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How to Safely Head Back to the Office in Westchester

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A local human resources and business expert offers tips on how employees can navigate a return to the workplace during the pandemic.

Despite a pandemic continuing to rage in the background, some companies are bringing employees back into the office as the economy reawakens and vaccine distribution ramps up. We asked Ivette Molina, director of operations at the Business Council of Westchester, for some advice on using your company’s human resources department to navigate a potential return to the worksite.

Yvette Moilna. Photo by John Vecchiola

Should you approach your human resources representative if you feel uncomfortable about returning to work?

As an employee, you have the right to reach out to [human resources] and let them know you have concerns about returning to work. Whether you feel most comfortable reaching out through email, a phone call, or virtually, through Zoom, communication with your HR rep is very important.

What options or rights do you have as an employee to ensure your company is providing a COVID-safe environment?

The employer is required to make sure that the workplace is safe so that you are able to return without contracting the virus. Employers are also required to provide training to workers on health and safety guidelines, as well as on anti-retaliation protections available to them. Make sure your employer informs you in detail of all the steps being taken to ensure your health is their priority. Keep in consistent communication with HR.

Can a company mandate that you take a vaccine?

Employers can mandate employees to take the vaccine. However, there are a few exceptions, such as a vaccine exemption on medical grounds or religious beliefs and/or asking for alternative accommodations, such as PPE or [the ability to continue] working from home.

How do you feel HR in general can serve as a resource for legitimately nervous individuals returning to the workplace?

To help counter [resistance to returning to the office], HR should offer free mental health and wellness services. Another way to support employees returning to work is by enforcing staggered shifts, which ensure fewer people are at the office at a time. Additionally, assisting employees with a flexible work schedule and child care assistance.