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As the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the United States, many employers tried to find the best way to keep their business afloat while showing their employees they still value them and want to work with them in the future. For some, this led them to furloughing their workers. 

A furlough is a mandatory, temporary unpaid leave of absence. It’s different from being laid off in that no severance is paid, and your employees can come right back to the same role when the furlough is over. Employees are also able to collect unemployment benefits while on furlough, and some employers have continued to pay for health insurance and other benefits. 

As many states reopen their economies, employers across the country may be wondering how to connect with their workforce and get them back to work. First things first, make sure you have personal email addresses and/or phone numbers for your employees. As they are not allowed to be working during furlough, they likely won’t be checking work email accounts or using work-provided phones. Once you’ve got the contact information in place, you can plan out some communications to your workforce.


Set realistic expectations

Nobody needs you to make promises you can’t keep. We all know things are uncertain as the economy opens back up, but it is best to be as concrete and clear as you can when setting expectations with your workers. 

Once you have determined when furlough will end, share it with your employees. Let them know you are planning for a safe return and that you are excited to get back to work. If that date could change for any reason, be open and share that too. This shows your workers that you respect them and their time. 

Here’s a template you can try: 

Hello [Employee Name],

I am excited to share that furlough will be ending soon. The first day of work will be [Date]. Please come in on your regular schedule for that day. 

I look forward to welcoming everyone back to the office. I have attached a PDF of the new safety measures we have implemented in light of COVID-19. 

We will be providing [list any items provided for safety] and [list any safety measures or practices workers should expect.] 

If you have any questions about returning to work, or any of our new safety measures, please respond to this email and I will be happy to answer them.


Address benefits

While many employees may be receiving unemployment benefits during furlough, they may still be concerned about health insurance and any other benefits they are receiving from work. While it isn’t required, some employers are continuing to pay for health insurance or other benefits during this time. If that is the case for your company, make sure to spell this out for employees so they know what to expect. And if it isn’t, you may consider offering to send out resources for finding insurance in your area and letting employees know you are available to help them understand their options.

You can find a sample template below:

Subject: Benefits During Furlough

During this furlough, you may be concerned about your health insurance benefits. I want to assure you that [Company] will continue to pay the same amount towards your medical, dental, and vision coverage as we did before the furlough began. 

If you have any questions about your benefits please email [benefits contact] at [email address]. 

If you have any other questions about the furlough, please email [contact] at [email address]. 

[Optional] We look forward to having you back on [Return Date]!


Be responsive to concerns

As you get in touch with employees, some may respond with questions or concerns about returning to work. They may want to know more details about social distancing at your workplace, how their day-to-day might be different, and what changes to the workforce they should expect.

The key to responding is to be clear and honest. Try to respond as soon as feasible so employees know you are engaged and working. When you respond, be clear and honest about your plans. If you have created PDF documents or posters about new procedures, send those out to your team. If you have any info about updated schedules or changed responsibilities, share those with relevant team members as well. People want to know you have a plan and that you have thought about the details; this is the right time to show that you have. 

Show your support for realistic change

Many workers may have spent their time on furlough thinking about their current job and their future at your company. Now is the time they may be looking to update their schedule, take on new or different responsibilities, or otherwise pursue change in their role. 

As an employer, this is a great opportunity to show support for reasonable changes that your company can handle. Staying flexible and supportive will go a long way to keeping your employees engaged and happy at work. Fostering this kind of positive sentiment will be valuable in the long term as things get back to normal and workers evaluate if they want to stay with your company. 

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