Managing Human Resources During a Pandemic

Your employees are one of your most valuable resources, and as a business, their wellbeing is a top priority. As of March 16, 2020, states across the country began issuing mandatory Stay At Home orders in efforts to “Flatten the Curve” in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. With this order, some businesses moved operations to employee’s homes unless they meet the standards to be considered essential.

Now, companies face the challenge of creating new policies that address infection control of their employees during the many touchpoints during a workday.

Essential Business and Operations
The lists of essential workers vary by state and even county within the state. Still, consistently, the following are considered essential and able to work during a Stay at Home mandate.

  • Healthcare
  • Public Health
  • Human Services
  • Government
  • Essential Infrastructure

Employee Sick Leave
If your employee or someone within their household becomes sick with the COVID-19, they are entitled to the following sick leave policy. Additionally, employees with young children or ailing family members can qualify for leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This policy provides employees a max amount of 80 hours (two weeks) of paid sick leave based on the employee’s highest amount of their rate of pay.

Small Business
Changes to employee leave affected small businesses (those with less than 500 employees) in the private sector, and they’re currently required to provide employees with paid sick leave. Starting in early April, this ACT now expands employee leave to include family and medical leave if due to COVID-19 and will run until the end of 2020. Employees may ask to take leave if they are unable to work due to conditions outlined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or any of the following reasons:

  • Experience any symptoms of COVID-19 and needing to seek medical help
  • The employee is in located where a Federal or State government has mandated quarantine, or if a physician has instructed the employee to self-quarantine
  • Caring for someone in the employee’s home that is experiencing or has the symptoms of COVID-19
  • Caring for children whose school or child care facility is closed due to COVID-19

Who is Eligible?
Employees of the private sector and specific public sector employers that have been with the company for at least 30 days are eligible.

How Long?
Employees can receive two full weeks of paid leave or partially sick leave if related to COVID-19. If more time is needed, they can request an additional ten weeks of leave at a partial pay rate.

Tax Credit
The Families First Care Relief Act tax credit can help employers that are required to pay for their employee’s sick leave or paid family leave due to COVID-19. If any of your employees request this leave, you need to verify that the employee is eligible following the FFCRA guidelines. Proper documentation is necessary during this period, so your organization is not denied when you apply for the credit. For more questions, visit the FFCRA’s question and answer website as a helpful resource.

Guidelines to Social Distancing
When returning to the office, it is vital to establish Social Distancing Guidelines. Employers need to start this process of returning to normal intentionally before making these changes. During the beginning stages of returning to work, consider doing the following:

Getting To the Office
Depending on your location, you may need to get creative in how you get to the office. If you rely on public transportation, consider arriving early or later to avoid the rush-hour traffic. Think about walking, riding a bike, or arriving by car.

Shaking Hands
In business, the handshake is considered among many countries the proper etiquette to start or end a business meeting. However, employees should avoid this greeting for their health and the health of others. Business Insider hosted a poll that concluded that COVID-19 experts suggest that the handshake should cease, and “over 20% surveyed” suggested replacing it with a wave.

Office Meetings
When you are back in your office space, think about how you can avoid in-person meetings. Can the question be asked in an email? If not, consider scheduling your calls via a conference call or a web-based service like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and for some companies’ cell phone policy, consider using FaceTime if you own an iPhone.

If in-person meetings are unavoidable, then keep the agenda short and to the point. Schedule your meeting in a conference room that accommodates sitting six feet apart.

Conferences and Travel
Depending on the nature of your work, you may travel several times a week for work or only once a year. Review any meetings that require travel and consider postponing them or moving them to an online call. Consider changing office policy to reduce unnecessary travel and ask employees to move nonessential training or meetings to a meeting online.

Break Away From the Water Cooler
For office jobs, stay away from the break area and even around the copier. Encourage staff to eat at their desk if the team is unable to go home at lunchtime and avoid restaurants or eating with others.

After Work Events
Hosting employee happy hours or birthday celebrations don’t have to stop during this uncertain time. Instead, encourage Zoom for virtual get-togethers or activities like a team yoga class or time to talk about topics other than work.

Creating New Policies
As your company creates new protocols related to COVID-19, reflection is vital before the implementation process starts. Take a step back and make a conscious effort to review all documentation of any new policies as it relates to health, employee contact and in-person requirements to ensure these changes follow current legislation.

Ask For Input
Employees can help map out the day from start to finish giving their employers an idea of where cross-contamination could occur. Whether it is changing vehicles and needing time to disinfect or engaging with clients face to face, employees have a better idea of the many safety tools they’ll need to complete the work in a safe environment.

Employee Buy-In
Educating your employees on why it is necessary to make these changes at the office is critical in keeping employees healthy. New routines like regularly washing hands and wearing protective gear through their workday may be an essential requirement when employees start returning to the office. These policies will work only if employees follow through with them.

Final Thoughts
The landscape of human resources is constantly changing, and employers want to do the best job that they can for their employees. Now those traditional methods and protocols that previously worked may no longer apply to the “new normal” way of conducting business. As companies invite employees back to work, new policies will need to go into effect to keep workers safe. Be clear with your expectations and set boundaries of how flexible your organization is in your policies, and they will serve as a guide during this transition.

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