Top HR issues employers need to be thinking about

As workplaces have shifted into virtual mode, human resource priorities have shifted, as well, says Renee West, SHRM-SCP, PHR, senior human resource manager at Rea & Associates.

“Topics have trended differently in response to COVID-19, and employers need to have certain measures in place from an HR compliance standpoint,” she says.

Smart Business spoke with West about how to comply with coronavirus-related regulations and other HR topics that should be top of mind for employers.

What should employers be doing in response to the pandemic?

No. 1, employers need to be compliant with COVID-19 regulations. Update employee handbooks to reflect the current situation. Comply with safety recommendations to ensure safe re-entry into the workplace. Educate employees about staying safe. Compliance is a huge piece of this right now.
Another piece is understanding the Families First Coronavirus Response Act as it relates to paid leave; employees with child care issues can take leave up to certain periods of time at certain rates of pay.

And employers that never allowed working remotely need to be flexible. Look at how you structure the workday. How can you be flexible but still have employees be productive? Consider work-sharing or bringing back employees on a rotating schedule. Think outside the box of the traditional work day.

What should employers do to help employees with their mental health and well-being?

Companies need to provide resources, through an employee assistance program or some other means. Employees need to understand it’s OK if they’re having anxiety and need help. Even before coronavirus, the ability to balance work and life was difficult. Understand what challenges employees are facing working with children at home. Supporting employee well-being is crucial to them being productive and knowing the company cares about them.

Mental health can affect performance and quality of work. If someone is struggling, they may call off more often and put out an inferior product, which can be costly.

What do employers need to think about regarding retention and recruitment?

COVID-19 has caused recruiting to look very different. Interviews are being done via phone or online job fairs. Given the market, you need to find different ways to recruit.

The flip side is retention. Employers struggle with what benefits to offer to ensure employees stay, to improve consistency of product. Employees can leave any time, and if people have skills you want to retain, it’s important they’re happy.

How important is it for employers to consider diversity, equity and inclusion?

This is critical. Look at what you’re doing to ensure these things are addressed every day. A recent Supreme Court ruling expanded protected classes to include LGBTQ employees. Define diversity and inclusion, and make sure your recruiting and evaluation processes are diverse and your compensation is equitable.

Update your policies, and train employees on them. What policies do you have regarding harassment training? What about diversity training? What do employees do if they have a concern?

Too many employers dismiss training on these issues, but any employee can come forward at any time. It just takes one case, and if you don’t have policies in place, one lawsuit can easily put you out of business.

What are you hearing in the marketplace?

I’m hearing a lot about balancing, employees who need to take leave and how to comply with regulations. People want to do the right thing, but things change every day with new guidelines. It’s important to stay up to date and current. The legislation never stops, and businesses struggle with how to keep up and still get their product out the door.

Work with a trusted adviser, and listen to trusted sources like your state government, state department of labor, the CDC, the EEOC and your chamber of commerce. To be effective, you need to get information from credible sources.

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