Kicking off the second day of the IFAI Fabricators Conference & Showcase on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, human resources expert, Chad Sorenson, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, from Adaptive HR Solutions LLC, presented a session entitled “Employee Strategies in the midst of COVID-19.”
Sorenson says that for the past year, employers have been forced to “make things up as they go along” by adapting workplaces and employee policies to a shifting pandemic. “Employers haven’t had to deal with something this enormous for 100 years,” says Sorenson. He says adaptation and flexibility are the keys to navigating both the safety of employees and the profitability of a company now and in the future.
According to Sorenson, issues employers should be paying attention to include:
- Status of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA): This requires certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. Currently, this remains voluntary for employers with fewer than 500 employees, but Congress is looking at making it mandatory for all employers through the fall.
- Vaccines: Without a federal vaccine policy, employers can decide whether to make vaccines mandatory, voluntary or whether they will have a vaccine policy at all. Sorenson says most employers are strongly recommending the vaccine but not requiring it. He says any approach comes with a set of considerations, and employers need to carefully consider these before deciding on a vaccine policy.
- Mental health issues related to COVID-19: Sorenson thinks this is a significant issue and one that employers need to take the lead on. “Flexibility is the name of the game,” he says, because everyone has a different mindset related to the pandemic. Sorenson suggests developing policies that are equitable for both the employer and employee, and to be aware that whatever an employer does sets precedence. “Consider your practice carefully because your practice becomes your policy.”
- Getting employees back to work: Consider staggered start times, screening procedures, returning by department, local orders on capacity, keeping employees at home and only bringing back those who need to be in the office or manufacturing facility.
- Communication with employees: Sorenson emphasized the importance of clearly outlining next steps to employees and creating an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) sheet to anticipate employee concerns. He said policies should conform to the best local and national health practices and to anticipate that both group and individual conversations will need to take place. Employers need policies in place to deal with employees who won’t get vaccines, won’t wear masks or who won’t return to the office if others aren’t vaccinated.
- Employer liability: Sorenson says this remains a big unknown. His best advice is that employers should make decisions that protect themselves and their employees based on the best available state, local and federal guidelines.
When asked whether traditional workplace life will return, Sorenson said, “Yes and no. It depends on your employees.” He says some will want to return, and those who work in manufacturing facilities have a different set of considerations. But according to Sorenson, “The workplace will never return to the old normal. Everything has been changed. You can’t use the excuse that people can’t be productive at home, we’ve disproven that now. Workplaces will come back, but they’ll come back differently.”