Perhaps one of the most daunting tasks when gradually reopening your business is determining just how gradual the process will be. How long will it take before your company is fully operational once again?

Companies with a very small workforce might not have this issue, but those with an employee count higher than the government’s recommended number of people in a gathering may be faced with this challenge. There are many different variables to consider when making this decision such as:

  • Facility space
  • Number of departments
  • Departments with the most employees
  • Employees who are high-risk
  • Employees who are providing dependent care

Keeping these factors – and possibly even more – in mind, there are a few ways to determine who comes back, who continues to work remotely and who stays home until a later date.

Here are a few Dos and Don’ts when considering which employees to call back:


Review and comply with your company handbook and policies. This will be a good baseline for how to go about this plan safely and by the book. Of course, the chances any company had a ‘Returning to Work after COVID-19’ chapter before this pandemic happened is highly unlikely, but there could be a similar return to work section.

Conduct anonymous surveys with employees. This will help you get the best feel for what your employees are thinking about returning to work. Are they eager to get back? Are they anxious? Why are they anxious? What steps or procedures would lift that anxiety or discomfort about coming back? Surveys can help with this while also making employees feel they have a voice in the process.

Recall by seniority or merit. If you have an objective system in place, refer to this to bring back the highly-efficient employees first. It can result in a smoother process and is a way to avoid discrimination complaints.

Communicate with employees who have concerns. This is a  natural reaction and you can expect employees will have questions. The best thing to do is hear what they have to say and do your best to relieve their reservations.


Avoid calling back workers who are pregnant, older or could be perceived high-risk. You may have your heart in the right place, but perhaps some of your best employees fall into this category. If they have concerns, make sure you’ve made the workplace as safe as possible for them to return.

Ask asymptomatic employees if they have medical conditions. Just like you wouldn’t ask this question in a normal situation, you also wouldn’t ask it during a pandemic.

What if an employee doesn’t want to return?

This is very likely to come up for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they are part of the high-risk population, or they have a child at home who’s still doing e-learning and can’t be left at the house alone. Some employees may still be afraid to come back even when the risk of infection is low.

The best way to handle this situation is to hear the employee’s concerns. Giving them a chance to voice their concerns will hopefully help build a stronger relationship and increase the employee’s morale by knowing their voice is heard by superiors. That can only mean positive things for your company in the long term.

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However, if an employee insists on not returning, make sure you remind them what that could mean.

Examples are:

  • They’re not entitled to pay
  • Unless the PTO policy allows it, they may not be entitled to vacation
  • They may be eligible for state or local mandatory sick leave, but must check
  • They won’t qualify for unemployment benefits

That may be a tough, uncomfortable conversation to have with your employee, but it may be enough to convince them to return. However, it also falls on you as the employer to make sure a safe and clean workplace is being provided where the risk of COVID-19 infection is low.

For more information about COVID-19, check with Apex’s Resource Page and the Return to the Workplace page.