Being clear and up front with staff will establish expectations as you re-open

As shelter-in-place orders are lifted across the country, restaurant owners find themselves welcoming back employees who were furloughed or laid off due to the coronavirus shutdown. This is an important time to communicate with staff regarding current expectations and policies based on the new realities of foodservice.

In addition to having a conversation with your staff, take the time to document any changes you have made as an employer and keep them for your own records as well as giving copies to staff. If you are relying on a specific piece of information, for example from the CDC or SBA, print that material and date it as a reference to show that this is the guide you used to inform company policy.

The first issue to address with returning staff is your expectation for their hours and rate of compensation. In order to be eligible for PPP loan forgiveness, employers must pay returning and new staff no less than 25% of their pre-shutdown rate. Likely as you begin to bring staff back, you may go through periods of needing more or less staff to keep up with rush times and slow times that are different than what you experienced previously. Communicate clearly with staff about how this will affect their salaries. Also, there will likely be training that needs to take place, especially related to taking, preparing, and serving to-go orders and, in some cases, delivering orders as well. Create printed materials that train on these subjects specifically and review them with all returning staff. Likewise, if you have updated or revisited your sanitation and safety protocols, this is the time to provide that information to your staff. Specifically address your policy regarding wearing masks and/or gloves and cleaning and sanitizing work areas.

Also, discuss company policy for addressing customer questions and concerns and handling customers who refuse to respect social distancing or other safety protocols. Talk to staff about how you are working to keep them and your guests safe, and model the behavior that you want to see in them. Let them know that you take their concerns seriously and that they should tell you if they have any reason to feel unsafe or uncomfortable on the job. If you are performing health screenings of staff, communicate this directly before employees return to work, letting them know the method and timing of health screenings. You have the right as an employer to take body temperature checks of employees. If you do this, share with employees that this is only as a precautionary Covid-19 screening measure and will not be used to any other ends, and that it is not a substitute for a clinical diagnosis. Address in advance how, if an employee is sent home based on the result of a health screening, that absence will be considered under your sick-leave/PTO policy, including employee entitlements to wages for the day, and employee entitlements to any other leave, such as under the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (effective April 1, 2020), or other applicable federal, state, or local law. (National Law Review)

As always, above all else, you should be honest and transparent in your discussions with staff, as your business decisions directly affect their livelihoods. If you are concerned about your ability to keep staff on payroll and keep your restaurant open during these difficult times, it’s ok and, in fact, necessary to be open about this with your employees. They must have all the information they need to make the best decisions for their own futures. Keep communication lines open with regular staff meetings, and check in with your employees often.

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