HR 101: Managing Your Workplace During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Covid 19 workplace

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted businesses and workplaces across the entire world. During this time, it’s vital that employers know and understand how to manage their workplace while meeting compliance and keeping employees safe. As information continues to change, employers need to stay up-to-date with policies and regulations that will affect their workplaces and employees. Here are a few topics to consider while managing your workplace.

Implementations by State

While the federal government has issued four-phase guidance on how to begin the process of reopening the country, the government is allowing states to make their own decisions within the guidelines for returning to work. It’s vital that employers stay vigilant of federal mandates and adjust their guidelines as needed.

Since precautionary procedures can vary widely from state to state, employers who have company locations in different states will need to stay aware and help employees stay aware of these ever-changing restrictions, laws, and advisories that apply in their respective state. Cities and counties have implemented specific restrictions as well. These may include wearing face masks while in public places, curfews, closing non-essential businesses, etc. that differ from the state’s policies itself. Sending weekly COVID-19 update emails may be a good way to provide support.

Knowing If You’re an Essential Business

Which businesses are essential? Business functions such as supply chain providers, grocery stores, banks, first responders, gas stations, medical clinics, etc. have all continued to work or stay open during this time, while the majority of other non-essential businesses have closed their doors and allowed employees to work remotely if capable. Your state will dictate which business functions are essential while the federal government may mandate certain parts of supply chains must stay open, regardless of state regulations.

While the country is phasing into reopening, employers might want to consider what personnel is most essential and required to come back into the office and who can be phased back into the work environment later, if at all. A phased re-entry approach will help limit an increase in coronavirus cases and prevent a resurgence or second wave from happening across the globe.

Employers need to take note of the re-entry requirements for their state to plan for their employees to come back to work. Communication is key! Effective communication with your employees is a vital part of your company’s success during this time, especially if you have remote workers. Employees want and need as much up-to-date and informative guidance as possible during this time. Whether it be implementing new safety precautions while reopening, re-entry into the workplace, or updating remote workers, use consistent, clear, and concise communication to ensure employees that you are taking every new update into consideration.

Increased Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Employers can expect that this pandemic has affected some members of our communities in adverse ways. Employment screening for drug and alcohol abuse is even more important to maintain a safe working environment, regardless of the safety-sensitivity of a position.

  • The Centers for Disease Controls (CDC) states that “consensus is emerging among disaster researchers that psychological disorders and substance abuse increases in the aftermath of both man-made and natural disasters.”
  • Research shows that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression occur during times of extreme stress, leading to self-medicating and substance abuse following events such as those of 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina in the past.

The coronavirus has created an unprecedented situation, leading employers to wonder what their future holds as we begin to rebuild our workplaces. Although we are beginning to return to work, those anxieties and stresses won’t immediately disappear. Self-medicating practices that individuals turned to during this time won’t fade as easily either. As liquor stores have been deemed essential businesses in some states and recreational marijuana on the rise, self-medicating during the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders wasn’t necessarily difficult. That, coupled with the inability to access support functions for alcohol and drug abuse, has created a fertile environment for addiction issues. It’s important for employers to continue to implement drug and alcohol testing as they reopen to maintain safety in the workplace and the health of employees. Additionally, if your company or health insurance policies offer health and mental wellness programs or employee assistance programs, communications from the HR department should be sent to remind employees of their resources available to them.

Qualifying for Unemployment Benefits

Many businesses might have to face difficult decisions to cut hours and pay, furlough, or lay off employees during these hard times. It’s important for employers to understand an employee’s rights in this situation and what actions they will be able to take following a change in their employment with the company. Informing employees how and what they can do will assist them while they are out of work. Keep in mind that unemployment benefits vary by the unemployment situation and by state, which is especially important for employers who have locations and/or employees operating in multiple states.

In March, the President signed the Cares Act, which expands unemployment insurance benefits. Information regarding how these benefits can help them is easily available on government websites.

Maintain Precautions and Cleanliness

Even as coronavirus cases decrease, it’s essential to maintain a clean and safe working environment for those who will be returning back to work. Continuing these best practices will promote a safe and healthy working environment as the U.S. transitions back into their normal routines.

  • Consider allowing employees wearing a mask unless it otherwise interferes with their job requirements.
  • Employers should also encourage frequent hand washing, extra cleaning of shared spaces, such as breakrooms, bathrooms, and conference rooms, and keep hand sanitizer and cleaning products available for frequent use around the company building.
  • Employers should still be cautious of allowing unnecessary travel and encourage virtual meetings if applicable.
  • Employers should try to implement and maintain social distancing practices throughout the building.
  • Allow employees who are capable of working remotely to continue to work remotely, rather than bringing everyone back into the office at one time.

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About DISA Global Solutions

Founded in 1986, DISA is the industry-leading provider of employee screening and compliance services. Headquartered in Houston, with more than 35 offices throughout the U.S. and Canada, DISA’s comprehensive scope of services includes drug and alcohol testing, background check, occupational health, and transportation compliance. DISA assists employers in making informed staffing decisions while building a culture of safety in their workplace.

DISA Global Solutions aims to provide accurate and informative content for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The reader retains full responsibility for the use of the information contained herein. Always consult with a professional or legal expert.