Blue Shield of California
COVID-19 Resource Center for Employers, Plan Sponsors, Brokers and Consultants

Planning a safe return to the workplace

Success begins with a plan. In this section, we’ll guide you through practical considerations for a safe return of employees and customers.

10 steps to consider when preparing for a return to the workplace

Businesses in California, who have closed or are working remotely, face difficult decisions around when and how to return to the workplace safely. By now we know employers have developed strategies and best practices for communicating with employees during the pandemic. Here are some helpful tips and reminders for creating your back to work plan.

Although different work environments have different requirements, the following steps are applicable to any size and type of business.

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Step 1

Communicate with employees early and often

Before reopening offices, begin having open talks with employees about your plans and address their concerns around issues like transportation and childcare. Surveys are helpful pulse checks and one way to match data with opinions. As you progress, provide updated resources and commit to open lines of communication so that the return-to-work experience feels safe and orderly.

A close up of a keyboard being cleaned.

Why every business needs a plan for returning to the workplace

Developing a thoughtful, comprehensive, and flexible plan is a critical part of any reopening strategy. Regardless of how small or large your business is, dedicating time and resources towards a holistic plan will help you work through all the necessary safety guidelines you’ll need to follow, as well as assuring your employees that you are looking out for their wellbeing.

Ensuring adherence to official guidelines

Returning to work during a lengthy public health crisis, not yet fully resolved, means employers will have many considerations, including workplace safety recommendations, vaccine policies, and government regulations – as you move towards reopening.

Employers are encouraged to:

Reassuring your employees

A comprehensive plan also inspires employee confidence in your leadership. After a period of high anxiety for employees, it is important for them to know that you have considered safety measures and risk factors around reopening. Be transparent with your plan, so employees know what to expect as you move forward.

Preventing a new wave of infections

While it is impossible to predict the future, businesses have a responsibility to do what we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19. By putting a well-considered plan in place you are demonstrating due diligence in protecting your employees, customers, and the community.

Blue Shield Spotlight

New community health data tool compares health statistics by county in California and beyond

A new online tool called ‘the80’ helps employers and health advocates understand health and social determinant risks based on where employees and patients live. It also provides capabilities for Community Health Advocates (CHAs) to find local resources and advocate for needed changes.

A worker in PPE cleaning an elevator.

Communicating with employees and customers

Having a detailed communications plan can help you share information effectively while also giving your customers and employees more confidence in reopening. In addition to relying on your standard internal communications methods, consider the following strategies when developing customer and employee communications addressing a returning to the workplace.

Have key messages in place
Health and safety are certainly foundational to reopening, but empathy isn’t far behind. Before making important announcements, take the time to speak with your staff, internal stakeholders, and customers if possible. Understanding where all those involved with your business are coming from will help you put together the most comprehensive and effective messaging possible.

Use multiple channels
Once you have your key messages established, consider all the channels you have access to including your website, social media platforms, email, live chat, and customer service (including your voicemail message). Also consider clear, articulated messaging on signage for your physical locations.

Communicate, communicate, communicate
When people lack accurate information, they may turn to speculation or inaccurate sources, which can then spread out of control. COVID-19’s source and its vaccines are key examples of the need to have accurate, up-to-date information. As the news seems to shift daily, it’s important to come up with ways to get information to your employees quickly and with much higher frequency than before.

Emphasize two-way communication
Whether it’s through doing “pulse-check” surveys, asking management to meet for Q & A sessions, or inviting informal feedback through various channels, you’ll want to gather customer and employees’ thoughts and concerns around reopening. Once you’ve officially reopened, keep the two-way communication going so all parties have a voice to express what is working and what’s not, helping you pivot and address issues before they become problems.

Be honest and transparent
Employees want to understand the reasoning behind your decisions, and they also want you to be transparent. Being open with your employees will help them connect the dots between their performance and your business goals, ultimately leading to a more successful return to work. By sharing as much as you can, from strategies to schedules, you also stand a better chance of maintaining a consistent line of communication – from leadership right down to the customer – without confusing, frustrating, or alienating anyone along the way.

Blue Shield Spotlight

How Blue Shield is approaching reopening

As an employer, Blue Shield faces many of the same challenges you have on the long road towards reopening. Through our return-to-work journey, we learned (and continue to learn) what it takes to create a plan to bring our workforce back into the office as smoothly and safely as possible. Here are a few of the strategies that have helped us in our own planning.

