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Tips for Rehiring As Your Small Business Reopens

May 25, 2021
Written by Nextdoor Editorial Team
May 25, 2021 | Written by Nextdoor Editorial Team

The COVID-19 vaccine is now available to every American in the country. As the percentage of vaccinated adults rises, increasingly more states are beginning to fully reopen.

For business owners, this is a reason to celebrate. Soon, you’ll be able to operate indoors at 100% capacity, if you aren’t doing so already. 

So, what does that mean in the immediate sense? It means it’s now time to start restaffing so you have the resources needed to operate efficiently. You may have had to decrease your staff at the height of the pandemic, but as you reopen, these tips for rehiring employees will come in handy. 

Tips for Rehiring as Your Small Business Reopens

It’s reasonable for business owners to have some trepidations about returning to a sense of normalcy and how to go about it properly. Some lucky businesses remained relatively unaffected by the pandemic, whereas others had to completely shutter. 

The reasons for employee layoffs were varied, ranging from economic reasons to forced closures via government shutdown orders. Because of this, not every business will face the same hiring challenges. 

Keep in mind that your business’s situation is unique, which means you’ll have to determine your needs and pacing. 

Should You Rehire Former Employees? 

You may be wondering whether rehiring former employees is a better business decision than starting fresh with new talent. As you rebuild your workforce, early indicators point compellingly to the fact that rehiring is the way to go. 

According to a comprehensive Wall Street Journal study:

“The case for hiring back employees who had been laid off or quit seems compelling and obvious. Hiring them will decrease recruiting and onboarding costs. Recruiting an old employee also will feel like a safe move—you know them, they know you, and they will be easy to reintegrate into the organization. They even may have gained new skills or perspectives in the interim.”

Put simply, a returning employee knows your business and is already trained. In addition to it being quicker and more cost-effective for them to get up to speed, it can also be great for morale. Many were laid off due to no fault of their own. By bringing them back, you demonstrate loyalty and show your commitment to their well-being. 

How To Approach Rehiring? 

While it may be a smart business move to rehire laid-off workers, that’s easier said than done.  

Let’s break down best practices to keep in mind. 

#1 Follow Governmental Guidelines

Before you open or rehire, it’s important that you’re always abiding by the governmental reopening guidelines. These may vary by location and industry, so take the time to do some research on the applicable local, state, and federal employment law. 

For instance, California, which has more restrictions than most states, will be among the last to fully reopen in June. Though on April 18th, live indoor events, including concerts, sports contests, and theatrical performances resumed in a limited capacity.

Currently, the Golden State is mostly in Tier 3 moderate risk category, meaning many business operations can resume in some form, including:

  • Aquariums – Max 50% capacity 
  • Bars (no meals) – Outdoors
  • Breweries (no meals) – Indoor and outdoor with max 25% capacity
  • Cardrooms – Max 25% capacity 
  • Dine-in restaurants – Open indoors with max 50% capacity 
  • Gyms – Open indoors with max 25% capacity
  • K-12 schools – Open fully for in-person instruction
  • Movie theaters – Max 25% capacity
  • Nonessential business offices – Open indoors with some modifications
  • Places of worship – Open indoors with 50% capacity
  • Retailers – Open with modifications 

These restrictions and regulations will differ by state—whether that’s California, Colorado, or Kentucky. Be sure to stay on top of your local guidelines.

#2 Mitigate Employment Discrimination Risk

In a perfect world, you would be able to reopen with the full complement of your previous staff. If that’s the case, then you can skip to the next tip. However, as an employer, if you can only choose a few (whether due to a current lack of demand or governmental mandates), you’ll have to consider rehiring a laid off employee carefully. 

According to Fox Rothschild LLP:

“Employers must be cautious in determining who to bring back to the workplace to mitigate the risk of potential discrimination claims based on the decision not to bring back certain employees.” 

So, how can you avoid a potentially costly lawsuit? Follow these steps: 

  • Document your decision-making process thoroughly. 
  • Evaluate your business and operational needs for hiring.
  • Note nondiscriminatory justifications for prioritizing one employee over another include:
    •  Seniority
    • Operational needs
    • Documented past performance issues

Hiring without some regard to past performance can lead former employees to think the business is playing favorites. One rule of thumb is rehiring employees in the opposite order that you had to let them go.

