As COVID cases surge and the pandemic wears on, the best protection a workplace can acquire for itself and its workers is an updated employee handbook. To keep up with the latest HR updates that are just related to the pandemic, HR departments can create a COVID addendum. This section can be especially helpful if it’s prefaced with language that makes it only applicable for the pandemic. Afterwards, any temporary leave policy for employees, telecommuting policy, special safety policies, etc. can be voided. This language could include phrases like “until further notice” or “until the pandemic state of emergency is declared over.” Below are the major employee policies that should be created and added to a COVID addendum for an employee manual.
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 provisions for how work will get done, evaluated, and shared in a remote environment. When things are left undefined, workers and supervisors may make assumptions, expectations may go unmet, and serious miscommunications could occur. Best HR practices dictate that a telecommuting policy will describe what tools should be used for work, how work can be delivered, and what tools coworkers and managers will use for collaboration, communication, and meetings.
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. (This 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, as well as how they will request overtime and time off. This part is particularly imperative if a business has nonexempt workers. They must ensure they are paying workers for all time worked, so this policy will prevent the employer from racking up payrolls they weren’t expecting.
Safety and hygiene protocols:
These employee policies can 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 can detail the procedure 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. How will other employees and managers who were in close proximity be notified, will the workplace be shut down, and what sanitization procedures will be used before it can reopen.
There should be a section of the policy requiring social distancing, frequent hand washing and sanitizing, and mask wearing. Some employers might choose to define how a mask must be worn (fitted snugly to the face, covering both nose and mouth, and washed after every use). If the nature of the business requires extra safety procedures during the pandemic, this is a good place to detail them out. For instance, if workers need to interact with customers, what precautions will they take for their own safety and that of the customer?
Lastly, this safety and hygiene section can define requirements for safety outside of the workplace if employees are not remote. Their actions outside the workplace will affect their customers, coworkers, and managers if they’re not careful and are exposed to COVID. Generally, this kind of policy should cover the guidelines suggested by the CDC, as well as state and local health departments, with updates as necessary.
Employers can create policies for both business and personal travel in their COVID addendum to their employee handbook. The personal travel part will be especially helpful if employees are coming into the workplace on a regular basis. As mentioned above, if staff are coming into the workplace, this means their actions will have an impact on customers, coworkers, and managers. Many workplaces are requiring their staff to report all travel done out-of-state. The policy should discuss how employees will report their travel and if they must quarantine after coming back from certain areas. It should also discuss whether this quarantine time will be paid or unpaid. It should also discuss whether the employees will be required to use accrued time off, or if they are eligible for leave under the FFCRA.
For business travel, the policy can distinguish necessary and unnecessary trips. It can also lay out expectations for how an employee will behave, including following all relevant CDC, as well as state and local guidelines. Lastly, a business travel policy for the pandemic can flatly prohibit any business travel for the duration of the pandemic.
This section should list out all the available policies that workers can choose from should they need them. It can include the usual PTO policies and sick time, or these may be amended for the current circumstances. For instance, employees may be temporarily allowed to use up sick and PTO time before it is accrued if they’re dealing with illness, a family illness, or a lack of childcare. This section should also list out the various FFCRA leave options and how they apply. It should detail who an employee will need to notify if they must take FFCRA leave, what they need to apply for it, and what next steps should include (for instance, keeping in touch with a manager about plans for returning to work).
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