HR changes to make when your workers return from the COVID-19 quarantine
Monday, April 20, 2020
Hopefully, we are nearing the end of the havoc that COVID-19 and quarantine orders have wreaked on our economy. Every workplace is different but one thing we can count on — things will not be the same when workers return.
HR professionals in all industries should be thinking now about changes that need to be made based on the lessons learned over the past few months. This article outlines some of the basic areas where employers will need to adapt and make changes.
Employee Education and Wellness
Employers will spend more time educating employees about illnesses, wellness and safe work practices. They will educate employees about early warning signs and symptoms of communicable diseases to avoid employees bringing them into the workplace.
They will teach employees that healthy people are less likely to catch or succumb to certain diseases. Employers will educate their employees about preventive care and vaccines available through their insurance programs and provide more information good health practices.
Safety Policies and Practices
Obviously, COVID-19 shined a bright light on safety in the workplace. Employers should update their safety policies and practices based on the lessons learned during this pandemic. The new “normal” may include having employees complete a wellness survey every day before they report to work to confirm that they are symptom-free and that their temperatures are less than 100.4 degrees. It may also include taking temperatures at work, screening by a health professional or even daily testing for illness.
Employees will be expected to wash hands regularly. More employees than ever will be asked or allowed to wear masks in the workplace. Housekeeping and hygiene practices will be greatly improved.
With the trend toward more expansive employee screening, however, employers cannot ignore the limitations placed on medical examinations, inquiries and the sharing of confidential information placed on them by the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and similar laws.
Continued Social Distancing
Most people probably had not heard the term “social distancing” prior to 2020. Now, it has become mainstream. Workplaces will be reconfigured when people return to work. More thought will be given to keeping people separate as much as possible during day-to-day business.
Social distancing may include moving away from carrels and combined workrooms and encouraging more remote work. Employers will look for ways to erect barrier and shields in the workplaces to separate workers from each other and the public.
One clear consequence of “shelter in place” orders across the country has been that many workers learned to work at home. People learned about and became used to virtual meetings through applications such as Zoom and RingCentral. They showed how much work really can be done remotely with as much effectiveness and efficiency as when people were in the same workspace. Some people may never return to traditional 9-to-5 jobs in a central office environment!
With more remote work, employers need to make sure they have rules and procedures in place to ensure that hourly workers maintain accurate time records while working from home and to protect their confidential information and trade secrets.
A formal written telecommuting policy or individual agreement will be required to outline the terms and conditions of telecommuting arrangements. Employers will need procedures to limit the amount of material on the web and to maintain security of laptops and memory sticks or portable hard drives. They may even need to provide additional hardware and software to enable workers to work at home.
Employers willneed to review and revise their employee benefits and policies to reflect changes in laws such as the Families First Act and state laws that provide for mandatory sick or family leave for employees. They will need to re-consider the terms and conditions of their severance plans, medical insurance and short- and long-term disability policies, among others.
Other Employment Policies and Procedures
With the rapid shrinking and expanding of workforces caused by reactions to the pandemic and the aftermath, employers will need to consider adopting non-discriminatory policies and procedures on cross-training, reductions in hours, layoffs or furloughs, paid time off, changes in pay or other compensation programs, recall and termination procedures. Clear policies will help set employee expectations and to comply with the myriad of EEO and labor laws.
Now would also be a good time for employers to make sure that their other employment policies are up to date. For example, employers who did not update their anti-discrimination, harassment and retaliation policies at the outset of the #MeToo movement should review and revise those policies and procedures.
Similarly, many states and local governments have recently enacted all sorts of new laws from increased minimum wages, expanded leave rights for employees, limitations on pay and schedule changes, compensation for meals or breaks and other non-working time, etc. that may require policy updates.
At least initially, many workers may remainreluctant to travel on airplanes, trains or other forms of mass transportation. Even as their fear subsides, workers may not travel as much because they learned how to manage videoconferencing technologies. Employers will need to revise their travel policies to set terms and conditions on business travel.
Depending on their industry, location or other factors, some employers may reconsider whether they need to stockpile certain items, such as hand sanitizer, soaps, cleaning agents, medicines, protective masks, gloves, gowns, respirators, other PPE, or even toilet paper.
Employers should anticipate what changes to their HR policies and procedures may be necessary when employees return to work at the end of the pandemic. By reflecting on the lessons learned, employers adapt to the new “normal” and minimize the disruption of their workplaces of such public health situations.
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