Now that we are almost a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, companies are no longer in emergency triage mode, and are trying to make plans for operations that fit with the “new normal,” including social distancing, reduced capacity, sanitation, and personal protective equipment (PPE). With passing time, we are able to reflect on the practices that helped companies survive, thrive, or disappear.
During the Great Recession, recruitment was affected by the fact that many companies were not in the position to hire workers, leading to high levels of unemployment. Now, in contrast, for companies that survived extensive shutdowns and are continuing operations, their ability to recruit and retain talent is often affected by employees’ fear of returning to the workplace, or preference for continuing to collect unemployment insurance.
In March 2020, companies were forced overnight to make immediate decisions about how appropriately convert their workplaces to remote or “COVID-safe” environments. Evolving research and constantly changing public safety regulations led to confusion and increased costs, as companies tried to adapt to the ever-changing landscape.
Despite deep layoffs and furloughs at many companies at the beginning of the pandemic in March, and again around the fall of 2020, firms are hiring again, albeit slowly, and in fits and starts.
The following impressions stem from conversations with hiring managers about how they converted their staff to work remotely, and how they are currently handling COVID-19 health and safety issues. For companies whose staff are working on-site, they have an increased responsibility to employees and customers to meet OSHA, labor, and national/state/local health and safety requirements. Failure to meet this responsibility may cause staff to leave their jobs, or even prevent employees from joining the company if it is not able to convey that employee safety is a priority.
I. Too Close for Comfort:
Workforce reductions in March and again in October/November 2020 served two purposes: (1) financial, given shutdowns and lost clientele, and (2) necessity based upon social distancing requirements—employers in most industries (including pharmacies, restaurants, law firms, and manufacturing, for example), could no longer safely have the same number of employees in close quarters. If employees feel uncomfortable and unsafe working together in close quarters, or resentful that they are working onsite while other employees are working remotely, this can lead employees to start looking for a job elsewhere. In addition, if employees feel their concerns about COVID exposure are not met, this may lead them to start sending out their resume.
- In order to keep a pulse on your workforce, designate safety captains, and check in with your staff monthly to see how they are responding to the new worksite/remote working conditions;
- Create written COVID-19 protocols, and update them periodically to change according to government mandates;
- Space employees’ work stations so that they are at least 6 feet apart (you may need to use additional areas in your work space to enable this option);
- Enable employees to clock in and out from their cell phones so that they do not have to crowd around a time clock (also reducing the number of surfaces they must touch);
- Make an OSHA COVID-19 Prevention Plan;
- Require employees to wear masks while traveling through the workspace, and at all times if they are stationed close to other employees;
- Install large Plexiglas walls around workstations to protect employees from virus exposure by other employees and customers;
- Space work stations apart by 10-20 feet or more (if possible);
- Hire industrial cleaning crews to clean the workplace nightly;
- Create one-way paths within the workspace to maintain social distancing; and
- Keep sanitizing wipes, sprays, masks, and PPE easily available
II. Working Remotely:
Even though it may seem as though many companies are working remotely, a large number are continuing to have employees on-site, either full-time, or in shifts to keep employees socially distanced. It’s best to create policies that reflect business necessity, allow for changes due to evolving circumstances, and reflect the professional nature of the arrangement.
- Create a Telecommuting Policy that discusses communication frequency and methods, equipment loans/requirements, expense reimbursement, and injuries at home within the scope of employment; and
- Create a Return-to-Work Policy that outlines physical changes in the office, requirements for PPE use and sanitation, and work station flow.
III. Equipment and Software:
Companies with a remote work force need to consider which equipment to provide to staff to help them get their work done, which may include laptops, webcams, phones, printer/scanners, supplies, and even desks or chairs. In California, employees must be reimbursed for “all necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee in direct consequence of the discharge of his or her duties,” for mandatory business purposes. This can include Internet and phone data plans (for more info on employee reimbursements, see Telecommuting Employees May Be Reimbursed for Phone and Internet Use During Covid-19; Other Work-from-Home Recommendations)
Companies should also consider which software will best help the team stay engaged, whether it’s through video chat, chat features, phone calls, email, or text. For more info on the best options available, see The Best Apps and Software for Managing Remote Teams.
