Return To Work Policies Now Require Some Localized Exceptions

Low vaccination rates and the Delta variant mean that some locations must postpone their return to work.

Yes, whether you have settled on a 100% return or a hybrid model, instead of having a set uniform “return-to-work” (RTW) policy across the entire organization, you must now revisit and rethink your RTW policy. Numerous regional locations will no longer fit the uniform return-to-work percentage targets that you have previously set. Instead, some work locations and regions will have higher work-from-home targets, diminished return-to-work percentages, and extended timetables due to low local vaccination rates that directly increase death rates. The rapidly spreading Delta variation has now become the dominant US strain. Taken together, it means that having either your workers or your customers physically returning to the workplace in these regions will be significantly more dangerous and, yes, even deadly.

These 6 Factors Lead To The Need For Regional RTW Variations

Most of the already developed return to work policies have included the same target percentage return in every region where the organization has employees. However, now, any fixed return to work target in impacted regions should be revisited to determine if different regions should have a lower return to work target set for them. For each region, managers will have to determine if any of the following return-to-work “slowdown factors” are present.

  1. Low regional vaccination rates should make you rethink RTW  

Some states like Alabama have half of the vaccination rates (33.1%) of the most vaccinated state, Vermont. If you have employees in low vaccination states like Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Georgia, be aware that few are predicting that the rate of vaccination in these low compliance states will improve significantly. So, if you physically require employees in these states to come into work, you are putting your unvaccinated employees and your customers at high risk. Although they are not equivalent, you should consider extending your work-from-home target in areas where childcare is difficult to get/afford and/or a low percentage of students have physically returned to school.

  1. Nonvaccinated employees have the highest likelihood of dying  

Unless you require all of your employees to be vaccinated, you must recognize the startling fact that 99.5% of current US deaths occur in unvaccinated people. Suppose you don’t know which workers are unvaccinated or test positive for the disease. In a low vaccination region, allowing or requiring all of your other employees to come in contact with them and the public is a high-risk decision.

  1. The most prolific spreading variation is now dominant

The rapidly spreading Delta variant has just now become the dominant version of Covid in the US. This means that having unvaccinated workers and customers in even the slightest proximity to each other will dramatically increase the number of local cases and eventually deaths. The much higher spread rate of this variation should also encourage you to rethink your physical office design. 

  1. Most companies are unwilling to require employees to be vaccinated

You wouldn’t need a regional exception if all of your employees were fully vaccinated. Unfortunately, few companies are willing to go through the turmoil that accompanies all your employees to be vaccinated or even ask them to reveal their vaccination status. So, in low vaccination areas, you will, unfortunately, need to rethink your RTW policy in impacted regions without these two requirements.

  1. States that border with low vaccination states may also be at risk 

Employees that are not vaccinated may commute across state lines. As a result, you may need a variation in your return-to-work policy for states that border low vaccination states. For example, Virginia, a high vaccination state (#15), shares a border for hundreds of miles with West Virginia, a low vaccination state (#42), which means that you must factor in the possibility that your nonvaccinated employees (and customers) might bring the virus with them from a low vaccination state. 

  1. Visiting international employees can’t be ignored 

If your organization regularly has international employees visit for consultation, training, or short-term work assignments, the risks that they bring with them must also be considered. The best approach is to require them to be fully vaccinated before they visit and interact with other employees. And in case of doubt, you should require that any interactions with US workers be electronic.

Final Thoughts

Although most organizations were probably relieved when they completed their return-to-work plan, now, managers in high-risk regions will be forced to shift to a flex work policy. The prime driver of a RTW policy is the safety of your workforce and your customers in that region. Instead of having a fixed RTW policy/plan with a fixed return to work target, now and for most of the foreseeable future, it is a policy that is both flexible in its current operation and is also continuously updated. The only thing predictable about the Covid 19 virus and the workplace is that every manager must expect and prepare for continuing change and unpredictability!

Author’s Note 

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About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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