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Returning to work? Here’s the checklist for reopening your business

Updated: October 6, 2023

By: Erin Ellison

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First and foremost, returning to the workplace safely means developing a plan to protect employees and customers from new COVID-19 outbreaks. But as a small business owner, your return-to-work policies should also be designed to comply with new laws and guidelines, manage resources that may be in short supply, and build team morale. Failure to do so can mean a difficult and disruptive reopening. Or worse, an unsafe one.


So, where do you start? This checklist for employers can help you and your team successfully transition back to a work environment that’s safe — and successful.

Formal policies and compliance

To make sure you take care of all the HR have-tos, start out by making sure you’re doing everything you need to do to stay compliant and set clear expectations with your team.

  • Give as much advance notice to your employees as possible about reopening your workplace.
  • Post the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) poster in a visible place. For employees who will continue working from home, send it by email or add it to your company intranet or employee portal.
  • Review and revise leave policies:
    • Learn how the FFCRA affects your previous paid leave policies and practices.
    • Consider revising your guidelines for time off. Are employees at risk of forfeiting vacation time? Should you rethink whether PTO days roll over from year to year? Make sure your policies still make sense.
    • Consider implementing or revising bereavement leave policies.
    • Ensure that all employees have access to and an understanding of all leave policies that may apply to them.
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  • Review and revise work from home policies.
  • Review and revise hiring practices and policies:
    • Have your staffing needs changed?
    • Do you need to change benefits or pay to become more competitive?
    • Use remote interviewing techniques as much as possible.
    • Update onboarding practices or move them to the cloud
    • Ensure your practices for determining who to recall from layoffs or furloughs do not discriminate against any group of employees or violate any anti-discrimination laws.
  • Update work travel policies with respect to any new orders in your state to keep employees and customers safe.
  • Review rehire or reinstatement provisions for your benefits offerings. Are there eligibility waiting periods? Do you want to do more for your team? Or are there any costs you need to cut?
  • Update your employee handbook and/or distribute all new or revised policies to all employees.

Planning your return

  • Review company policies and procedures related to illness, cleaning and disinfecting, and work meetings and travel.
  • Develop new policies for social distancing as necessary for your office or workplace.
  • Before they come back, educate employees on any new policies you’ve created for reducing the spread of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has several employee safety recommendations.
  • Decide who needs to return to the workplace and how it will function:
    • Maintain remote working where possible and practical to reduce the number of workers in your location at any given time.
    • Plan a staggered reintroduction to your workplace, if possible. Schedule a small group of essential employees to work from the office every few days.
    • Make plans specific to your workplace. Whether you run an office, a factory, or a restaurant, you’ll want to walk through a normal day in your head and anticipate how any day to day work should change. For example:
      • Rearrange your workspace to allow for more room between desks or work areas
      • Provide physical barriers such as transparent shields or cubicles between cash registers or seating areas.
      • Close common areas, like fitting rooms or small meeting rooms where employees are likely to have close contact.
      • Can you provide hand sanitizer, hand-washing stations, or other ways to stay sanitized?
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Health and safety on the job

  • After setting your policies, make sure employees follow and that everything functions as it should once you reopen:
    • Are they wearing required face masks or face coverings?
    • Do protective items like hand sanitizers get used? Or do they stay in stock?
    • Are your workplace hours still what they need to be?
    • Will you be taking employees’ temperatures each day when they arrive?
    • Is teleworking or staggered shift work allowed/encouraged?
  • Consider closing your break area or kitchen. If that is not possible, clean the area often and provide additional space between seating areas so employees can social distance more easily.
  • Ensure that all employees who are currently ill or have contact with an ill family member stay home.
  • Be proactive about sending employees who appear to be sick home. If you’re unsure about HR or privacy concerns, here are the questions you’re allowed to ask.
  • Promote safe social distancing in the workplace by encouraging employees to:
    • Remain at least 6 feet away from each other.
    • Email, message, call, or video call rather than meeting face to face.
    • Clean computer equipment, desktops, phones, and workstations often.
  • Provide hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, and face masks or face coverings (where appropriate or necessary) and no-touch disposal receptacles.
  • Discourage handshaking.
  • Place posters or signage throughout the business to encourage social distancing and hand hygiene.

Ongoing best practices for managing your team

  • Be aware of any local public health or other orders related to COVID-19 that may affect your business or industry.
  • Ensure your workplace cleaning company is up to date on current methods of safely removing COVID-19 hazards.
  • Communicate frequently and as transparently as possible with employees:
    • Provide expected timelines for recalling or rehiring employees.
    • Provide returning employees with recall or offer letters.
  • Understand that some employees may be uncomfortable or fearful about returning to work right now.
    • How long will you give employees to return?
    • Will you allow employees to work remotely if they request it?
    • How will you handle no-call/no-shows?
    • Offer flexibility wherever possible and adjust workloads to be reasonable.
    • Consider contracting with an employee assistance program (EAP) if you do not currently have one.
  • Develop a plan to operate if absenteeism spikes or if another shelter-in-place or stay at home order occurs in the future:
    • Review your plan to continue essential business functions.
    • Consider flexible work schedules and leave policies.
    • Cross-train employees on performing essential business functions.
  • Train managers on dealing with employees who may face increased personal challenges during this time, such as bereavement and loss, childcare and school-cancellation challenges, financial stress, and other dependent care and support needs.
  • Be prepared to quickly investigate and stop discriminatory speech or behavior in the workplace.
  • Designate a workplace coordinator who will be responsible for COVID-19 issues and their impact at your workplace.
  • Develop emergency communications plans, including a way to answer workers’ concerns.
  • Communicate your appreciation and welcome employees back to work.

Once it’s possible to reopen, employers face the challenge of keeping your employees — and even your customers — safe in your workplace. By preparing carefully and following guidance from the CDCOSHA, and your state, your team can transition back into work life after COVID-19.


For more detailed information about how your small business can navigate payroll, HR, and benefits through COVID-19, please visit our Resource Center.


This article is for informational purposes only and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors for formal consultation.

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Erin Ellison is the former Content Marketing Manager for OnPay. She has more than 15 years of writing experience, is a former small business owner, and has managed payroll, scheduling, and HR for more than 75 employees. She lives and works in Atlanta.