The coronavirus (COVID-19) is all anyone can talk about lately, and rightfully so. With an unprecedented global event such as this, there is a tremendous level of uncertainty surrounding work, healthcare, families, and life in general. Employers and employees alike are concerned and looking for guidance—and they are turning to Human Resources for answers and an HR response plan.
While the local response you are experiencing may still vary, the global response is united: action is needed, and it is needed now. So, what can HR do to ensure your company is prepared and working towards tangible solutions that support both the business and its most important asset—your employees.
First, and something that hopefully already exists within your company, is a business continuity plan. Next, HR needs to institute its own response plan to ensure employees that steps have been taken and that more are planned. Here’s what needs to be considered as you develop and put into place your HR response plan:
Scale your response
The pandemic response is different depending on where you are. Major cities are handling it one way, while rural areas are operating on a different scale. Regardless of your location, you need to be doing something. Here’s a basic rubric to guide how you set up your HR response plan:
- Level 1: Wash hands regularly, stay home if feeling sick, no international travel
- Level 2: Wash hand frequently, disinfect communal office areas, no outside office visitors, limit in-person meetings, further restrict travel
- Level 3: Mandatory remote work, travel ban
Communicate with employees
During times like these, communication is essential—and even more so if your team is now working remotely. The best way to assuage fear in your HR response plan is with clear information and consistent communication. Assure everyone that you and the company are continuously monitoring the situation and taking it very seriously. Update your team daily to ensure everyone is on the same page about not only how the coronavirus situation is being handled, but also expectations for their daily work.
Adapt work from home and sick policies
While many companies already have at least some remote work policies in place, the original policies and scale may not be on the level that is needed for a pandemic such as this. But remote work is not just letting employees work from home—guidelines and resources must be in place. What are the expectations of employees? What hours must they work? How will employees be held accountable? How will co-workers communicate with one another? Can meetings still be held remotely?
HR also needs to take a hard look at your sick leave policy. Experts suggest an overly regimented system can actually contribute to the outbreak rather than help contain it. During this time, consider opening up the allowed number of sick days, finding ways for greater flexibility, and removing any doctor’s note requirements.
Keep your office clean
Though it may seem trivial, this is a crucial element of your HR response plan. If your team is still working in the office, cleaning, disinfecting, and hygiene are of the utmost importance, but remote employees could probably use a reminder too! Here are some helpful tips, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Read the labels and be sure what you are using will actually do the trick
- Regularly disinfect commonly touched and used surfaces (door handles, light switches, desks, sinks, etc.)
- Wash hands regularly for at least 20 seconds
- Don’t assume employees will do it themselves—remind them or do it yourself
Reduce or eliminate travel
Many companies have employees that travel for a variety of reasons. At this time, it is in the best interest of your employees and public interest to drastically cut down on travel—if not ban it altogether. With all that is going on, there is likely a significant amount of anxiety around work-related travel amongst your employees, so make it easier on them and don’t force them to make those difficult decisions for themselves. Create an explicit policy, communicate it with employees, and stick to it.
Since this coronavirus strand is believed to have been originated in Wuhan, China, the CDC has warned of stigma and discrimination against Chinese and other Asian Americans, as well as mental health concerns of this potentially stigmatized group.
It is crucial that businesses take unfortunately necessary steps to avoid any discrimination, including:
- Raise awareness without increasing fear
- Maintain the privacy and confidentiality of those seeking help
- Use appropriate language and images that do not reinforce stereotypes in company-wide and 1-on-1 communications, including images
- Speak out against negative behaviors, including on social media and social exclusion of people who pose no risk
- Engage with and provide social support for stigmatized groups in person and through dedicated channels
As an HR professional, you are in the best position to help your company and its employees stay calm, informed, and productive. To accomplish this, you need to stay informed yourself. Familiarize yourself with the virus, how it spreads, where it’s spreading to, and how the local and national government is handling the situation. Keep in constant contact with the company’s leaders on how their response and future planning. For your HR response plan to work effectively, you need to know of important decisions before the rest of the company is informed.
As the world seeks to stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), businesses like yours are working diligently to remain in operation, adapt their policies, and ensure the safety of their employees. Netchex is here to help you accomplish all of this and more.