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Approaching Covid

How to Prevent New Hires from Backing Out of Onsite Work During a Pandemic

Sept. 23, 2020
Make it clear to new hires how you’ve made employee safety a top priority.

Scenario: A pandemic has been declared. You have open positions you need to fill. For this particular position, you require the person to work onsite. You go through the applicant screening process, choose a finalist, and make an offer. The candidate accepts your offer, then declares he isn’t ready to come into the workplace.

What do you do now? How could you have prevented it from happening in the first place?

Before the Offer

There are steps you can take that will likely significantly reduce the number of applicants who aren’t willing or able to meet the demands of the position. This saves you both the time and hassle of going through the screening process.

1. State your expectations early on in the process—namely, in the job posting for an open position. Specify the options and requirements for working remotely, reporting to a facility or office, or a combination of the two.

2.In the job posting, showcase your compliance with current pandemic-related regulations. Talk about how you’ve created a safe working environment and how you’ve made employee safety a top priority.

3. Update your job applications with questions about applicants’ willingness and ability to work remotely, report to a worksite, or any combination thereof that you’ve identified as necessary for the position. Also ask what their preferences are.

4. Revise your standard interview questions. Train all hiring managers to ensure that they maintain open communication with applicants about your expectations of where the work will be performed.

When Applicant Makes a Counteroffer

When an applicant accepts the offer, then makes a counteroffer for working at home rather than onsite, you must carefully assess the request. In the steps below, we lay out a plan:

1. Follow the same procedures with the new hire as you have in the past when considering the reasonable accommodation request and evaluating if it will create an undue hardship for you, the employer.

2. Determine if you are required to comply with the applicant’s request under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Consult an attorney if necessary, and follow the applicable laws.

3. Evaluate whether you have the flexibility to move the start date or allow an employee to work remotely for a specified amount of time. Consider if the position requires hands-on training or if you can train remotely. If necessary, conduct a cost-benefit analysis of what the applicant is proposing.

4. Once you’ve conducted your analysis, it’s time to approve the request, make a counteroffer, or reject it.

5. Due to the complex nature of the interaction of state and federal law, we recommend seeking local legal counsel to review requests on a case-by-case basis to ensure compliance and mitigate risk.

When the Applicant Doesn’t Make a Counteroffer

Now let’s say the applicant accepts the offer, then a few days later says he’s afraid to come into the workplace. Here are the steps to take:

1. To attempt to alleviate his fears, give the new hire a sample of your safety policies to show how you’ve created a safe work environment. If he still isn’t willing to work onsite, continue to the next steps.

2. If you’re willing to move the start date back, offer that option and negotiate the date as necessary.

3. Evaluate whether you have the flexibility allow the employee to work remotely for a specified amount of time. If so, offer that as an interim solution.

4. If the applicant continues to decline your offer(s), maintain documentation of the declination for up to one year from the date you received it. This will keep you in compliance with federal law. Some states may require a longer record retention period.

5. Revisit your pool of preferred candidates and/or reopen the posting to new applicants.

A pandemic brings with it extra burdens for employees and employers. Conducting cost-benefit analyses for new hires who decide they aren’t comfortable with working onsite is likely to become a familiar routine. You can mitigate the possibility of having to start over in the hiring process, though, by a) maintaining and documenting a safe work environment and b) being as clear as possible during every step of the hiring process that you expect the person to work onsite.

Brianna Stashak, PHRca, SHRM-CP is a human resources consultant for KPA, a provider of EHS and workforce compliance solutions.

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