Immediate Steps your Organization Can Take to Safeguard your Workforce during and Beyond COVID-19 Season
Is your organization clear on its people management approach to unplanned events, such as “Coronavirus” (COVID-19)? There are some key and immediate steps organizations can take to sustain a healthy workforce and workplace. Engaging your board, executive team, including talent management leadership, and essential staff in the planning process is critical.
Your human resources team can play a vital role in providing guidance, strategy and implementation support to your employees during periods of rapid change and uncertainty associated with COVID-19.
Here are five key areas that we encourage you to review to get your organization crisis-ready:
1. Partner with HR
If you haven’t done so already, partner with your HR leader and team members every step of the way – their knowledge and expertise are invaluable. By relying on their policy and practice implementation experience, together, you can develop compliant, clear and concise direction that your employees can follow. The speed with which COVID-19 is spreading across the nation and within locations where your employees are located will help inform when it is time to activate your crisis management plan.
2. Assess related HR, legal and compliance policy and practice
When considering health related crisis management planning, as an employer, you need to be aware of the numerous legal considerations including, but not limited to FLSA, FMLA, HIPAA, ADA, OSHA, – affecting your organization and those employees who may be impacted. As new cases continue to emerge each day, as a leader, you will need to be prepared, proactive and strategic about creating safe work environments and conditions for productivity. And to stay informed, the CDC continues to provide regular and important, fact-based updates on their website. Nonprofit HR shared this content last week.
Here are some steps you can immediately take:
- Examine your telework, overtime, and leave policies to ensure that they are flexible enough to accommodate the current environment caused by COVID-19
- Consider relaxing restrictive telework policies to allow working from home wherever possible
- Communicate with non-exempt staff (those eligible for overtime) about any changes to policy related to reporting work hours, and recommunicate how staff should communicate any absences from work due to their own illness or those of family members
- Be cautious about disciplining employees who, in their anxiety around this issue, fail to follow your policies to the letter. In other words, focus on conveying your concern for employee safety over adherence to process and policy during this time of uncertainty and high anxiety
- Take intentional steps to protect all employees from discrimination by recirculating any current anti-discrimination policies and intentionally remind supervisors of their responsibilities related to ensuring that you maintain a discrimination-free workplace
- Communicate regularly with remote staff about any emergency response plans to COVID-19; help to allay staff concerns by proactively sharing steps taken by your organization to keep the workforce safe
- Review and recommunicate your paid and unpaid leave policies to ensure everyone knows what benefits they are entitled to and how to access them.
- In times of crisis, Boards can expect to have a role that might shift from its normal course. There may be a need to be more involved in decision-making that has not otherwise been required. Crisis management requires review of board policies related to daily operations and policy making. Also, it is important that the entire board be consulted. See what boards should during a crisis
3. Minimize Risk of Infection in the Workplace
According to the CDC, some employees may have a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus based on existing conditions. Your organization’s workplace safety plan should include the purchasing of appropriate supplies and/or equipment needed to keep your employees safe.
Below are a few steps organizations are taking to minimize the possibility of person-to-person transmission (also known as “community spread”):
- Providing staff with hand-sanitizer (with 60% alcohol or more), posting signage to remind staff of smart hand washing practices
- Limiting large gatherings of staff not deemed as essential
- Addressing the safety steps which need to be taken if infection does occur
- Creating a workplace safety plan that includes a plan for cleaning and sanitization of common spaces and frequently touched surfaces such as copy equipment, doorknobs, elevator buttons, and countertops
- Remaining vigilant of persons who may COVID-19 symptoms or have had exposure to someone who is experiencing symptoms
Consult your organization’s general counsel along the way, and keep your board members informed of emerging challenges. You will also want to take appropriate steps to maintain workplace safety without violating the employee’s privacy as FMLA and HIPAA remain in effect. In all cases, appropriate employee communication and ensuring employees access to a safe work environment should remain your organization’s top priorities. The plan should be ready to be implemented and should provide steps such as: how is the plan initiated, who is responsible for implementation and communication and when and how the plan ends. It is very important to continue to utilize fact-based information and websites such as CDC and WHO for the most up to date information.
4. Revisit Your Talent Sustainability & Business Continuity Plans
In developing a plan for your organization (and potential effect on those impacted by your organization), it is important to identify the potential impact of the current health crisis; maximum downtime scenarios, and how the confluence of these elements might impact your organization and the communities you serve.
As you examine your talent sustainability and business continuity plans, consider your organization, its impact and services to the community, and how you will operate if business must continue differently for an extended period of time.
Remote work is also becoming an important part of initial strategies to address concerns around the virus. Consider recrafting and redistributing related policies as necessary to support employees who might be ill, have family members who become ill or who might have concerns about coming into the office. Organizations typically assess the following when determining whether or not they can sustain a virtual workforce during crisis:
- Ease of access to systems and equipment, needed to continue critical operations
- Willingness on the part of management to adapt and/or relax workplace policies to support remote work
- Impact or service planning if key employees and / or large segments of the workforce become infected and unable to meet the needs of those they traditionally serve
In addition to the timely information CDC has provided, WHO’s information can provide helpful strategies and responses for employees. When implementing a Crisis Management Plan, according to Attorney Bob Nichols, who counseled clients through the SARS and H1N1 crisis, there must be perspective and safeguard from overreaction. With that, a Crisis Management Plan for your organization should include impact to the individual or employee, impact to the organization and impact to the community. Any Crisis Management Plan should carefully and succinctly determine how each of these groups are impacted and how the harm can be minimized with the least amount of recovery time once the crisis ends.
5. Develop an Employee Communications Plan
It is very important to identify who will be the official point person for workplace/employee communication while navigating through this process. Workplace and stakeholder communications should be developed by both HR/Talent Management and Communications/Marketing, be centralized, and be succinct. In moments of crisis, employees often search for clear and easily understood direction.
Focusing on the following is key:
- How and when employees should report for work, if at all
- How they should report their time, when they can expect to be paid, and how they should respond to callers asking for information about your organization’s operations during this time of concern
- How to report concerns or issues of employees displaying symptoms of Coronavirus
- Providing crisis management team members with staff, vendor and partner contact information
- Reviewing and reminding staff of your social media and digital guidelines on what to share (and not share) outside of the organization, especially if cases of COVID-19 are discovered among your workforce or communities served
Employee-directed communication should also be ongoing and consistent in nature and should be shared across multiple channels including internal memos, emails, telephone trees, private, employee-only social media groups and pages and any organizational intranet, where one may exist. You can also leverage your relationship with your payroll provider and provide brief messages using their online platforms.
Keeping your employees’ health top of mind throughout a crisis is key, which should be at the core of all messaging. Lean on your Employee Assistance Program during this time. Here are some quick steps to reintroducing that benefits feature. See more steps, including quick tips on describing your EAP.
As workplace issues related to the Coronavirus emerge, proactively consider the legal, talent management and crisis management planning steps for your social impact organization. With effective planning and by working with your HR leader and talent management team, implementation can be monitored regularly, and any sense of panic and crisis can be averted or at least minimized. Ideally, there will be little to no actual crisis in your organization’s workplace; however, by preparing now, you will be ready to take the necessary action.
Download new town hall presentation template for your social impact organizations COVID-19 Staff Meetings!
- Your organization’s safety statement
- Information/resources/prevention tips about the issue
- Your COVID-19 team of early responders
- Office closure scenario planning
- Local, state and federal closures
- and, other topics