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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Equipping CBOs to Return to Work: Considerations for the Workforce and Workplace

Supporting staff as they return to work will involve many short- and long-term adaptations. It is essential that CBO leaders provide accurate and timely information about the pandemic, link employees with new and updated policies, and offer resources to help manage stress and support coping.

Topic Areas

Tips for Leaders When Communicating with Staff

Share Reliable and Up-To-Date Information: Being transparent with staff and providing accurate, timely, and reliable information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)’s COVID-19 website as well as other state and local health department websites can sustain trust among staff and provides the basis for effective communication.

For some staff members, mass transit may be the only feasible way to commute to and from work. CBO leadership and staff should refer to local mass transit websites as they return to work in order to have up-to-date information on transit operations. The CDC also created guidance on how to stay safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19 when using public transportation, which is especially important as staff begin to interface with clients.

Lastly, supervising and communicating with staff in an empathetic and compassionate way, while already a cornerstone of good leadership, will be especially important as CBOs and staff begin to resume their responsibilities.

Communicate Behavioral Health Resources: The sharing of straightforward information on stress throughout the pandemic can help normalize individuals’ feelings and reactions. Resources from the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress include guides for staff on how to maintain care and manage stress. The Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) also has a resource that provides practical leadership tips which can help leaders learn how to effectively communicate with staff about behavioral health needs throughout and after the pandemic.

Help Staff Address Grief: Throughout the pandemic, it is important to realize that staff may have feelings of moral injury, and that those working at community facilities with multiple COVID-19 related deaths may experience cumulative grief. These feelings can be further exacerbated when a co-worker, family member, friend, or respected community leader has passed as a result of the virus. This ASPR resource, Death of a Colleague during the COVID-19 Pandemic, provides recommendations for leaders and health care staff to consider when attempting to manage grief following the death of a colleague during COVID-19.

Reconfiguring and Preparing to Return to Work

Workplace Controls Guidance: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has developed COVID-19 planning guidance based on traditional infection prevention and industrial sanitation practices. The guide highlights ways for employers to implement engineering (e.g. installing high efficiency air filters) and administrative changes (e.g. encouraging sick staff to stay home), to create a healthy work environment and a safe and healthful workplace.

Implementing Workplace Flexibilities and Protections for Staff

Minimize Exposure to COVID-19 at Work: It is important for leadership and staff to take proactive personal protection measures which greatly reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19. The CDC’s guidance, How to Protect Yourself and Others, includes information on hand-washing, the use of face masks, and best practices on how individuals can monitor their own health throughout COVID-19. Additionally, this coronavirus infection prevention poster from OSHA highlights 10 measures that employers can implement to protect worker safety and health during the pandemic. These measures include encouraging sick workers to stay home; establishing flexible worksites and staggered work shifts; and using the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) approved cleaning disinfectants against the virus. See the CDC’s guidance on how to properly clean and disinfect the workplace for additional help.

For CBO employers that have or will implement precautionary steps such as temperature checks, or are considering requesting information on a staff member’s COVID-19 diagnosis, it is important that employers do so in a way that aligns with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) issued helpful guidance on this subject titled What You Should Know about COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws.

A flexible telework schedule is another strategy for limiting COVID-19 exposure, and there are tools for helping employees that are working from home during the COVID-19 outbreak to manage the demands of working remotely.

Staff Absenteeism Procedures and Supports: Adequate staffing when returning to work may be challenging. Absenteeism may result from a staff member being exposed to COVID-19, family caregiving responsibilities, or from common stressors mentioned above. Supports like non-punitive attendance policies can be useful. If staff are in a position where they will need to assume additional responsibilities for the CBO to continue operations, they may have questions about these new expectations and responsibilities. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has created a Continuity Plan Template and Instructions for Non-Federal Entities and Community-Based Organizations that provides instructions, guidance, and sample text for the development of continuity plans and programs for the continuation of organizational job functions. CBOs may also wish to adapt strategies that health care facilities have used to reduce staff absenteeism during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Staff Child Care Needs and Supports: The loss of childcare throughout the pandemic has impacted many as they try to balance their work and family obligations. The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) created a site that connects COVID-19 essential workers and other parents to open childcare. Parents may have the ability to use state specific resources to help find ways to pay for childcare during the COVID-19 pandemic and as the nation re-opens.

