PART V: Surely This Will Never Happen Again, Right?! An Unusual Opportunity To Review Existing Policies
These times are unprecedented for employers, as the breadth and depth of the COVID-19 pandemic becomes more and more apparent. But to think they will never happen again is wrong, and the employer who does not prepare now for the next pandemic may be negligent. If this happens again, particularly a subsequent outbreak of COVID-19 in the near future, employers will not be given as much leeway in their response times. A reasonable employer will use this time, when workplaces may be either shut down or slowed down, to begin a comprehensive review of current employment policies, handbooks and procedures, particularly with regard to recent federal, state, and local legislation or to prepare handbooks where they have not previously been a priority. In light of our collective experiences, employers should consider drafting or review and revise current pandemic response plans in order to respond to another potential outbreak of the virus. Taking this time to ensure that the workplace meets and exceeds all best practices with regard to written policies may ensure that future issues are less likely to arise.
With regard to recent events, employers should review and consider policies concerning:
- Leave or Paid Time Off (PTO), particularly leave for employees who are home and not able to work remotely, as well as updates to policies to ensure continued compliance with applicable and recently enacted sick leave laws. Further, employers may want to institute certain policies concerning employees’ personal or vacation travel as a safety measure.
- How to bring employees back from furlough or re-hiring after layoffs, including notification, phased re-hiring and new hires. New hires may seem attractive, but some new laws require giving priority to furloughed or part-time employees. Employers need to consider the ramifications of substantial outside hiring before bringing back furloughed workers. Employers will need to consider how benefit plans and 401(k) programs might be impacted by re-hiring workers.
- Compensation, bonus and incentive plans will be affected by the current shutdown period. Employers will need to calculate the effects and review wage and hour issues in light of such factors. Employers may take this opportunity to review whether pay equity issues exist and whether new hires can be used to offset that problem.
- Emergency and Disaster Plans should be reviewed to identify lessons learned and new processes and procedures that could be established to prepare for a potential recurrence, along with succession plans for management and Human Resources in the event leadership teams are sidelined. Employers need to consider public relations messaging regarding crisis management and how to address future disruptions in the workplace which, unfortunately, are bound to occur, whether they are related to political events, weather or future disease outbreaks.
NOTE: We expect to see numerous changes nationwide, and in local and regional orders and guidance as prior workplace restrictions begin to be lifted and new restrictions are issued governing workplace re-openings. We will continue to monitor developments, and update our advice and information accordingly.
We welcome you to review our prior blog posts – this is the last in a series of five – to obtain more detailed advice and guidance on many of the issues concerning COVID-19 and its effect on your business, and to contact Jennifer Weaver, Will Cherry or your Manning Fulton relationship attorney for assistance.