Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. 

With COVID-19 vaccines already developed, approved, and beginning to be distributed, many are feeling a sense of relief and optimism for the future. So many of us yearn for a return to normalcy, and we can sense it coming within our grasp.

But the battle’s not won just yet. Vaccine production and distribution requires an enormous effort, and new virus strains are popping up across the globe. Children may not be vaccinated until at least 2022, and a growing group of people are suffering from long-term symptoms. Nobody can say for certain what the future will hold.

That’s why it’s so important to consider your workplace contingency plan in your discussions around returning to work. Adverse events may happen at any time, but being prepared can minimize the impact to the company and to the team.

Scenarios to consider in your workplace contingency plan

Returning to work might mean something different for every company. For one, it may mean re-hiring furloughed or laid off employees. For another, it may mean welcoming employees back to the physical workplace, either all at once, or in phases. And for others, it may mean an end to hiring freezes. To that end, workplace contingency plans will look different for every company. Here are some scenarios you may want to consider including in yours:

Unexpected absences

The novel coronavirus can impact anyone, anytime—either directly or indirectly. For instance, team members could become sick themselves, or a member of their household could be diagnosed with COVID-19. Similarly, a team member’s child may be affected by a school closure due to a COVID-19 exposure. Any of these scenarios could lead to a sudden, long-term absence—and your team member could be too incapacited to transition work to someone else.

Make a plan to cover your mission-critical positions in the event of such an absence. For example, make sure multiple people know how to run payroll, in the event your payroll administrator cannot. Written or video documentation can help ensure a smoother process. This not only keeps your business running, it helps minimize stress on your team as they take over a colleague’s responsibilities.

Workplace virus exposure

If team members are back at the workplace, plan for a possible virus exposure or outbreak. Consider what triggers plan implementation: an employee with symptoms, a confirmed case of COVID-19, or something else.

Time is of the essence to prevent the virus from spreading further, so create—and get approvals on—templates that you may use for employee communications. Document which government agencies will need to be contacted, and how to reach them, which may vary by location.

Consider that an entire department or office could become infected, requiring a long-term absence or remote work accommodations. This may require customer communications, hiring temporary workers, or adjusting in other ways.

You may also want to consider how you can help the affected employee. Gathering information around available leave programs can minimize their stress, while sending a meal or flowers can brighten their day.

Renewed shelter-in-place orders

Government agencies may modify shelter-in-place orders with little to no notice, as they respond to the health crisis. This may include closing your workplace or the schools your team members’ children attend, for an undetermined amount of time. 

Make plans to get equipment to employees, support parents, support mental health, and do whatever else needed to ensure business continuity. If you’re re-hiring former team members or ramping up hiring at this time, it’s important to keep in mind that many of your employees may be experiencing these changes for the first time. Communicate early and often so your team stays connected.

Financial downturn

The economic impact of the pandemic has been substantial, and it’s important to plan for a worst-case financial situation and how your company can ride it out. This holds true especially for companies most impacted by shelter-in-place orders, or those with essential workers whose work makes them more susceptible to COVID-19 infection.

Consider ways to reduce costs, and the pros and cons of each. For example, could salary reductions be made in place of layoffs? Could office space contracts be renegotiated? Making a plan now means you may make better decisions without wasting valuable time. You may also have time to gather feedback from employees around possible changes.

Final thoughts

Although generally rare, adverse events can happen at any time. An earthquake could cause your office building to topple, or the seasonal flu can cause a team member to take a sudden long-term leave from work. It’s still important to plan for these events so you can be better prepared to handle them.

COVID-19 has brought about some unique challenges, and there could certainly be more coming our way before this is over. Prepare your workplace contingency plan now, so you won’t be caught off guard later.

Want to learn more?

Download our eBook Return to Work Planning: How to Make a Smooth Transition Back to Work.


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