Pandemic Instigated Upgrades to HR Practices

Shawnee Love   •   May 1, 2020

6 short weeks ago, many clients were too busy to worry about their employment practices.  As I mentioned in the blog Time to Invest, the slowdown from COVID offers us an opportunity to improve our policies and practices.  Specific opportunities to improve policies and procedures which have become evident in the HR/ people management world include protocols on:

  1. Handwashing (like those commonplace in the food and beverage preparation and service world), respiratory hygiene (i.e., reminders to cough or sneeze into your elbow), and what to do if you are sick (stay home!!!).
  2. Worksite cleaning. While we often advise our employees of expectations around cleaning up after themselves in the kitchen, identifying when and how the workplace is cleaned and the steps taken to protect staff and customers has become important and might as well be clarified in your employee handbook or orientation program.
  3. Disclosure of communicable diseases (and again staying home if you have one until contagion has passed and it is safe to return to work). Food preparation organizations often have these types of policies in place already and we can learn from their experiences.
  4. Attendance and absences. Through this pandemic, there has been a lot of confusion about who to call, when, and what constitutes a good reason for what category of absence, e.g., illness or injury, care of another, other, etc. One concerning consequence of this pandemic is that some employees are simply refusing to come to work. Not because they don’t feel safe or they need to care for another, but because the subsidy they receive is enough to make working not worth it.  Bless their hearts for their honesty, but I have heard this enough times from enough clients to know it is disappointingly widespread. Beyond encouraging you to take good notes on the dates, times and what the employee said when refusing work, I don’t have any other advice regarding those employees’ choices. I suspect they will have to account for their decision at some point, but I recommend granting them grace and focusing your energy on the people who are coming to work.  Beyond the hazard pay offered to those on the front lines, we have seen employers offering temporary premium pay and loyalty bonuses for those coming to work as well as other perks like lunches.  The teambuilding that occurs when a group of people pulls together to overcome this kind of challenge is invaluable.  Stay focused on those who want to be there.
  5. Health & Safety: Smaller organizations (particularly office settings) may not have worried too much about having a health and safety program, and never thought about the right to refuse unsafe work before or how to help a colleague in mental distress. This pandemic reminds us that all employees need to be advised of their rights and responsibilities around health and safety and where to go to get help.
  6. Crisis/ Emergency Management: It is an opportune time to document a step-by-step process of what to do in emergencies as well as clarification on critical roles and responsibilities.  Document what you just did and add that to the handbook.

Beyond policies and procedures, other people practices to review are:

  • Offer Letters: Organizations may wish to create and/or revise their offer letters to include temporary lay off.  Although the unprecedented nature of this pandemic has caused many lawyers and governments to take the stance that suing an employer doing layoffs is not in the best interests of anyone, a simple tweak to your letter could avoid confusion in the future.
  • Benefits: This pandemic has caused business leaders to look at their benefits and how they are serving their people.  Employee Family Assistance Plans are proving their value.  (If you have them already, now is a good time to remind your employees on how to use them.)  Additionally, sick benefits are top of mind.  That is because the lack thereof results in sick people coming to work because they can’t afford to miss a day. The issue is complex because it ties into paying living wages and also personal financial decision making on the part of the individual.  At the same time, I have seen flu rip through employers’ facilities many times in years past, and I have experienced the situation where only ¼ of my kid’s class were in school for most of a week, because ¾ of kids had the flu, so I know how easily a sick person can infect a group.

As a small business owner, I struggle with this issue too. I sternly remind my team members to stay home when sick and rest up to get well, i.e., don’t just work while sick from home. I’d like to think I pay fairly so people can afford to take a day off, but I don’t have sick pay for my staff or myself.  It’s always been a trade off and I have opted for higher wages over sick pay.  Knowing human nature is to avoid losing money, perhaps it is time to offer paid sick time.   5 days paid sick per year is equivalent to a 2% raise, so perhaps there’s an opportunity to offer paid sick time or a raise and give people a choice?

There is no better time than now to implement these upgrades to your HR practices.  We remain as always, here to help.