Employee Handbooks: Key Components to a COVID Addendum
Table of Contents
- Employee Resources
- Telecommuting and Scheduling During the Pandemic
- Flexible Work Schedule
- Safety and Hygiene Protocols
- Personal Travel
- Business Travel
- Leave Policies
- Employee Acknowledgement
As COVID cases surge and the pandemic wears on, the best protection a workplace can provide for itself and its workers is an up-to-date, and detailed employee handbook. To keep up with the latest HR updates pertaining specifically to the pandemic, employers should create a COVID addendum for their employee handbook. This section can be especially helpful if it’s prefaced with language that makes it only applicable for the pandemic. Post-pandemic, any temporary leave policy for employees, telecommuting policy, special safety policies, etc. can be voided. Include phrases like “until further notice” or “until the pandemic state of emergency is declared over.” Here is an overview of the main employee policies that should be created and added to a COVID addendum for an employee manual.
A good place to start is by indicating where an employee can go for more information or questions about COVID procedures. This will help establish trust and camaraderie between management and workers in the common goal of facing the pandemic. Here is an example:
[COMPANY NAME]’s top priority is the health and safety of its employees. If you have questions or concerns about any of the policies in this COVID addendum, or how [COMPANY NAME] is handling any other topics related to the pandemic, please reach out to the HR department. If HR is not immediately available, please share urgent questions or concerns with your manager.
Particularly if workers are coming into the workplace on a regular basis, it can be helpful to encourage employees to use the safest commuting methods possible. Encourage staff to avoid public transportation when possible, or to avoid using public transportation during heavy rush hours. If employees must use public transportation, require them to use masks and wash their hands immediately up entering the office. If employees live relatively close to the office, an employer might consider offering a shuttle or carpool service to help them avoid public transportation for the duration of the pandemic.
Telecommuting and Scheduling During the Pandemic
Particularly if an employer hasn’t allowed much remote work before, this section will help workers continue to perform well together. An employee handbook should lay out expectations for how work will get done, evaluated, and shared in a remote environment. When things like this are left undefined, workers and supervisors may make assumptions, responsibilities may go unmet, and serious miscommunications could occur. Best HR practices dictate that a telecommuting policy will detail:
- What tools should be used for work.
- How work can be delivered.
- How important documents will be saved and stored, including naming conventions, folder systems, and shared drives.
- What tools coworkers and managers will use for collaboration, communication, and meetings.
- Expectations for availability and how responsive workers will need to be.
Flexible Work Schedule
Alongside a telework policy, a flexible work schedule policy should also be created. This policy should identify who is eligible for a flexible schedule and who is not. (Creating this policy can help avoid concerns about discrimination.) If employees are working remotely, it will be important to set expectations of core hours or when they are available. The policy should also determine how employees will request overtime and time off. This part is imperative if a business has nonexempt workers. Employers are responsible for paying non-exempt workers for all time worked, so this policy will prevent the employer from racking up expensive payrolls they weren’t expecting.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting intersection of regulations at both the state and federal level have left employers with some unique dilemmas. All of a sudden, one week of vacation can sometimes turn into an employee being out with pay for close to a month! It is imperative that employers take the time to examine their policies and amend as needed to avoid unnecessary disruptions to their operations.“Paul Carelis, PHR, SHRM-CP VP of HR & Client Services
Safety and Hygiene Protocols
These employee policies should be specified for COVID safety, as well as the workplace. To start, they should include a provision about sick time and encouraging workers to stay home and/or work from home when they are sick.
A COVID addendum for an employee handbook should detail procedures that must be followed if a worker finds out they were in close contact with somebody who has COVID or is likely to have it. There should also be a section of the policy that outlines the procedure if an employee tests positive for COVID. It should discuss how other employees and managers who were in close proximity will be notified, whether and how the workplace will be shut down, and what sanitization procedures will be used before it reopens.
A section of the policy should be dedicated to practices such as frequent hand washing, cleaning, and sanitizing, as well as mask wearing. It can be helpful to define how a mask must be worn and used. Here are some pertinent bullets to include:
- Ensure your mask completely covers your nose and mouth.
- Hands must be washed before and after removing masks.
- Avoid touching your face when you adjust it during the day.
- Masks should be washed daily, or more often if contamination occurs.
- Masks should never be shared.
- Masks must be kept away from machinery that can get caught in.
- Disposable masks should not be reused and must be thrown away.
- Do not leave masks on any surfaces where they may become contaminated.
- Masks should not be used if they are damaged or have holes.