Recalling Employees After Furlough or Layoff

COVID-19 put small businesses across the country between a rock and a hard place; many organizations were forced to lay off or furlough employees to keep their companies afloat through unprecedented times. Now, thanks to the Payroll Protection Program and others loan and grant programs, organizations can recall some, if not all, of their employees. This new terrain can be difficult to navigate, and having a clear plan in place for step-by-step recall of employees is important.

Ideally, policies and procedures surrounding the recall of your employees exist as a part of your organization’s layoff and/or furloughing procedures. These policies should explicitly state the expectations of the employee and what it could mean to be recalled to the organization. Where it concerns COVID-19, additional items need to be added regarding employee safety, social distancing measures, and the use of masks and personal protection equipment (PPE). Clear communication of these policies and organizational expectations are key to a smooth process of recalling employees.

Once policy and procedures are in place, it is time to make decisions about recalling your workforce. In an ideal world, employers would be able to recall their entire workforce at once, but that may not be an option, and with maintaining social-distance measures, you may face more challenges in recalling your workforce at once. Deciding who you will recall first, in what order, and how this plan will be implemented are important before beginning the recall process. Potential criteria for recalling employees may include: 1) Unique or difficult-to-replace skill sets, 2) overall performance, 3) seniority, and 4) demonstrated ability and willingness to do work outside of their usual assignments.

As with when making layoff and furlough decisions, you also need to use non-discriminatory reasons when deciding who to bring back.  And, they should be documented just like when making furlough and layoff decisions.  Some employers think they are doing a favor for an older employee or a high-risk employee with underlying health conditions, by choosing not to bring them back.  That would be discriminatory and not permitted.   

When you are ready to officially recall your employees, provide a written notice that is clear and concise. Your notice should be more of an offer letter than a list of instructions; while we want to be clear about expectations, it is also important to understand extended furlough or layoff may have driven employees to find other opportunities. In your letter explain the offer clearly: that the employee is being recalled and the terms of their employment (salary, supervisor, hours, etc.). Explicitly address any changes to their positions and any new social distancing or safety measures that have been introduced (such as wellness checks or temperature taking). Be sure that your letter makes it clear that it is an offer, the employee is not required to accept but there is also a deadline and a start date that the employee should comply with.

Whether you can recall a few or all your workforce, know that the transition into a post-COVID workspace may not be as simple as we would like. The frustration and stress caused by a global pandemic and organizational layoffs are not likely to disappear overnight. Keep in mind you will face challenges and that it will take time for your workforce to adjust. Keep communication open.  In addition, keep in mind your self-care. Juggling recalling employees, adapting to new company culture, and the personal effects of the pandemic will affect everyone in your office, including you. Adequate self-care will allow you to best serve your organization and your employees.

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