Human Resources Best Practices in the Wake of COVID-19

May 28, 2020 | Article

As COVID-19 continues to impact businesses it is important to know and understand the changes that have occurred, how they affect your business and what actions you need to take. From relief legislation to unemployment insurance and furloughs, the impact of COVID-19 is touching almost every aspect of human resources in your organization.

We’ve developed resources to help unpack the implications of COVID-19.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act reimburses employers that are required to pay sick and family leave to employees who are affected by COVID-19.

Who does the FFCRA apply to?
The FFCRA applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees (includes full-time, part-time, temporary, staffing agency employees, employees on leaves of absence and PEO employees). The benefit is available to eligible employees if they are unable to work (including unable to telework) due to COVID-19 for the following reasons:

  • Federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order.
  • Employee has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine.
  • Employee is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking medical diagnosis.
  • Employee is caring for an individual subject to one of the first two items listed here.
  • Employee is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed.
  • Employee is experiencing any other substantially-similar condition specified by the secretary of health and human services.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest employers remove the requirement of a doctor’s note for any leave requests under FFCRA because access to healthcare providers is limited. If an employee is infected with the coronavirus, the illness may also qualify as a “serious health condition” under FMLA (not the expanded FMLA leave under FFCRA). It also may qualify for short-term disability depending on an employer’s benefit offering.

What does the FFCRA provide?
FFCRA provides up to two weeks (80 hours) of emergency paid sick leave.

Unemployment Insurance
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act gives states the option of extending unemployment compensation to workers who are not ordinarily eligible for unemployment benefits. Specifically, CARES permits states to extend unemployment benefits by up to 13 weeks under the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program. CARES also allows states to choose to implement the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program, which provides an additional $600 per week to individuals who are collecting regular unemployment compensation.

Reduced Hours, Furloughs and Lay-offs
Reduced Hours
Employers may reduce the hours of employees to meet business needs. If an employee’s hours are reduced, there is a potential the employee may collect unemployment insurance. It is also possible employees may keep employment benefits such as health insurance during the pandemic even if they no longer work the hours required to be eligible. Employers should check with their benefit providers to see what options are available.

Furlough
A furlough is a temporary suspension from work where the intent is to have an employee return to their job at a point in the future. Employees are not paid during the furlough and may collect unemployment. During this time, the employees may keep employment benefits such as health insurance.  Check with benefit providers to confirm which benefits allow continued coverage during a furlough.

Employees must not do anything work-related while on furlough. Access to company email or systems should be suspended. If an exempt employee responds to a phone call, email, etc. the employer must pay them for the day and may be required to pay them for the week. If a non-exempt employee performs any work, the employer must pay them for any time worked. Either of these situations will make collecting unemployment messy for the employee.

Layoff
A layoff is considered a termination of employment. Employees are able to collect unemployment and may also continue benefit coverage through COBRA (similar to employees who resign or are terminated).

Many HR factors also impact your payroll. We broke down how COVID-19 will impact key payroll items.

Key Business Considerations During COVID-19
Here are a few key considerations human resources professionals and organizations should keep top of mind in the wake of COVID-19.

  1. Address Performance Issues: It is important to document poor performance and to terminate poor performers if they are unable to meet expectations.
  2. Keep the Works Environment Safe: Stagger shifts to ensure employees maintain social distancing, increase cleaning procedures and allow employees to work from home if they are able to do so.
  3. Communicate: Stay in touch with employees and keep them updated on new regulations, changes to business operations, status of the organization. Follow a checklist to be consistent with handling a reduction in hours, furlough or layoff. Document each employee’s situation.
  4. Manage Physical, Social and Mental Health of Employees: Check with benefit providers and communicate employee assistance program and/or telehealth options. If working remotely, schedule meetings via Zoom or Teams so employees can see one another rather than communicate via phone or email. Schedule lunches or social gatherings via Zoom so employees can interact and get caught up on how one another are doing.
  5. Create a Reopening Plan: As we continue through the uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought to us as individuals and our businesses, we now face the challenge of reopening. By having a human resources plan in place early, it will lessen the stress and uncertainty when the time to re-open arrives. Key factors to consider include:
    • Jurisdiction mandates
    • Decline in the trend of new cases over a 14-day period
    • Office specifics
      • Building mandates
      • Do you have enough personal protective equipment (PPE)?
      • Do you have hand sanitizer and/or antibacterial wipes at common stations (breakroom, copy machines, printers, lobby, etc.)?
      • Have you “beefed up” your cleaning—deeper cleaning done more frequently?
      • Consider those at high-risk or those who live with someone who is high-risk—should they be required to return to work?
      • Consider re-opening in phases
        • Team A reports on week 1
        • Team B reports on week 2
        • Continue rotating
      • Consider allowing people to work remotely if they are able
      • Require employees and visitors to complete a questionnaire prior to entering the facility. Questions to ask include:
        • Do you have a fever currently, or have you had a fever within the previous 72 hours (fever is defined as a temperate above 99.5 degrees).
        • Have you been diagnosed with or exhibited symptoms of COVID-19 within the previous 14 days (symptoms include fever, a cough, headache, sore throat, stomach ache, difficulty breathing, etc.)?
        • Have you been in close proximity with anyone diagnosed with or exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 within the previous 14 days?
        • Do you or anyone under your care fall under the category of immunocompromised (i.e. persons with a weakened immune system)?
        • Have you recently traveled via air travel?

        Employees responding “yes” to any of the above questions should not be permitted in to the employer’s facility until their situation is further researched.

Workers Compensation
If an employee is required to work at your business location and is infected with the coronavirus, they may qualify for worker’s compensation. By putting safety precautions in place (as indicated above), employers lessen the risk of an employee’s exposure to the virus, and thus potentially prove workers compensation is not warranted. Workers compensation providers recommend filing a claim if an employee states they were infected through their contact with someone at work, as they are in a better position to determine workers compensation eligibility. Documenting safety measures will help an employer demonstrate their dedication to providing a safe work environment for all.

The Importance of HR
Human resources has always been a critical component of business. Now it’s vital. HR doesn’t only affect people within your organization, it affects your bottom line. It’s important to have systems in place through all of this to ensure you’re not only in compliance, but also taking care of your people.

Human resources can be complicated.

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