IV. Waivers, Testing, and Vaccination Requirements:
By now, you may have had to sign a waiver before receiving personal services from hair stylists, massage therapists, realtors, medical practitioners, and other service professionals. Some companies, such as airlines, now require a negative COVID-19 test before entering the United States from another country (per CDC requirements). The act of signing a waiver may force people to think twice before exposing others to COVID if they have symptoms or may recently have been exposed to the virus. In the employment context, especially if employees will come in close contact with customers, it may be a requirement that employees are tested periodically and certify that they do not have any symptoms/exposure.
Requiring the COVID-19 vaccine can be tricky and potentially cause liability exposure for a company, as the vaccine may not actually be distributed equally among staff due to their objections (based on religious beliefs or medical conditions), potential legal claims related to medical inquiries, and impediments to actually receiving the vaccine (as of this writing, only certain groups of the population are eligible for the vaccine). Check with the CDC, EEOC, and legal counsel before proceeding with a vaccine requirement, or consider just making the vaccine “recommended.”
V. Training New Employees:
Set expectations for how soon an employee must respond to an email, what will happen if a deadline is missed, how to handle child care when children cannot go to school in person, how to track time, and how to communicate with teams.
- Prepare a policy and procedures manual for both on-site and remote teams (especially if you are using a hybrid model);
- Conduct leadership and anti-harassment training over Zoom (California requires companies with 5+ employees to provide training every two years, and for supervisors within six months of hire or promotion). More than half US states require anti-harassment and discrimination training; and
- Provide state and federal labor posters electronically for staff that are no in the office.
VII. Exposure Disclosure/Communication:
Make a plan for advising staff of potential exposures within the workplace (keeping employee privacy issues in mind). Advise employees to stay home if they are sick—often employees work though illness to keep their job and their pay, only to infect the workplace and threaten the health of others. COVID-19 scares affect morale, cost the company money, and can lead to staff attrition.
Utilize Paid Sick Leave, and optional FFCRA, to encourage employees to stay at home until it is safe for them to return to the workplace. Consider IRS employee tax credits as well to cover these additional costs.
By being transparent with staff, putting safety procedures in place, and keeping communication lines open, it can lead to greater trust among employees, and a better work experience, especially in a time where just leaving the house can be an anxiety-producing experience.
Do you need help with hiring, diversity and inclusion?
HERS Advisors is a women-owned, mission-driven, diversity and inclusion recruitment and consulting firm with a goal to move the needle of diversity, equity, belonging, inclusion, and accessibility, via proactive sourcing and recruitment of skilled professionals in the Legal, Healthcare Information Technology (HIT), and Healthcare and Information Technology (IT/IS) sectors.
Deirdre Hudson is a multiple Award-winning, 20+ year Sr. Global Talent Acquisition and Business Development Account Executive, Leadership Recruiter, and Career Coach with 20+ years’ management, workforce planning, organizational development, diversity and inclusion, and executive recruiting expertise in professional service industries. She is a Career Coach to executives, early career professionals, and international student graduates/post-grads of prestigious universities. In addition, she is the winner of multiple international organizational awards for production, strategy and leadership.
If you are interested in filling or applying for a new job opportunity, or learning more about legal workplace trends, contact Deirdre Hudson at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (310) 709-9619.
DO YOU NEED HELP DRAFTING WORKPLACE POLICIES AND CREATING COVID-19 PROCEDURES?
The Grady Firm attorneys provide the following employment law services:
- Assistance with interpreting emergency COVID-19 legislation as it affects your business;
- Counsel employers on staff changes and draft Notices of Reduced Hours, Furloughs, or Layoffs;
- Draft Severance Agreements;
- Act as I-9 agent and I-9 audit preparation or defense;
- Employee v. independent contractor classification analysis;
- Assistance with converting independent contractors to employees;
- On-site, classroom-style Sexual Harassment training for employees and supervisors;
- “Experiential” supervisor training in which managerial employees practice processing a harassment complaint and commencing an investigation in pairs with other trainees.
- Draft and review Employee Handbooks, arbitration agreements, and Anti-Harassment policies;
- Employee personnel file audits;
- Litigation/labor claim defense.
To learn more about ensuring your business is compliant with state and local laws, schedule a complimentary 15-minute consultation with The Grady Firm’s attorneys; call +1 (949) 798-6298; or fill out a Contact Request Form.