DRC Town Hall: TWC, Littler Highlight Key Considerations for Re-Opening Business

Michael Wood, Manager, Education & Workforce

As many in North Texas continue to grapple with the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, employers are beginning to anticipate the eventual return to work and the challenges it may bring.

The Dallas Regional Chamber spoke with Aaron Demerson, the Texas Workforce Commission’s (TWC) Commissioner Representing Employers, and Sherry Travers, Shareholder at Littler, during its Confronting COVID-19 virtual town hall series on Tuesday, April 21, to highlight key programs and considerations for employers as they prepare to welcome staff back into the workplace.

Amid talks of re-opening business, TWC remains primarily concerned with ensuring employers and workers are able to weather the current storm. Since the crisis began, TWC has awarded almost $1 billion in unemployment benefits to nearly 650,000 Texans – packing a traditional two years’ worth of claims into a little over a month (statistics as of April 22).

While many industries are facing record unemployment, certain skills and job functions have never been in greater demand. Recognizing that, TWC has allocated $10 million to its Skills Development Fund, a vital resource for “upskilling” and “reskilling” workers on the other side of the crisis. The program funds training in highly needed jobs, as determined by local demand and workforce gaps, through regional community colleges and workforce development boards.

TWC is also providing crucial services to businesses in the state, requesting emergency designation from the Small Business Administration to grant Texas employers access to the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). In addition, the state formed a partnership with Goldman Sachs to launch a $50 million loan program for Texas small businesses.

Similarly, Littler, a labor and employment-focused law firm, has been helping employers navigate difficult decisions forced by COVID-19, such as layoffs and pay cuts. Concurrently, the firm is identifying and elevating key considerations for companies preparing to resume normal operations.

The primary consideration for employers, says Travers, is understanding whether they can legally bring employees back into the workplace. For multi-county or multi-state companies, this is especially important as ordinances may differ across locations. If employers determine they can bring staff back, they should do so carefully, and in stages.

Second, as social distancing guidelines are likely to continue, adjustments to workspace layouts may be necessary to allow workers to keep a safe distance from one another. Employers should also ensure their workplace is equipped with appropriate supplies, such as cleaning wipes, gloves, and facemasks, to offer further protection. Additionally, companies should confirm that all legally required notices due to the crisis are posted in shared employee spaces.

Travers recommended companies also put measures in place to safeguard staff from the virus while at work. Such measures can and should include daily temperature checks, and regular questionnaires to understand employee health and possible exposure to the virus, while assuring that private employee information remains confidential.

As for employees who are resistant to coming back to the office due to fears of COVID-19, Travers suggested employers try and respect their wishes and permit continued work from home.

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