Around the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way we conduct business.
This disease is taking a toll on businesses in every sector and leaders across the board are trying to find their footing. It’s a challenging time that can best be handled by anticipating the unexpected (as much as you realistically can) and having plans in place.
In this article, we’ll explore some key issues for employers to keep in mind when navigating the COVID-19 health crisis.
If your business is considered essential, you will need to ensure that your workplace environment complies with applicable health and safety regulations.
In essential businesses where work cannot also be performed remotely, communicating and following hygiene practices and prevention measures is critical. Suggested Centers for Disease Control (CDC) practices aimed at protecting against viruses include: encouraging sick employees to stay home; wearing masks and gloves; sending employees with illness symptoms home immediately; training employees on diligent hand hygiene and cough/sneeze etiquette; and regular cleaning of high contact surfaces. To the greatest extent feasible, essential businesses must also comply with social distancing requirements of six feet or more from other individuals.
Advise your employees of available benefits.
In addition to implementing telecommuting policies where feasible, employers should update their policies to comply with the newly enacted emergency paid leave laws under the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), not to mention employer sponsored paid sick leave, paid time off, vacation time, family leave and other leaves of absence. You should also inform workers about potential benefits available through state insurance programs, paid leave and unemployment insurance. In addition, a number of states and jurisdictions including Washington, D.C. have enacted emergency legislation regarding their paid leave and state disability programs during the pandemic.
Consider adjusting leave policies in response to this dire situation.
During this unprecedented health emergency, flexibility is essential. For example, many people will need to cancel their vacations because they are unable to travel anywhere. You might consider allowing employees to roll vacation time over to the next year.
Don’t rush to reduce compensation too fast.
There’s no denying that the pandemic is creating a massive financial hardship for small businesses. In fact, Society for Human Resource Management (“SHRM”) estimates that the American economy is poised to erode at two to three percent for every month that the shutdown continues. The financial disruption is causing many employers to seek ways to reduce their costs, including cutting employee compensation. Keep in mind that in some states like Maryland, employers are required to provide at least one pay period before a wage reduction can take place.
Support employee morale and mental health.
The COVID-19 pandemic is anxiety producing for a broad range of reasons that vary from person to person. From isolation to economic concerns to fears of contracting the illness, it’s creating unparalleled levels of stress. Ensure that your staff has the resources available to help them cope with this crisis, such as an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) and that they know how to access these resources and tools. More importantly, make sure your staff hears from you: schedule frequent calls, virtual video staff meetings, virtual happy hours and anything that creates a regular link to human interaction without reverting to micromanaging, which can also cause stress. Having a tool like Microsoft Teams or Slack in place for sharing company information is essential. The tools allow you to release details that can combat rumors or workers’ fears and share critical updates if the need arises. It also ensures that policy updates and similar changes are shared with everyone and that the message remains consistent, decreasing the likelihood of confusion or miscommunication. You might consider giving your employees a token of your appreciation for their efforts during this highly stressful period. Supplementing remote workers’ expenses for necessary tools such as enhanced internet, office equipment, and supplies is another way you can show your support for their efforts.
Anticipate your workforce needs.
If COVID-19 reaches your workplace, you may find yourself short-handed in a hurry. Having a contingent workforce available who can fill any resulting gaps is ideal. Consider vetting and partnering with a staffing firm to discuss your potential needs in advance. That way, should you require an employee on the fly, they will already know what you require and can quickly access appropriate talent.
Start planning now for the return to work.
Whether it’s sooner or later, business operations will resume under a “new normal”. Bringing employees back to work and reopening commerce will require that appropriate services and resources are in place. General health screenings, face masks, hygiene handbooks and alternative hand sanitizer stations are likely prudent tools as part of the re-opening process. Changes to our existing cultural norms will likely come with their share of challenges. The stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly financial pressures, could have an adverse effect on employee health. Animosity among the ranks may arise towards those who weren’t furloughed. New laws have also been enacted in some states to protect those employees who don’t wish to return to the workforce due to COVID-19 transmission concerns. A reopening plan that’s medically-based and relies on social distancing and other best practices for public health can raise significant regulatory and legal liability risks. Health privacy, discrimination claims, safety issues, and exposure liability may all pose litigation risks. Therefore, working with HR and legal counsel are key.
COVID-19 is changing the employment landscape, but preparation can minimize the disruption. If you want to learn more about creating a readiness plan for your organization, the knowledgeable professionals at The HR Team is here to help. Contact us today to put our decades of experience to work for you.
About The HR Team: Founded in 1996, The HR Team is a Maryland-based human resources outsourcing firm committed to developing strategic, customized solutions that respond to the unique needs and cultures of organizations of all types and sizes. Available as a one-source alternative to an in-house HR department or on an à la carte project basis, the company’s flexible service models address the full spectrum of HR needs that many organizations struggle to address. The HR Team helps clients achieve their highest level of success by providing value-driven human resources services that leave them time to focus on what they do best: directing business growth and profitability. Headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, the firm serves all of Maryland, Washington, DC, and Virginia. To learn more about The HR Team, call 410.381.9700 or visit https://www.thehrteam.com/.