COVID-19: Return-to-Work Checklist for Businesses

Government authorities and employers in countries all over the world are considering ways to reopen businesses after the COVID-19 lockdown. Businesses are deciding when and how to bring their staff back to work. It’s critical to have detailed strategies and protocols in place before returning to work.

This guide covers various considerations the HR department and business leaders must ponder upon when reopening the offices. For small businesses that don’t have an HR department, they can work with a staffing agency to create safe RTW (Return to Work) policies and procedures. Check out this checklist…

RTW Guidelines by CDC

The CDC has released guidance to help businesses prepare for reopening their locations. A business shouldn’t open unless there’s a yes to these three questions:

  1. Are you within a community that doesn’t require signification mitigation?
  2. Can you limit calling in the non-essential workforce to those from local geographic regions?
  3. Do you have measures of protection in place for employers at a higher risk?

Even if an organization is able to meet these requirements, the CDC recommends businesses remain closed until they can implement complete safeguards for combating the spread of the virus.

Developing an RTW Plan

When developing an RTW plan, it must address the following:

  • Which employees will return first?
  • When will these employees return?
  • What medical clearance would you require?

Key issues to address:

  • Lower employee density in the office
  • Establish office hygiene practices


Implement Exposure-Reducing Measures

  • Encourage work from home whenever feasible
  • Consider reopening and begin with employees at low risk
  • Choose staggered work shifts

Prepare for Social Distancing

  • Communicate the social distancing rules electronically as well as send hard copies
  • Restructure the workplace layout to improve social distancing
  • Modify and limit access to areas such as conference rooms, break rooms, cafeterias, and elevators
  • Increase the cleaning protocols
  • Limit physical communication. Encourage email and voice communication whenever possible.
  • Promote hygiene best practices such as hand washing, sanitizing and wearing a facemask
  • Replace high-touch surfaces like doorknobs with automatic doors
  • Create visual marks on the floor for social distancing
  • Instruct the employees to bring meals that can be eaten without using microwave
  • Prohibit all non-essential deliveries. If any delivery is essential, make it drop outside the facility door.

Maintain Good Hygiene Practices

  • Provide a facemask as well as gloves to anyone who needs them
  • Install hand sanitizing equipment in multiple locations
  • Use screens in the reception areas
  • Sanitize the AC units and other sources of ventilation
  • Prevent employees from using another employees desk, phone or other work equipment
  • Encourage employees to bring their water bottles, coffee/tea mugs, as well as cutlery

Mandatory Health Screening & Monitoring

  • Plan to test all employees returning to work
  • Monitor daily temperature readings
  • Health reports of employees must remain protected under the ADA confidentiality policy. Their medical information must not be stored in employee files.
  • Train the staff that will facilitate the testing.
  • Choose the most appropriate place for testing that also respects the privacy of employees
  • Put appropriate procedures in place for employees who fail health screening.

Managing Staff Absences

  • Create a plan for managing staff absence
  • Be flexible with leave policies
  • Make sure all affected employees have sufficient leaves to observe the quarantine period
  • Expand sick leave provisions for employees if they are sick or they have to care for a sick family member

Communicating RTW Agreement to Employees

There is no legal obligation on employers to provide a period of notice about reopening the work premises. However, it’s important to communicate an RTW plan to address any concerns employees have. The return to work communication must address the following:

  • Date of return, staggered working hours, as well as the new break schedule if any
  • Health and safety measures developed to reduce the spread of the virus
  • The point of contact if an employee has any specific concern
  • Acceptable employee conduct

Consider Employee Confidentially

  • Ensure that all personal and sensitive data of employees is obtained and processed according to the state data protection laws.
  • Mandate infected employees to identify all individuals they have worked in close proximity with.
  • Inform all employees with possible exposure by keeping the identity of the infected person confidential
  • Keep the health screening results separate from the employee personnel file
  • Maintain complete confidentiality of the temperature results

The Back-to-Work Phase

  • Train your employees on new policies to ensure safety and compliance
  • Review and update job description to address change in duties and essential functions
  • Impose limits on business travel
  • Limit the size of in-person meetings
  • Remind your employees that they shouldn’t report to work when sick
  • Communicate regularly


This checklist is a good start for any organization that’s planning to return to work. There’s no one size fits all solution, though. Therefore, before making any decision, consider factual data, culture, location, local, as well as federal regulations.

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