Steps for creating a coronavirus plan: Resources for HR leaders

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Coronavirus is changing how businesses fundamentally operate, at least temporarily. Whether you’ve already had to shutter your doors, are looking at imminent closure, or will remain open, there are measures you can take to ensure the health of your employees, the public AND your business. 

Here’s a look at the top strategic moves big and small businesses are taking as well as examples of implementation plans. Before we dive in, keep these CDC guidelines in mind as you develop your plan: 

  • Ensure the plan is flexible and involve your employees in developing and reviewing your plan.
  • Share your plan with employees and explain what human resources policies, workplace and leave flexibilities, and pay and benefits will be available to them.
  • Share best practices with other businesses in your communities (especially those in your supply chain), chambers of commerce, and associations to improve community response efforts.

1. Offer paid sick leave

Paid sick leave can help keep sick employees home, reducing the risk of contagion. It’s also becoming more and more important for employees who may need to stay at home with children as schools close. 

Does your business offer paid sick leave? Wonderful. Make sure your employees are well-informed on the policy and encourage workers to stay home if they show any symptoms of the virus (fever, cough or shortness of breath). Don’t offer it? Your business may soon be required under pending coronavirus legislation regulations. 

The coronavirus bill: What employers need to know about the new H.R. 6201 legislation

On Saturday, Mar. 14, the House of Representatives passed the bill  “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” and it’s expected to pass through the Senate early this week. The bill contains  several provisions that impact employers including requirements to pay for sick leave. 


Which companies does the bill affect?

The bill’s provisions are for small to mid-size companies only. This is defined as employers with fewer than 500 employees (although future legislation addressing larger companies may be forthcoming). Employers with less than 50 employees may apply for an exemption from the provisions. Qualifying employers will be offered a tax credit to help over costs. 


What are the paid sick leave requirements?

Here’s a breakdown of the requirements as laid out by the National Law Review:

  • Employers will be required to provide full-time employees 2 weeks (80 hours) of paid sick leave for specific circumstances related to COVID-19 (self-isolating, doctors’ visits, etc.).
  • Part-time employees are entitled to the number of hours of paid sick time equal to the number of hours they work, on average, over a 2-week period.
  • Employers must compensate employees for any paid sick time they take at their regular rates of pay.
  • Employers will be required to post a notice informing employees of their rights to leave.
  • As currently drafted, the bill expressly provides that it does not preempt existing state or local paid sick leave entitlements.
  • The provisions will go into effect 15 days after the date of enactment and expire on December 31, 2020.

There are also provisions regarding the Paid Family Medical Leave and Unemployment Insurance. Read more here.


2. Creating a remote work environment

If your company’s employees can work from home, they should. But, that’s easier said than done. While many tech companies will be old pros using communication tools and best practices that make remote work go smoothly, other companies not so much.

Here are a few strategies to make the transition smooth:
  • Have employees sit down with their managers and walk through their daily responsibilities, determining which work can be done remotely. If the answer is none, brainstorm projects that use the employee’s knowledge and talents and can be done from home. 
    • Visit your backlog. Get creative and visit any backlogs employees and managers may have stored with projects they always meant to get to “someday.”
    • Consider online training. There are lots of online trainings employees can attend from home, even free ones like Grow with Google for tech skills or this list of 41 free courses that cover everything from coding to HR. 
  • Determine what resources your employees will need for remote work.
    Communication tools will likely be the most important as well as any access to secure networks. This may require some investment, but remember, this is not wasted energy or money. Remote work functionality will continue to be useful to your business after the crisis passes. 
  • Communicate often and be flexible. Remote work may actually mean more meetings and daily check-ins. Using a group chat platform is also very helpful, like Google Hangouts or Slack. Be flexible with your employees’ actual working hours as finding the discipline to work from home doesn’t happen overnight. Also, consider that many families will be juggling childcare simultaneously.


Guides for developing remote work practices

Check out these guides from Nobl Academy, GitLab and Zapier for creating remote work practices. As you dive into them, remember that there are big differences between a company that’s intentionally fully-remote, and one that’s temporarily or situationally remote and make adjustments as appropriate.


3. Think about the future

No one knows exactly how long the COVID-19 crisis will last, or how long it will require such drastic social-distancing measures. In any case, it’s already clear that many workers will experience some financial burden. While the current moment is hyper-focused on making all the new transitions happen, very soon it will be time for businesses to think about what actions they can take to help employees once things start to settle down. 

One of the most important goals of businesses will be to help their employees get back on their feet financially. There are a number of measures employers can take in the voluntary benefits space, many of which are low cost or no cost. Here are three big ones. 


Financial Counseling

Financial counseling is typically focused on debt management. Having a plan for getting out of debt can relieve a lot of stress and help employees maintain focus on their work. 


Benefits that take care of unexpected costs

Access to voluntary benefits that help employees through unexpected financial burdens can prevent financial instability. This includes things like access to medical or legal savings plans or car care which covers the cost of often-expensive car repairs. 


Employee Assistance Program

An employee assistance program (EAP) provides direct access to confidential professionals who help employees manage stress, whether from work-related issues, family problems, or mental illness. Employees typically get access to counseling or they may be eligible for short-term treatment facilitated by the EAP team.

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