'They're looking at July 4': Wisconsin companies planning to bring back employees this summer

Posted at 6:36 PM, Apr 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-01 19:36:53-04

Working from home could end as soon as this summer for many people in southeast Wisconsin. Many local businesses — both big and small — are already making plans.

“A lot to them seem to be looking at the 4th of July, or July 1 as the time when employees are invited back to the office,” said Rich Kirchen with the Milwaukee Business Journal. “They won’t have to return at that time. But by September they’re going to be expected back in the office. That’s according to Metro Milwaukee Association of Commerce, which has really been in touch with a lot of companies through all of this.”

Complicating the issue, the pandemic has proven that in most cases, productivity doesn’t go down when employees work remotely.

“Historically, businesses might have been able to call it is a business necessity to have employees in-person. The question now is, does that hold true?” said Erik Eisenmann, Labor and Employment Practice Chair at Husch Blackwell.

Still, any business can legally say they want you back in the office, unless you have a medical reason to stay home.

Eisenmann says that goes for the COVID-19 vaccine.

“According to federal law, employers do have the legal right to require employees to be vaccinated before they come back to work,” said Eisenmann.

Rather than taking that stance yet, many businesses are incentivizing the shot, like offering more vacation days for employees who get it.

Generac Power Systems in Waukesha already has most of its employees working in person since it’s an essential business. Masks are still required, and work areas have been reconfigured for distancing. The company will be offering an on-site vaccine clinic for employees in the coming weeks.

“We’re trying to be flexible,” said Aaron Jagdfeld, the CEO of Generac. “I think that’s the key takeaway for us. We have to be a lot more flexible with our policies and approach for each employee.”

Other large, local companies like GE Healthcare and Manpower are still mostly remote, and tell our partners at the Milwaukee Business Journal that they don’t have a set return date yet. They plan to leave much of the decision to return in-person to offices up to workers.

Northwestern Mutual confirms it plans to bring back some employees this summer. They tell TMJ4 News that they will do it slowly, in phases, with small groups of workers. A company spokesperson says they will still offer flexibility to employees who need it.

Obviously, though, all of these plans rely heavily on the continued decrease of coronavirus cases.

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