#3 Determine What the Work, Pay, and Benefits Will Look Like

Before starting a conversation with a former worker, take the time to identify your needs from each hire. Ask yourself the following:

  • Will the role change? If so, how? 
  • Are schedules the same? 
  • Are we adding benefits? Removing them? Reducing them? 

It’s likely that certain business practices have changed. Whether you’re a local tax attorney who encouraged staff to greet customers with a handshake prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, or you’re a restaurant with new contactless ordering methods—be sure to include training resources upon reemployment. 

#4 Be Willing to Have An Open Conversation 

Some employees may still have hard feelings about being laid off. Others may have concerns about returning to work. Be willing to field questions and conversations about such topics. Address their concerns and see whether it’s still a good fit. 

While you’re engaging in conversation, both you and your prospective employee will be able to align yourselves—that way, there’s no confusion about expectations moving forward. 

#5 Set Clear Expectations 

Let former employees know what you expect from them going forward. The pandemic pause may have given you an opportunity to reevaluate the way you were doing business. If changes are to be made, articulate them clearly. That way, you can make sure that everyone is on the same page. 

Keep the following in mind as you go about these conversations: 

  • Some employees may shift from an old role to a new one. If that’s the case, explain the differences and expectations. 
  • Explain what you wish them to accomplish and establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure their progress. 
  • Address the chain of command so they know who to report to with questions, concerns, or ideas.

Pre-pandemic, you may have had benefits and a career progression path that is now different. If that’s the case, explain how and why. Don’t let employees operate on the assumption that everything’s returned to the old way, especially if there have been significant changes made. 

#6 Brace for Rejection

Even though it was likely out of your hands, some employees may have hard feelings about being let go, while others may have moved on. Whatever the reason, if they decline the job, don’t take it personally. 

Prepare for the possibility that the employee decided to accept a new job offer or seek employment elsewhere. That way, it doesn’t come as a surprise and you can quickly move onto the next candidate.

#7 Prepare Your Paperwork 

In most cases, your old employees will likely need to fill out the same paperwork they filled out when they were first hired. To be compliant with legal rules and regulations they may be required to fill out another I-9 and W-4. 

If you want to avoid legal issues, ensure that all of the proper documentation has been filled out. Similarly, some employees may need a refresher on company materials like the employee handbook.

Discuss with your team and legal experts if you have other questions about compliance. The following are just a few resources you can use to stay up-to-date: 

#8 For Hiring New Employees, Consider Nextdoor

If you’ve exhausted your previous pool of employees and still need more workers, Nextdoor can connect you with the locals in your community who are looking for jobs. Businesses can create a free Nextdoor Business Page and then update their page to reflect hiring qualifications.

With Nextdoor, you can hire a new employee and market your services to your neighbors. 

Ready, Set, Hire 

With the world returning to a sense of normalcy, now’s the time to start preparing for your rehiring phase. As you do, be sure to follow the tips above, including: 

  • Abide by local, state, and federal guidelines
  • Avoid employment discrimination 
  • Reevaluate what the position entails 
  • Set expectations and goals with return employees
  • Prepare to be rejected 
  • Complete all the legal paperwork 
  • Set up a Business Page on Nextdoor 

By following these best practices, your business will quickly be ready to operate at full capacity.


NPR. Biden Says All Adults Will Be Vaccine Eligible By April 19.

The Wall Street Journal. After Covid, Should Companies Rehire Ex-Employees?

Los Angeles Times. Tracking California’s coronavirus closures and reopenings.

Fox Rothschild. Back to Business After COVID-19: Legal Considerations When Rehiring Employees.

Claim your free Business Page to get started on Nextdoor. For resources on how to use Nextdoor to stay connected with your local customers, pertinent news affecting businesses, and more, follow us at @nextdoorbusiness on Facebook.

Claim your free Business Page to get started on Nextdoor. For resources on how to use Nextdoor to stay connected with your local customers, pertinent news affecting business, and more, follow us at @nextdoorbusiness on Facebook

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