Like many of my clients, continuing business operations or reopening for business during the pandemic has had its’ challenges. While working with them to plan for their reopening, I have stressed the need to dust off and update their employment policies and disaster plan to account for the new coronavirus world we now live in. Here are some of the key policies we worked on, and if you haven’t done so already, you may want to consider.
Sick Leave, PTO
The most important and apparent policies have to do with sick leave and paid time off. With the new federal and state laws passed in response to COVID-19, many employers are now required under certain situations to provide paid sick leave for employees. For example, those who have the virus have been told to self-quarantine, the need to care for an infected individual or for children whose school or daycare is closed.
Policies need to be consistent with the law and with the new paid leave laws passed by states. For example, New York requires some employers to provide at least five days of job-protected paid sick leave to employees who need to take leave because they are under a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19.
It’s also not a bad idea to revise the sick leave policy to set clear expectations regarding employees who think they may have COVID-19 or another contagious illness such as the flu. They should know not to come to work if they feel they may have coronavirus and if they don’t, will they be paid.
What About Other Leave
You may also want to consider other employee leave policies, including vacation policies or personal time.
Under normal circumstances, summer vacations, trips to the beach, and Labor Day festivities would be right around the corner. Even with the uncertainty about what the coming weeks and months will bring, you might consider at least having policies requiring employees to notify you if they are traveling internationally or even domestically to certain areas. You may also consider advising employees that they may be asked to self-quarantine if they choose to travel, and in some cases, they may not qualify for salary continuation.
If you haven’t created a telework policy, you’ll want to create one now! With COVID-19, employers have learned that in some situations, some employees have the ability to work from home. Current government guidelines suggest and encourage employers to implement teleworking, but what will happen once governmental restrictions are lifted?
Setting clear expectations, accountabilities, and managing hourly employees working, unauthorized overtime needs to be built into your policy. If you are going to monitor employee laptops for productivity, you may need to provide notice to employees.
Business Interruption Plans
For many employers, having business interruption plans in place was not even on their radar. COVID-19 was a wakeup call to create strategies to address how to respond if local, state, or federal officials declare another state of emergency or if an outbreak occurs in their place of business.
Plans need to take into account your specific situation and what work can be done remotely, or how your place of business will be cleaned if employees are diagnosed with the virus. If you have not considered cross-training, this is the time rethink who and how core responsibilities will be reallocated if key personnel become sick.
Another good idea is to designate individuals as points of contact so employees can contact them for information. Keep in mind that having a plan is essential, but not being able to follow through with it can be destructive. For example, having a plan in place to test all employees for the virus but not having the test kits isn’t helpful.
While dependent on your particular business and situation, adding or revising policies may help reduce the risk of a workplace outbreak. While there are too many to list here, if you have not already, you may want to think about the following:
- Employee travel;
- Office visitors (especially nonessential and non-business purpose visitors);
- Access to certain areas that are or now should be designated for employees (or essential employees) only;
- Employees coming and going from the premises during the day (such as at lunch and on breaks);
- Employees visiting other areas of the workplace; and
- Employees receiving personal mail or packages at work;
- Telecommuting policies.
Like many of my clients, the focus is trying to return to the “new normal.” Day to day operations and returning to profitability is vital. But putting off updating policies and revising or, in some cases creating a business interruption plan would be ill-advised. To quote Benjamin Franklin, “failing to plan is planning to fail.”