Six Ongoing Employment Issues Shaped by COVID-19
by Gabriel Pinilla, Cotney Attorneys & Consultants
(Editor’s Note: Gabriel Pinilla is the managing partner of Cotney Attorneys and Consultants’ Denver, Colorado, office. He is a seasoned, results-oriented business and construction law and litigation attorney. Pinilla’s practice encompasses state and federal court litigation from pre-trial through the appeals process, as well as serving clients with negotiation and transactional needs. For more information, go to www.cotneycl.com.)
We can recognize so many new personal habits that originated with COVID-19, such as wearing masks, keeping our distance, and washing our hands every chance we get. These habits may be here to stay, and the same can be said for specific employment trends.
Remote & Adjusted Work Environments
While some workers set up a home office and adjusted to Zoom meetings during the pandemic, others struggled with issues such as juggling work with childcare. Some were more productive than ever, while others felt isolated and unfocused. While some employees will continue to work remotely, another group will split time between an office and home, which brings a host of questions. Will you choose to reduce the salaries for employees who opt to work from less expensive geographical regions? Are you ready to adjust your workers’ income tax withholding for various states?
The focus on employee safety will likely remain in the workplace for the foreseeable future, and you will need to consider several issues. Should you reconfigure your office space? Are your workspaces cleaned regularly? Are you following all OSHA guidelines? If you require onsite screening for your hourly employees, are you allowing them to clock-in before they wait in line? Is your policy regarding sick leave updated and fair for all your workers?
During times of economic crises, many employees are laid off and lose their jobs, as well as their benefits. During a furlough, however, employees are not paid, but they keep their benefits. This allows companies to lower payroll costs but retain employees until their financial situation improves. If you utilized the furlough, you likely encountered some confusion. For instance, does employees’ time during a furlough still qualify as service for the pension plan? If they go on short-term or long-term disability during a furlough, how are they compensated? The answers to these questions may undoubtedly vary, depending on your individual plans. Also, you probably discovered that it is critical to coordinate furloughed employees’ medical benefits with your insurance provider.
Flexible Hiring & Other HR Processes
Conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic have necessitated a different strategy for recruiting and hiring. In-person job fairs have not been practical, and even in-person interviews have been rare in many industries. Instead, human resources managers have become adept at virtual recruiting via phone calls and video meetings. They have set up video interviews with supervisors and other key colleagues. They have learned how to onboard employees virtually by utilizing electronic document signing, virtual training, and more.
Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion
All industries have been affected in some way as employees and community members have pushed for fairness in the workplace. For many new employees, an evident company commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is essential. HR managers will need to guide company leadership in treating this initiative with importance. They will also be responsible for ensuring that all employees are treated equitably and given the opportunity for professional development.
Political Engagement & Free Speech
Given the social protests of 2020 and the contentious reactions to the presidential election results, many employees have taken to the streets and social media to voice their opinions. That passion may have also found its way into your offices and onto your worksites. While respectful discussions about social issues can be harmless, and even healthy, more heated and angry debates can disrupt the workplace. Be sure that you have a policy about these matters and ensure it is stated clearly in your employee manual. Private companies have more leeway regarding free speech than public ones do, but all companies have the right to preserve their reputations. In addition, they have an obligation to protect employees from hate speech and discrimination.
It is hard to predict what other changes we will see as 2021 progresses, but managing employees will likely continue to present challenges. However, rather than being frustrated by these changes, you can benefit from seeing them as opportunities to fine-tune your policies and to safeguard your employees’ well-being. That well-being involves providing them with a secure place to work, offering them accommodations based on their individual situations, keeping them healthy, and respecting their differences.