How to Navigate Your Company’s Policies for Returning to Work

Are you ready to head back to the office? If not, you’re not alone. Nearly 80% of U.S. workers aren’t feeling fully positive about going back to the office amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to recent research from The Wellbeing Lab and George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Wellbeing. Furthermore, about 90% of those surveyed said they feel at least somewhat satisfied with their current work-from-home arrangements. Reasons that employees in the study cited for dreading a return to work include fear of catching COVID-19 in the workplace and preferring the flexibility of working from home, as many have now grown accustomed.

But despite worker reservations, countless companies that have been closed during the stay-at-home orders are reopening and preparing employees for a return to work — some sooner rather than later. If you’re among those whose employer is bringing staff back to work, it’s important to understand best practices for navigating your company’s return-to-work policy.

That process includes familiarizing yourself with your organization’s specific guidelines for going back to the office, knowing whether your company can force you to return to the workplace and learning how to effectively express your concerns to management or the human resources department..

[SEE: 10 Companies Offering Health Insurance to Part-Time Workers.]

Find Out Your Company’s Return-to-Work Policy

The guidelines that employers are developing for their return-to-work guidance vary widely between companies, industries and positions. In addition, each state may have different mandates and limits on how many people can gather in one place at a time. That’s why it’s critical to research and request information about your organization and municipality to see what your employer is doing in the area where you work.

Some examples of COVID-19-related precautions that employers are putting in place include:

— Changing the office space layout to allow for more room between desks and workstations.

— Enforcing social distancing rules while in company offices.

— Staggering the days that people come into the office.

— Limiting how many people come back in at once.

Testing employees for COVID-19 before coming to work.

— Requiring masks and temperature checks.

— Allowing employees to continue to work from home if they are not yet comfortable with coming back into the office.

[See: 15 Best Remote Working Jobs.]

Can Your Company Force You to Go Back to Work?

Despite an employer’s best attempt to shield their workers from the risk of COVID-19, there are various reasons people may be apprehensive about being called back into the office. In addition to the general anxiety about possible exposure to the coronavirus while working or commuting on public transportation, some employees also may have existing medical conditions that increase their risk of complications should they catch the virus.

Because of these understandable reservations, many employees want to know whether their employer can legally require them to get back to work on-site rather than remotely. According to LegalZoom, whether you must return depends on a number of factors, including:

— If you are an essential employee.

— If you work in an at-will state.

— If you have signed an employment contract.

— If you have caregiving responsibilities for a family member with COVID-19.

— If you have certain types of disabilities.

Essential workers such as health care professionals, first responders and food/agriculture employees “must report to work unless they are sick, have been exposed to the virus, or are normally covered by laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act or Family Medical Leave Act,” according to LegalZoom.

Other employees may also be required to go back to work, including those who live in a state with at-will employment — unless they have an employment contract that specifically protects them from this requirement.

If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, have symptoms of the coronavirus or need to care for a child or parent with the virus, then you may not have to return to work. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act gives some employees paid leave rights in the latter circumstance.

[READ: Workplace Laws Your Employer May Be Violating.]

Express Your Concerns to Your Boss

If you’re not sure whether you need to return to work and are concerned about the prospect of doing so in the era of COVID-19, reach out to your boss or human resources department for guidance. It’s worth trying to explain your personal situation to your employer to see if an exception can be made to the company’s return-to-work policy or if your start date from the office can be pushed back.

More from U.S. News

Tips to Manage Stress at Work

16 Low-Stress Jobs

Best Jobs for Work-Life Balance

How to Navigate Your Company’s Policies for Returning to Work originally appeared on

Related Categories:

Latest News

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up