Safety, Remote Work and Liability Top Employers' Reopening Concerns, Survey Shows

Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor

June 8, 2020

A recent survey by Littler reveals that a large majority of employers anticipate reopening their businesses in the next three months. At the same time, these employers are proceeding cautiously and taking numerous steps to maintain employees' safety. The COVID-19 Return to Work Survey Report analyzed data gathered from more than 1,000 in-house counsel, human resources professionals and C-suite executives to gauge their key concerns and strategies in reintroducing employees to the workplace in the wake of COVID-19.

Of respondents from organizations that are not essential businesses (and therefore not already open), 78 percent reported that they will reopen within three months, and 34 percent said they will open within one month.

Remote work will be a key part of reopening plans for many employers, according to the survey. Half of all respondents said that they are considering requiring more employees to work remotely in order to reduce physical office costs. More than half of the employers said they plan to be flexible in granting valid requests until the pandemic subsides, and another 30 percent report they intend to change remote work policies to allow increased remote work for employees.

However, plans to reopen do not come without reasonable caution. Only 18 percent of employers said they plan to recall employees back to the workplace immediately after a stay-at-home order is lifted, while one-third said they will wait a few weeks first. Most (42 percent) stated that they will monitor the outcome of other businesses reopening before making a decision. Top steps employers are taking to maintain the safety of their employees include:

  • Increased cleaning (90%);
  • Limiting contact in common areas (87%);
  • Using face coverings or other personal protective gear (86%); and
  • Modifying workspaces to maintain safe distances (78%).

Employers also expressed concerns about the possibility of lawsuits related to reopening, with 71 percent of respondents saying they are somewhat concerned and 11 percent expressing great concern. Most concern is about liability for leaves of absence entitlements (68 percent), followed by unsafe working conditions (59 percent) and workers' compensation (43 percent).

"Broadly speaking, we're seeing that while many employers are eager to resume in-office operations, they're moving forward with caution and taking numerous steps to maintain employees' safety," said Alka Ramchandani-Raj, a leader of Littler's COVID-19 Task Force. "Particularly with the wide-ranging, and often conflicting, guidelines from state and local officials, the reopening process is filled with unknowns and a sea of liability concerns. This leaves employers to balance multiple logistical, emotional and legal concerns in determining whether, when and how to reopen their workplaces."