COVID-19 is continuing to affect our ability to do work in the way we’re all used to. For billions of workers around the world, there has never been a greater time of uncertainty and concern.
In order to continue the work effectively, you need to address those concerns directly. Furthermore, you need to codify your expectations for work and behavior during this time to give employees something to hold onto and provide them with stability and knowledge during this time of unknowns.
One emerging best practice is creating an employee handbook addendum specifically built around modifications to work and workplace culture created by COVID-19. By including this information in your handbook, you create both a new level of clarity and a new level of accountability for employees.
Moving forward, we’ll explore:
- What you need to add to your employee handbook to address employee safety at this time
- What you need to add to your employee handbook to address remote work enablement at this time
- What you need to add to your employee handbook to address work reductions, potential layoffs, etc.
Safety in the Workplace
Everybody’s health, safety, and wellness should be the top priority at this time. Here’s a list of considerations your employee handbook needs to address in order to keep everybody safe!
For each consideration, it’s important to think about:
- How you will communicate expectations
- How you will bring the modifications to life
- How you will enforce new employee expectations
- How you will keep yourself accountable for employee safety
You need to clearly communicate your expectations when it comes to employees washing their hands. Handwashing is key to preventing the spread of COVID-19, and if you’re going to protect your workforce, you need an official enforceable policy.
Your policy needs to communicate which occasions should lead to an employee washing their hands. The exact shape of your policy will likely depend on the kind of work your employees are doing, but here are some situations you should think about addressing in your policy:
- Should employees wash their hands immediately upon arriving at work?
- Should employees wash their hands regularly on any set timeframe (i.e. every 30 minutes)?
- Should employees wash their hands any time they exit and re-enter the building?
- Should employees wash their hands at the start and/or conclusion of any breaks?
- Should employees wash their hands immediately before or after any specific work task or processes?
It’s now believed that COVID-19 spreads on surfaces much more effectively than scientists originally thought. That means keeping frequently touched surfaces clean and disinfected is essential to community health in your workplace.
Your policy needs to address both what responsibilities individual employees have when it comes to cleaning and what new practices the company as a whole will employ. For example:
- How often are employees expected to clean and disinfect their individual workstations?
- With what kind of cleaning materials should individual employees disinfect their workstations?
- How will individual employees clean/disinfect shared surfaces and equipment after they use them (i.e. equipment, communal spaces like the break room, etc.)?
- What additional custodial/janitorial practices will your business adopt to protect your workers?
Checking Employee Temperatures
Checking employee temperatures when they enter the building is very inconvenient, but it’s also a best practice for limited the spread of coronavirus in settings like healthcare or retail/hospitality, where there’s frequent interaction between employees and the public.
Your handbook needs to address:
- When and where regular employee temperature checks will occur
- Procedures for employees who display a fever upon temperature check
- Procedures for employees who feel they are developing a fever at work
- When and where temperature checks for incoming members of the public will occur
- Procedures for members of the public who display a fever upon temperature check
Eliminating Shared Food
Usually sharing food regularly is a feature of a healthy, positive workplace culture, but now is not the time for potlucks or picnics. Your handbook must clearly establish the expectation that there will be no communal eating or sharing of food at this time. That means:
- Modifying procedures in expectations in the cafeteria, breakroom, etc.
- Modifying policies on free food from managers as a work incentive/reward
- Providing employees with guidance on how they can eat in safe, compliant ways
- Explicitly stating areas in which nobody should be eating
As we’ve explored, community spaces are a very touchy issue during this time. It’s important everybody has access to what they need, but it’s equally crucial to create that access in social distancing-friendly ways. Staggering breaks is a great way to do that, but you need to create a strong policy that addresses:
- How these modifications will be provided in ways that are compliant with labor laws, collective bargaining agreements, etc.
- How supervisors/managers will release employees for breaks
- Maximum number of employees on break at one time
- Expectations for employees during breaks
- Procedures for employees returning from break
It’s important for your business’ employee handbook addendum for COVID-19 to address how employees will maintain at least six feet of distance between each other at all times.
