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COVID-19 and HR Policies

hr policies covid19

HR is presented with an invaluable opportunity in this coronavirus crisis to take advantage of their people policies to keep employees engaged, safe and content.

HR can create innovative approaches to building resilience through increased communication channels and by creating new work-life policies. Here are six methods of doing just that.

1. Health and Safety Policy

As HR leaders revisit existing policies, they will likely consider new methods of communicating with employees. Many companies responded to the pandemic by providing critical information to employees such as updated safety protocols, hygiene practices, emergency numbers and quarantining and isolating guidelines – among other critical information that they provided them.

Organizations need to adopt new health and safety policies in order to keep workers safe. These may include setting social distancing guidelines, implementing cleaning and sanitizing protocols, or mandating face masks or personal protective equipment use in the workplace. Once in place, organizations should communicate these protocols clearly to employees before monitoring compliance closely for noncompliance – any violations should result in verbal warnings, suspension or even termination from employment if applicable.

HR departments should establish reporting procedures for employees when they notice any violations to safety protocols, so they can promptly alert management and get any concerns addressed quickly.

HR should create a remote work policy to outline expectations for remote workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and cover any injuries sustained while performing their duties through workers’ compensation plans. This will ensure all workers are safeguarded during this challenging period and should be regularly reviewed to reflect changes to local or national guidelines as well as any alterations within the company that affect safety measures.

2. Social Distancing Policy

COVID-19 has required HR professionals to develop measures of resilience for both employees and organizations alike. Remote working policies, infection control protocols, and an increased focus on work-life balance have all become central parts of HR practices in response to the pandemic.

Social distancing guidelines are an integral component of fighting COVID-19’s spread in an organization. HR leaders should define specific protocols suited to their company’s industry and physical workspace layout that include maintaining at least six feet between individuals, installing barriers or partition systems to block off areas, and setting capacity limits in common spaces. Furthermore, communicating these rules to employees will help ensure compliance.

Maintaining these standards requires companies to implement regular cleaning and sanitization regimens. This may mean restricting access to specific areas at one time or instituting staggered shifts, as well as altering how break periods are scheduled and whether meal breaks are paid or unpaid.

HR leaders must also recognize the stress and anxiety many employees may be feeling during this transition period, and provide necessary mental health resources. By being present for their employees while showing compassion for the current situation, this will show empathy while offering much-needed support.

3. Return to Work Policy

HR teams have demonstrated their abilities to adapt in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. HR has an active voice at the table and their abilities in leading and operating during times of crisis will likely determine organizational survival. Now is the time for HR to leverage what they’ve learned to implement people policies and practices that transform how we work — from workplace safety measures such as remote working to system reimagining to employee engagement as well as diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I).

Once state and local stay-at-home orders expire and businesses begin opening physical locations, it’s essential that they establish the when, where, and how employees will operate. This should include setting social distancing guidelines (including seating distances of 6 feet), cleaning procedures guidelines, as well as mandating employees wear personal protective equipment.

Employers may need to create and distribute a health and safety policy for returning staff. This document should outline everything from expectations for all employees to mandatory medical screenings, screening protocols for COVID-19 symptoms as well as responses in case any of their workers exhibit them.

Additionally, this policy must contain guidelines on how to handle travel from high risk areas; this may require written health care provider releases and/or quarantine periods. Likewise, it should detail an effective process for resuming work if an employee tests positive for COVID-19 (including return-to-work guidelines and communication channels).

4. Vaccine Policy

As well as following the CDC and FDA guidelines, federal employment nondiscrimination laws also can have an effect on an employer’s vaccine policy. Under these laws, an employer’s vaccination requirements generally cannot discriminate based on employees’ disability (under ADA), race/color, religion, national origin, sex (including pregnancy sexual orientation and gender identity) or age (under Title VII), except where there is a valid nondiscriminatory reason to do so.

Employers need to conduct an individualized assessment in order to ascertain whether an employee who has not been immunized poses an immediate threat by evaluating his or her current ability to safely perform essential job functions. Consideration should be given to factors like severity and duration of threats and individual job duties posed by individuals who could pose threats. If an assessment demonstrates that employees pose direct threats, reasonable accommodations should be explored as soon as possible. These could include permitting an employee to wear a mask, work on staggered shifts, modify workspaces or processes (for instance by improving ventilation systems), permitting telework or assigning them a different position within the organization.

Employers that offer voluntary vaccination programs do not fall under ADA restrictions when asking pre-vaccination screening questions; however, any questions must still be job related and consistent with business necessity while any medical information collected by an employer must remain strictly confidential.

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