The novel coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19, is putting a strain not only on workforces, but also on executive leaders and HR departments. The paid leave and absentee policies in place at many organizations were not designed to address this type of situation, and adjustments may be necessary to ensure the safety of employees as well as the continuity of business operations.
Here are some helpful tips for HR managers during this pandemic.
Understand the Virus
This virus can be spread by touch and when droplets are released when someone breathes or sneezes. Infected individuals may carry the virus without symptoms for up to 14 days, but they can still infect others during this period.
Common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Aches and pains
Anyone with difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in their chest, confusion, an inability to be roused, or blueness in their lips or face are exhibiting emergency signs and need medical attention immediately.
Allow Employees to Work from Home Whenever Possible
Allow employees to work from home whenever possible. If you don’t currently have a telework policy, this is a good time to draft one.
You may need to make new investments in conferencing technologies to accomplish this. However, Google, Microsoft, and other companies do offer free tools or free versions of their paid programs for conferencing, document storage, and collaboration:
- Google Drive (document storage and collaboration)
- Skype (chat and video conferencing)
- Zoom (chat and video conferencing)
- Basecamp (project management and collaboration)
- Clockify (time tracking)
If employees must come on-premise to do their work, take precautions to keep the workplace clean and sanitary. The CDC recommends doing the following:
- Stop handshaking
- Schedule regular handwashing
- Avoid touching your face
- Cover coughs and sneezes
- Disinfect surfaces like doorknobs, tables, desks, and handrails regularly
- Limit food sharing
- Tell employees to stay home if they are feeling sick or have a sick household member
Provide Regular Communications and Updates
In addition to executive leaders, employees will be turning to the HR department for guidance during this time. Provide regular communications about the company’s policies so there is no confusion among staff.
Regular communications can come in many forms. Some companies use mass emails, but you can also use SMS and other text services. It may be practical to create an informal space where employees can speak to each other, share their concerns, and ask questions.
Review Your Sick Leave and Paid Time Off Policies
You may need to make special accommodations for employees who become ill or need to take care of a sick family member. You should review your current sick leave and paid time off policies.
Update your policies based on state and federal regulations, including any new legislation being passed because of the pandemic. Be as generous with your policies as possible, especially with employees who fall ill.
The Society for Human Resource Management also recommends HR departments put a communicable disease policy in place if they don’t already have one. This includes creating an outbreak response plan.
To help, the CDC has presented interim guidance for when employers should encourage their employees to stay and how they can develop an outbreak response plan.
Stop or Delay Company Travel Arrangements and Events
If you have any events or company travel arrangements on the books, it’s best to either postpone or cancel them. Many states have already placed bans on large gatherings of people, and corporate events and conferences have been responsible for spreading the virus to new populations.
If employees must travel, ensure they take regular precautions while out in public. They should wash and sanitize their hands regularly, avoid coming into close contact with others, and use protective equipment, if possible.
Health and Safety are Always the Best Policy
Businesses should expect some level of disruption from the coronavirus. But even if you aren’t operating at full capacity, it is still essential that your employees get the time they need to stay well.
This isn’t just the right thing to do for your employees, it can also lead to quantifiable benefits down the road. Employees who feel looked after by their employers are less likely to leave voluntarily, and providing employees with the resources they need to stay well can reduce long-term healthcare costs.
Stay safe and take care of each other.
Our COVID-19 resource page is always updated with the latest information.
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