Augmenting Programming with Teleservices and Assistive Technologies

Legal Considerations and Mandates for Appropriate Technology Utilization: Telehealth can help address COVID-19 by limiting exposure to infection for staff and clients. Telehealth can also expand the reach of resources for at-risk individuals with access and functional needs. As CBOs continue to navigate telehealth and assistive technologies, resources from across the federal government, such as the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and its Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), in conjunction with the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT), provide great assistance by outlining best practices on the process of ensuring that employers’ virtual meeting platforms are fully accessible for people with disabilities. It is also essential for CBOs to understand telehealth in the context of HIPAA compliance. See the most recent HHS Bulletin: Civil Rights, HIPAA, and the Coronavirus Disease 2019. CBOs should also consider referring to HHS’s bulletin, Ensuring the Rights of Persons with Limited English Proficiency in Health Care During COVID-19 for information on providing care and services through telecommunication means for those with limited English proficiency. The CDC has also compiled a set of legal and policy resources for telehealth to help professionals as they provide teleservices and provides information on the law and policy regarding the use of telehealth.

With the right accommodations, clients with disabilities can more easily utilize telehealth services. It is essential for staff to work closely with clients as they determine how to ensure language access and effective communication when using assistive technology services. These may include:

  • Providing written and/or oral language assistance services through qualified interpreters to individuals with limited English proficiency or low literacy to ensure meaningful access to telehealth, which may include translated documents, telephonic interpretation, and/or video remote interpreting (see 45 C.F.R. 92.101(b)(4) for limited exceptions available during an emergency involving an imminent threat to safety or welfare);

  • Providing auxiliary aids and services to individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, have low vision, speech disabilities, or who have cognitive or intellectual disabilities by using accessible technology, qualified interpreters, picture boards, and other means (see 45 C.F.R. 92.104(a), please note that covered providers must make information and communication technology accessible “unless doing so would result in undue financial and administrative burdens or a fundamental alteration in the nature of the health programs or activities.”).

However, not all assistive technologies and tele-platforms are accessible or best suited for every individual. CBOs should consider alternatives when specific assistive technology platforms are not a viable option for the client. For example, every state has a State Assistive Technology Program that helps individuals of any age with disabilities learn about and acquire assistive technology that addresses accessibility needs. These programs also train individuals on how to use assistive technology.

When looking at non-health specific teleservices, human service providers will also need to consider how to augment their services in light of COVID-19. The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) created a guidance document, Virtual Case Management Considerations and Resources for Human Services Programs, that highlights important considerations and approaches for providers if they are considering adopting virtual services.

Staff Behavioral Health Needs and Supports

Just as there is a need for CBOs to respond to the social and behavioral needs of their clients during and after the pandemic, of equal importance is supporting staff and their behavioral health needs.

Managing Workplace Fatigue: The CDC released updated information on what workers and employers can do to manage workplace fatigue during COVID-19. This resource provides strategies that workers and employers can undertake to manage workplace fatigue ensuring a safe working environment. Management techniques include recognition of the problem, improving sleep, rotating shifts, and providing alternate transportation if needed.

Strategies for Staff to Manage Stress and Worry: The CDC created How to Cope with Job Stress and Build Resilience during the COVID-19 Pandemic, which highlights the symptoms of stress and tips on how to build resilience and manage job stress. Similarly, the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress created a helpful resource that summarizes the psychological and reactionary effects associated with wearing PPE for prolonged periods of time, and provides recommendations and coping strategies for staff and management when working under these conditions.

  • This page last reviewed: July 08, 2020