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Fashion companies in New York want to return to the office – employees are not so happy with it, Intelligence, BoF Professional

NEW YORK, United States —G-III Apparel Group is ready for the end of its remote work.

The American company, which licenses, among others, Donna Karen New York and Karl Lagerfeld, closed its two offices in New York in March, along with most other fashion companies, when the coronavirus pandemic spread across the United States. Last week, everyone ordered to go back from August 3. That date was pushed back by about a month after some workers complained.

G-III is among the growing number of fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands who want to get its employees back as soon as possible. New York City, which has managed to limit the spread of the virus after a spring spike, reopened its offices in late June. Many companies choose to work remotely. For example, Google recently said it doesn’t require employees to return until the summer of 2021 at the earliest. However, L’Oréal plans to reopen its New York office on August 3 with 50 percent capacity. Some Estée Lauder employees are already back at work, with a wider reopening scheduled for September 8.

Fashion and beauty are ahead of the reopening of offices because teleworking has yielded mixed results for many companies. Some executives prefer Zoom to travel criss-cross the world to meet suppliers and retailers, and many marketing and PR professionals have barely missed the office. But virtual conferences are not ideal for evaluation clothing fabric examples or appropriate models, and digital fashion shows have had little appeal.

Still, many are uncomfortable with the idea of ​​going back to the office, especially with new Covid-19 cases increasing in many states.

After G-III set the original office reopening date, employees emailed the company’s human resources department asking for exceptions for individuals living with high-risk roommates or family members, as well as other concerns. In addition to delaying the reopening to September 8, G-III offered a $ 100 weekly travel allowance for employees who agreed to work at the office at least three days a week before the official date.

All employer-based requests for medical information must be treated in a non-discriminatory manner across the board.

“This also gives us extra time to organize social distance and space planning to enable the increase in the number of employees in our offices,” an HR representative told G-III employees in an email from BoF. G-III did not respond to a request for comment.

After months of working remotely, employers must demonstrate flexibility and willingness to respond to workers’ concerns, said Helen Rella, a New York-based labor and employment attorney with Wilk Auslander.

“Most employers in my experience try to work with their employees because it is in everyone’s interest to get people back to work,” she said. “We don’t want a situation where valued employees no longer go to work.”

A changed workplace

G-III employees return to a dramatically different office than the one they left in March. The company will allocate staggered arrival and departure times to employees, requiring masks and daily temperature controls. Common surfaces, including bathrooms and doorknobs, are cleaned “ on average ” every two hours, according to documents sent to workers.

Desks are placed further apart. Meetings of more than 10 people are prohibited, and employees are encouraged to communicate electronically with colleagues even when they are in the same building. Even lunch breaks are not spared: food supplies are banned and office kitchens are closed.

In France, where companies such as L’Oréal are headquartered, the transition to office work started in May, but not at full speed. Many companies in France have taken the same security measures imposed by the New York authorities, including limiting personal interactions at the office itself.

Few exceptions

For international companies such as L’Oréal, what works in Europe or Asia may not apply in the US. The number of deaths and deaths continues to rise in some US states. While numbers in New York remain low, many residents left the city during the pandemic peak and may now live in hotspots such as Florida and Texas. If they return to New York, they may have to be quarantined for two weeks.

Meanwhile, some workers who stayed in New York are concerned about their own health, especially if they have pre-existing conditions that put them at greater risk of contracting or dying from the virus, or if they live with someone more prone to the virus.

“If you have any questions about this, or any other personal circumstances, such as living with someone at higher risk for a medical condition, you should discuss this with your manager and HR representative,” L’Oréal told employees when they ordered to get back to work, according to a document shared by the beauty watchdog Instagram account Estée Laundry. “You are encouraged to enter into an open dialogue now to find a mutually acceptable Phase 2 schedule that meets your personal circumstances and meets our company’s requirements.”

At L’Oréal, employees wishing to apply for a waiver to continue working remotely must sign an authorization form that gives the company access to their medical history. Rella said that while employers may have asked employees to provide a doctor’s note to prove past illness, medical records as a whole are generally considered highly confidential.

Employers and employees should try to work together.

“All employer-based requests for medical information must be treated in a non-discriminatory manner across the board,” said Reller, to help prevent discrimination against workers with disabilities in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. “All medical related information that an employer obtains (including the fact that an employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19) must be treated confidentially. This basic condition has also not changed due to the pandemic. ”

L’Oréal did not respond to BoF’s request for comment.

Childcare is another bottleneck. Many schools, summer camps and nurseries remain closed, making it difficult for some parents to return to work. L’Oréal told employees they should make arrangements for childcare, although employees are encouraged to speak to their manager and an HR representative to agree on a schedule that meets an employee’s “personal circumstances and meets to the requirements of [the] business ”, according to the L’oreal document published on Estée Laundry.

Still, given the unprecedented nature of the situation, there are hardly any standards, Rella told BoF.

“Fear is no excuse for not returning to work and workers who refuse to return to work, now that professional offices are allowed to reopen, are deemed to have quit their jobs and may be fired,” said Rella. . “Employers and employees should try to work together, and if employees are concerned they should report it to their employer.”

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