Your policy needs to include:
- How you (the employer) will modify the space to support social distancing
- Daily measures employees need to make to support social distancing
- How employees will interact with customers/the public in ways that support social distancing
- How you will address situations where an entire team can no longer share the same physical space during the workday
- The elimination of in-person meetings and expectations for video/remote conferencing
FMLA & Paid Sick Leave Expansion Under FFCRA
Does FFCRA Apply to Us?
If you have fewer than 500 employees (499 or less), your company must comply with FMLA & paid sick leave expansion under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
If you have 500 or more employees, the temporary expansion does not apply to you.
If you have 50 or fewer employees and the expansion would threaten the viability of your business, you can apply for a small business exemption.
What Does Our Policy Need to Address?
Responsibilities Under the Act
The FFCRA states that employers must provide up to two weeks (80 hours) for full-time workers or a part-time employee’s two-week equivalent in sick time at their regular rate of pay if they:
- Are subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19
- Have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19
- Are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis
The FFCRA also provides up to 80 hours of paid sick leave at 2/3 the employee’s regular rate if they:
- Are caring for an individual subject to a quarantine/isolation order or self-quarantine
- Are experiencing any other substantially-similar condition specified by the US Department of Health and Human Services
Additionally, the FFCRA creates up to 12 weeks of paid sick leave and expanded FMLA leave at 2/3 the employee’s regular rate if they:
- Are caring for their child whose school or place of care is closed or unavailable due to COVID-19 related reasons
What Your Handbook Needs to Address
In your COVID-19 handbook addendum, you need to explain to your employees:
- How much paid leave they are entitled to (see above)
- Procedures for application/approval of paid leave
- Procedures for communication/check-in during paid leave
- Procedures for returning to work at the end of paid leave
Telecommuting or Work-from-Home Policy
Right now, safety is everybody’s number one concern, but after that’s addressed, continuing organizational momentum is the next concern. Given the variety of regional stay-at-home orders, work enablement for most businesses will require considerable expansion of telecommuting and work-from-home programs.
Your handbook should describe your telecommuting program and provide employees with an understanding of:
- Who is eligible to work from home
- How to apply for or request to work from home
- General expectations for work-from-home continuity
Anytime you transition an employee from the traditional office setting toward telecommuting, it’s important to have a formal agreement in place. That document should effectively be a contract that communicates:
- The approximate length of the work-from-home engagement
- The individual names and signatures of the employee and either their supervisor or an HR professional
- Attendance, time-logging, and overtime expectations
- Expectations for the use of company-owned devices and platforms from home
- Official communication platforms and expectations in terms of check-ins
- Procedures for expense reporting and reimbursement
Your COVID-19 addendum needs to address what will happen if your business cuts back employee hours or temporarily closes during this economic slowdown, including:
- Procedures for communicating with employees about hour reductions
- Employee rights during their time of reduced hours
- Continuity of employee benefits during their time of reduced hours
- Procedures for re-expansion of work hours down the line
- How employees with reduced hours can connect with employee assistance programs and other resources
- Communication expectations for employees whose hours have been reduced
Furloughs & Temporary Layoffs
Your handbook also needs to address how furloughs and temporary layoffs will be conducted during this tough time. This section needs to help employees understand how furloughs or layoffs will be conducted and how they can protect themselves and their families, including:
- Timeline for reevaluation of furloughs and layoffs
- Continuity of employee benefits during their time of furlough or layoff
- How furloughed or laid off employees can connect with employee assistance programs and other resources
- Expectations for employees during furlough or layoff
- Official communication platforms during furlough or layoff
- Reinstatement procedures for furlough’s end
COVID-19 has already significantly disrupted our business space, and it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. That’s why it’s so crucial every business creates an addendum to their employee handbook at this time to provide clarity, reassurance, and structure for employees during this tough time.
- Your first priority should be protecting health and safety: How will you keep employees safe? How will they be expected to keep each other and your business safe?
- Your second priority should be work enablement: How will you ensure your employees are able to continue high-quality work through telecommuting, working from home, and other outside-the-box approaches?
- You also need to help employees understand how you will address work reductions, furloughs, and layoffs.