a “coronavirus-related distribution,” remind your employees that they are exempt from the 10% early withdrawal tax.  Instead of being subject to income tax upon receipt, taxation of these distributions may be spread out in equal parts over three years beginning in 2020.

Also, alert your employees that the CARES Act temporarily waives required minimum distributions from retirement accounts for participants who were required to receive such distributions in 2020.

Other Important Year-end Items 

  1. Make sure your payroll is coded correctly for any eligible Expanded Sick and FMLA leaves taken as allowed under the CARES act.
  2. Establish and distribute your holiday schedule for 2021.
  3. Verify all employee data for payroll and employees’ W2s including ex-pat packages, any other taxable non-cash income and 1099s.
  4. Distribute W-2s to all employees by January 31, 2021.
  5. Remind employees to review Form W-4 withholding information and make adjustments if number of dependents, exemptions or filing status has changed.
  6. Determine the effective date for any bonus payments and/or salary adjustments for 2020 or 2021.
  7. Review and determine training needs for the coming year.
  8. Verify that you conducted the mandated sexual harassment trainings for this year.
  9. Encourage employees to use their Flexible Spending Account (FSA) money before December 31st.   Remind employees of any rollover amounts or grace period related to your FSA plan.
  10. Conduct an HR audit.  Determine that your company’s policies are in compliance with federal, state and local employment laws.  Review your employee handbook and update as needed to ensure clarity and compliance.
  11. Implement retention policies for your records.  Retain documents only as long as legally required.

Answer Human Assets has the human resource expertise to assist your small to mid-sized company.  Please contact us today at spanzer@ahahr.com to discuss any of these issues.  We would be happy to help you in the short or long-term.  To learn more, go to our website at www.ahahr.com.

Is Your Company Thinking About These Important Issues Before Year-end?2020-11-10T11:24:58-05:00

Food for Thought as You Contemplate Re-Opening Your Business

As we all cautiously emerge from the COVID-19 shut down, and as your company plans for re-opening your office, retail store, or other place of business, there are so many areas of business to consider and so many “what if” variables to contemplate it can be overwhelming.   Does your small or mid-size business need help navigating all the unique issues surrounding the “new normal” of the office and work-from-home environments?


Food for Thought as You Contemplate Re-Opening Your Business2020-08-30T00:38:30-05:00