Now that we seem to be nearing the end of our shelter-in-place orders and many areas are actively looking to re-open the economy, HR leaders have a big task ahead. Executive leadership will be looking to the most senior HR personnel to help craft new guidelines as employees return from furloughs, working remotely, or having been laid off. Some positions will need to be filled; others restructured. Some will have to be eliminated, either to save the company money so it can survive, or because they are suddenly no longer needed in a more socially-distanced environment. Here are four tips to help get you started.
- Ask the Right Questions
Before your executive leadership goes down a particular path, take a step back and ask whether that’s the right path to be on. You will likely be tasked with some big hurdles to overcome, whether sanitation practices, new office workspaces, different sick leave policies, or—one of the biggest—whether employees should continue working remotely. Outline pros and cons for each possible path so you can guide new policy formation while confident that senior management has considered all options.
- Consider all Legal Mandates and Ramifications
Even the best intentions may have unintended legal ramifications if not handled properly. As the HR lead, make a point to involve in-house legal counsel or seek out a legal expert to assist as you build your strategy to get the company back to work. “As employers plan to reopen their worksites, a number of significant regulatory and legal liability risks may arise, and numerous lawsuits against employers have already been filed as a result of COVID-19,” noted Daniel Klein, partner at Seyfarth Shaw LLP. Examples of this include lawsuits arising from employees, visitors, or customers who become ill with the coronavirus after visiting company facilities.
Klein went on to detail some specific instances companies need to watch for, including potential conflicts with HIPAA laws, which give patients a right to privacy. “Efforts to protect other employees and conduct contact tracing in the workplace after an individual has tested positive could be impacted by obligations to protect the infected individual’s health privacy,” said Klein.
- Communicate with Employees
The HR department is well adept at communicating with employees, of course. But in this post-coronavirus world, you will find you are facing new challenges when it comes to how, and how frequently, you should communicate. In-person meetings are likely not happening much, and email can be very impersonal. However, large organizations may not be able to facilitate a multitude of video conference calls given how quickly things are evolving.
Depending on the size of your organization, you may be able to rely on the management staff to communicate with their teams, but you will need to ensure consistent information is disseminated across the entire company. You may also find you have to meter how much you disclose at what is a very stressful time for many people.
- Expect Bumps in the Road
In terms of logistics, developing a post-coronavirus recovery plan is likely to be the biggest crisis management situation you have ever faced. It will not be an easy road, and you should therefore expect to face unexpected challenges as you proceed. Don’t be afraid to see out additional assistance from team members, and work together to develop your action plans. You can also use resources to help with your HR technology decision-making.
- Prepare to Shine in the Face of Adversity
Though you likely have some long days ahead, you also have a great opportunity to shine. Never before have human resources team members been called upon to serve a major role in restarting the economy. Those professionals who rise to the challenges before them will be noticed by senior management. You are in a unique position as not only the intermediary between executives and employees, but also a key player in shaping policy that will best benefit all parties.
Many challenges await in the weeks to come. However, challenges are not inherently bad. Many companies—and even entire industries—are faced with substantial restructuring as we move forward. Each of these will have opportunities to come through this stronger than before. Human resources teams will play a critical role. With some advanced planning, you too can come through this better than ever.