Issues directly and indirectly caused by the COVID-19 pandemic made many aspects of running a business and managing employees significantly more complicated. Nearly three months after COVID-19 essentially shut down our country, these factors remain vital concerns for HR professionals, company leaders and staff.
Due to the various new regulations that must be quickly learned and properly implemented in COVID-19’s wake – not to mention the ways that pandemic-related concerns affect how existing regulations are applied – HR risk management has become even more complicated. Carefully considering these issues, approaching them sensibly and using the right HR technology tools can help your organization continue to weather the storm even as the economy and work environment remain uncertain for the foreseeable future.
Assess the risks for your business
To develop your risk management plan, you will have to begin identifying risks your business specifically faces now and in the weeks, months and quarters to come. Using the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis method is wise, Forbes noted. Some of these, of course, are connected to hazards faced by the organization as a whole – with the health of staff being the most obvious of these – but it’s critical that you look at them as matters of human resource management. Let’s take a look:
Health: According to the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions (NAHPC), 90% of employers have begun to implement a phase-by-phase strategy for bringing employees back to conventional in-office operations (or plan to do so in the immediate future).
From an HR perspective, this is entirely reasonable and sensible, so long as it’s done in accordance with all applicable federal, state and local laws. Compliance with such laws may mean supplying all in-office staff with personal protective equipment, setting up additional hand-sanitizing or -washing stations, requiring at least six feet of distance between each employee, having alternate shifts and capping the number of staff in an office at any given time. As a side note, the NAHPC survey indicates many companies plan to implement such measures regardless of any legal requirement. Covering all of these bases puts you in a good position to keep in line with pertinent laws while also addressing the central health risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in your company and mitigating the likelihood of such an incident.
Employee morale: Even if you were able to retain all employees, having them work from home with little or no reduction in salary, there’s no doubt that they went through plenty of stress while under quarantine, whether doctor-ordered, state-mandated or voluntary. Morale may be low to start, or at least below its pre-pandemic average. Being compassionate whenever possible is always the best move; pushing team members to “just work through it,” even in a time of high unemployment, increases the risk of employee turnover. Also, according to Human Resource Executive, it’s similarly unwise to make changes to benefits packages, unless adding new benefits services that can assist employees and their families through this difficult time.
Turnover risk increases greatly if you’ve brought back furloughed or laid-off employees. They likely appreciate having their jobs back, but they also now know how simple it was to eliminate them, however short-term. Such cases must be approached very delicately: You and your HR team must work with these employees to make them feel comfortable in the workplace again (physically or remotely) while also ensuring they remain key contributors to productivity.
Liability: During a webinar on the topic of post-pandemic returns to work, attorney Eric Meyer of FisherBroyles LLP predicted a significant jump in lawsuits against employers: Some may be allegations of workplace safety violations, while others may center around noncompliance with new post-COVID employment laws (which we’ll address in greater detail below). Liability will always be an HR risk management concern, but for the immediate future, you and your HR team should consider that risk highly elevated.
Understand new regulations
Not long after many businesses switched to remote operations or temporarily closed, various pieces of legislation emerged to address the economic impact of the pandemic. Two in particular must be closely followed to avoid creating unnecessary risk.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA): This act mandates two weeks of full paid leave for employees under quarantine or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms; leave equal to 2/3 pay for those caring for someone with COVID-19; and, up to 12 weeks leave at 2/3 pay for childcare (or 10 weeks at 2/3 after two weeks full-salary leave). It remains in effect until Dec. 31, 2020. Since businesses that must make FFCRA payouts will receive tax credits, there’s little reason to deny requests made under this act unless you can prove it’s being misused. And before heading down that path, remember that arguing over claims incorrectly is a good way to run into a lawsuit.
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP): If applying for a loan through this program, 75% of it must go to payroll. The PPP is under considerable scrutiny after businesses few would call “small,” ranging from Shake Shack to the Los Angeles Lakers, received loans under it. As such, if you’ve received the loan, it is critical to distribute PPP resources properly.
Additionally, it’s important to monitor how these laws overlap with existing regulations (i.e, ACA, OSHA, HIPAA, ADA) and make sure following one never puts you at risk of conflicting with another.
Adopt better HR risk management technology
Knowing and ensuring compliance with constantly changing regulations is a full-time job. To truly manage risk, it helps to have an arsenal of tools and expert resources. Comprehensive HR software that enables you to capture and report on key employee data throughout an employee’s entire lifecycle can help simplify compliance and reduce the risk of significant penalties associated with non-compliance.
But HR technology is not enough when it comes to compliance and risk management. You also need guidance from individuals whose primary focus is helping manage day-to-day people risks. For this reason, PeopleStrategy offers direct, single-sign-on access to the ThinkHR risk management platform through our solution, allowing you to instantly speak with experts via phone or chat and have all your compliance questions answered. Through partnerships like the one with ThinkHR, PeopleStrategy is able to provide a broader set of products and services to help small and medium-sized companies support their employees and their families.