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‘Employment lawyers are going to have a field day’: Business leaders grapple with how to reopen

June 26, 2020, 4:37 PM UTC

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Business leaders across the country are wrestling with how to reopen their offices and change operations as the virus continues to spread, according to executives who spoke at Fortune’s Future of Work webinar on Thursday.

“A lot of employment lawyers are going to have a field day with this puppy,’ said Ray Wang, principal analyst, founder, and chairman of Silicon Valley–based Constellation Research. To reduce risks to companies and workers’ health, Wang recommended giving employees choices and flexibility on when and how often they’ll be in the office.

Wang was joined in the discussion by director of the Wharton School’s Center for Human Resources Peter Cappelli; Domo founder and CEO Josh James; and Accenture chief leadership and human resources officer Ellyn Shook. The event was moderated by Fortune senior editor Kristen Bellstrom.

The speakers agreed that companies need to be cautious and listen to the evolving coronavirus findings coming from the health community. But it takes more than just smart return policies: It also requires transparency, Shook said. Accenture, she noted, has created a portal that spells out in great detail all the company’s plans and policies. She applauds the transparency of Delta Air Lines for announcing last week that 500 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and 10 have died.

“One problem we are seeing with some of these companies is they are not telling [employees] much about what their plans are…When you don’t tell people what is going on, they make up an answer,” Cappelli said.

The speakers agreed that issues of race and mental health can’t be ignored either during this crisis. James noted his firm Domo’s recent announcement that it will interview one person of color and one woman for every opening at the company.

“A lot of veterans and people who had or are susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder are in really bad shape because of this experience. And it is hard to know,” Cappelli said. “Having resources is a really good idea, but also, I think, making our supervisors reach out…Ask [employees] how they are doing.”