Retailers need to form a plan, be flexible when bringing employees back

Furniture retailers might be eager to return to work, but their employees might not share that enthusiasm. In Thursday’s Home Furnishings Association live COVID-19 Webinar, “Getting Your Employees Back to Work,” a pair of human resources experts said store owners need to be open-minded and flexible when inviting employees back to work.

If an employee turns down an offer letter to return to work, that decision would likely be considered voluntarily leaving a job, which would  mean the employee would likely forfeit family leave or unemployment benefits. Eric Martin, president of ACG Consulting Services, said business owners should think twice before playing hardball. “Be flexible with your employees,” said Martin. “You want to think about your business in the long term and not just to open back up. Some people who might not be ready to come back, even though they’re healthy, might be your most talented. Take a common-sense approach.”

That theme of common sense carried through most of the webinar with Martin and employment law attorney Pascal Benyamini telling HFA members and other retailers to have a reopening plan in place that factors in just how many employees you need to start, with your workforce increasing as more shoppers venture out of their homes and into your store. Store owners should also discuss the use of personal protection equipment, or PPE gear, such as masks and gloves. Some employees might not be able to wear them for medical or religious reasons. Others might insist that their co-workers wear them.

Include staff in decision-making

“That’s why it’s important for you to have a plan in place before your (reopen),” said Benyamini, a partner with Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. “And if you can, absolutely have your staff be a part of the decision-making that goes into that plan. They need to feel invested in whatever goes together, and they might also have ideas you never thought of.”

Martin and Benyamini strongly encouraged retailers to document all return-to-work offers. That includes any possible changes to an employee’s job description. “You might not have a full staff back at first and jobs might have to be shared,” said Benyamini. “Get it down on paper.”

[Recalling employees could lead to conflicts]

The webinar is the latest in an HFA series for furniture retailers preparing to reopen their stores during the coronavirus pandemic. You can find the webinar at the HFA’s Covid-19 Recovery Resources page along with all the previous webinars.

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