Updating the employee handbook for COVID-19

| Jan 6, 2021 | Employment Law |

The coronavirus pandemic’s impact seems to be felt in every part of our lives. As businesses strive to stay open, reopen or perhaps even launch amid these uncertain times, owners and managers would be wise to include a wide range of specific employment policies to address this new reality.

For instance, there may be new safety protocols for customer-facing employees, or a work from home policy may need to be detailed. However the pandemic impacts a business and its employees, it is a good idea to update the employee handbook to formalize the changes, even if those changes are designed to be temporary.

Sick leave and paid time off

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) of 2020 expired on December 31. This means that employees are no longer legally entitled to FFCRA-leave for COVID-19-related reasons (unless they didn’t use it in 2020), but there still needs to be arrangements in place for employees taking sick leave or paid time off. Employers may want to voluntarily extend the FFCRA paid leave, particularly since payroll tax credits are offered currently through the end of March for those providing paid sick leave related to the pandemic.

Requests for accommodations

The return to pre-pandemic business practices will likely be incremental; some employees may embrace this return or request new accommodations. The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) has issued updated guidance on how businesses should handle these COVID-related requests.

Employers should generally offer reasonable accommodations that do not cause undue hardship upon other workers or the employer. Accommodations can include things like barriers between co-workers or between employees and customers.

Work from home policies

Some businesses that originally resisted the switch to telecommuting may have since realized that they do not need to maintain large and expensive offices in order to operate successfully. While there is no substitute for in-person brainstorming and collaboration, as well as social interaction and office comradery, nearly everyone now knows how to use Zoom and is more or less comfortable working with it.

If they have not done so already, employers will need to formalize details like which positions within the company can telecommute, what the company’s current workday hours are, how long the telecommuting policy will be in place and what current production goals are. Keep in mind that those with compromised immune systems may need additional accommodations.

Rules regarding health and safety

These could involve precautions such as mask use, protective equipment use and social distancing. It is essential to ensure the health and safety of all employees and follow all laws currently in place. It is also vital for employers to secure and protect any additional medical information that was collected from employees to combat the virus and its spread.

Transparency is key

All changes must adhere to local laws. Nevertheless, employers should try to make the language of these changes as straightforward as possible to prevent confusion among employees. Posting them on a hallway bulletin board will likely not be sufficient, so managers and business owners will need to make a point of electronically communicating these policies and all future updates to their workers.