COVID-19 has forced us to change or modify many things over the span of just a few short months. Many businesses shut down completely. Others had their employees work from home. Now, businesses in many states are opening back up, but it will be a far cry from business-as-usual. Many of us will have new government safety and health requirements to keep employees and customers safe in a place of business. To prevent issues moving forward, it is essential to update your employee handbook to reflect these new guidelines.
Even if some of the recommended guidelines may seem temporary, it is recommended that you update your handbook in the short term with these guidelines. Hence, your employees know exactly what the policies are. You can always go back and change the guidelines once the laws have changed if it is easier to add an addendum to your existing employee handbook, that works as well.
The following are issues that should be addressed when updating employee handbook policies for covid. Other local and state mandates may apply.
Bringing your employees back into the workplace requires some thought and planning in order to keep everyone safe. Restricting exposure is paramount. Social distancing policies need to be written into the employee handbook. Those infected with COVID-19 may be asymptomatic, yet contagious, so measures need to be in place to minimize the risk of transmission. Issues that need to be addressed include the handling of in-person meetings, the use of communal areas, protecting personal workspaces, cleaning and disinfecting areas, capacity limits for customers, hygiene recommendations, and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Set to expire on December 31st, 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires employers with under 500 employees to provide emergency paid sick leave and expanded FMLA for any employee affected by COVID-19. The FFCRA also requires employers to give their employees time off for Coronavirus-related matters, i.e., getting COVID-19 treatments and taking care of children whose schools or daycares are unavailable because of COVID-19.
There is a silver lining. This paid time off is 100% recoverable through payroll tax credits for employers. Be sure your policies are current with the requirements for employees to take paid time off under the FFCRA guidelines.
Some employers have had success with telecommuting and may keep it as an option for certain employees. Others prefer their employees to attend the workplace. Your specific requirements may be different than others. Still, these situations should be spelled out in the employee handbook, such as what positions are eligible to work from home, what kind of flexibility is allowed when telecommuting, and what type of productivity is expected from those who can work from home. Other things to consider are the technology/equipment requirements and who is expected to pay for them. If telecommuting is going to be temporary, try to give an estimated timeframe on how long the policy will be in place.
Keep these two things in mind when putting your telecommuting policy in place:
Of course, all employers should relax their attendance policies to encourage sick employees to stay home. Other possibilities include a staggering meal and break times to encourage physical distancing and adding flexible scheduling options like compressed workweeks and flexible start and stop times.
Your employee handbook should address updated travel policies to reflect essential vs. nonessential travel, as well as the impact of domestic and foreign travel restrictions. Another policy that needs to be communicated is quarantine guidelines after travel (both business and personal travel).
The pandemic hit many businesses hard, and potential layoffs could still be looming for businesses. Before it happens to your business, consider adding a written policy about layoff and recall procedures. Don’t forget to include information about if benefits will continue and for how long.
Because of COVID-19, many group health insurance plans have been affected. Any changes to the employee’s coverage should be put down in writing to avoid confusion, as well as aggravation, in the upcoming months.
With so many changes to your employee handbook, it is imperative that your employees know what’s new and what’s changing. Effective communication is essential so that your employees fully understand the new practices and policies. Of course, understanding the new guidelines as employers can be quite daunting. If you need assistance, we’re here to help you through the myriad of new laws and regulations that face businesses right now. Contact us today for help regarding your employee handbook questions.