A close up of a woman putting on a mask.

Creating and updating your playbook or plan

We assume you’ve spent time considering the return-to-work strategy for your business and may even have drafted a plan or playbook to document your decisions. But do you have the essentials in place?

Your plan should be comprehensive enough to help leaders with decision making and be updated regularly to reflect changing guidelines.

We understand that, unless you are a larger organization with a stakeholder committee dedicated to contingency planning, it may be difficult to know if your plan covers everything you’ll need. The following checklist is designed to help you work through key considerations – or to double-check that they’re included – as you refine your plan.

Planning checklist

Operational/workplace considerations

  • Essential business functions (i.e., are there parts of your business that can reopen later?)

  • Supply chain coordination

  • Safety procedures (i.e., basic infection prevention measures)

  • Cleaning protocols

  • Employee health monitoring (i.e., whether to do it and how)

  • Personal protective equipment

  • Physical redesign of space (e.g., furniture placement, ventilation, signage, physical barriers)

  • Customer communications (including channels, cadence, preferred languages)

  • Action plan for suspected/confirmed exposure

  • Action plan for additional lockdowns

Administrative considerations

  • Roles and responsibilities (e.g., pandemic officer, COVID-19 committee)

  • Hazard assessment

  • Vaccination policies and communications

  • Identifying employee risk levels

  • Employee communications (including channels, cadence, preferred languages)

  • Policy updates (e.g., sick leave, flexible hours, time off to get the vaccine)

  • Temporary vs. permanent policies

  • Employee training and education

  • Employee support services

  • Health benefits (e.g., re-enrolling furloughed workers)

  • Legal concerns

  • Discrimination concerns

  • Formal/informal feedback processes

Blue Shield Spotlight

How reimagining health care helped Paradise Medical Group recover from crisis.

As a pilot community in our Health Reimagined initiative, and with much of its physical infrastructure gone, Paradise was the perfect place to try a mostly virtual approach to health care. In partnership with Teladoc® and PMG, we launched PMG Connect, a digital platform that allows more than 11,000 patients to connect with their doctor over phone, tablet or computer.

A man in a mask getting his temperature taken with a forehead thermometer.

Preparing for potential transmission at work

Reopening amidst COVID-19 can be challenging for any business despite preparation. How will you keep your employees safe? A year into the pandemic, there are no easy solutions but having the right protocols in place, in the event of a COVID-19 transmission, can help give everyone greater peace of mind.

Focus on Prevention

Developing effective sick leave policies, vaccine policies, and employee training can go a long way toward preventing a potential coronavirus transmission in your workplace. If your employees know how to identify COVID-19 symptoms and feel supported in staying home when sick, they will be less likely to spread germs at work. Choose relevant, trusted sources of information and share with employees. We address having vaccinated employees in Phase 2, and the basic rules of cleaning and social distancing will still apply.

Public health authorities emphasize the importance of trusting your employees, which means not requiring a doctor’s note to confirm an illness, as well as creating sick leave policies that are compassionate, fair, and flexible. With all the unknowns and evolving information, employees will likely have ongoing concerns and questions. Remain open and transparent, promoting two-way communication.

Develop a containment plan If an employee exhibits symptoms:

  • Help that employee isolate immediately. Make sure they get any items they need from their work area, and ask if they need help getting medical treatment, contacting family, and arranging transportation.

  • Follow established cleaning protocols to prevent germs from spreading. The CDC provides guidelines on what and how to clean.

  • Check in with the employee or their loved ones to stay informed about their health.

If COVID-19 is suspected or confirmed:

  • Let your employees know about any possible exposure and maintain the confidentiality of the sick employee per ADA requirements. You may want to consult with an employment attorney to determine how your business will handle the variety of situations that can arise.

  • Have any employees potentially exposed to COVID-19 stay home, telework if possible, and self-monitor for symptoms, in accordance with the Public Health Recommendations for Community-Related Exposure.

Contact us

If you have more questions, we’re here for you.

  • Small Businesses (1-100 employees):
    Employer Services at (800) 325-5166

  • Large Group Employers (101+ employees):
    Contact your Blue Shield representative

  • Brokers: Producer Services at (800) 559-5905