Brief re: COVID Tips, Politics at Work, etc.

I hope this Brief finds you and yours healthy.   Over the past month, many of you have communicated with me regarding various issues, including newly-recognized business struggles.   Some businesses are now experiencing ongoing supply chain delays resulting from the total shutdown that was initially mandated.  Some are trying to manage with a re-opening of 50% capacity, utilizing fewer staff.  Along with reopening comes the questions as to who do you call back, and how do you make that decision and not violate HR law.  And some are still trying to navigate remote workers and how to manage, pay, and hold them accountable when company expectations go unmet!  For sure, this is an unusual time for employers of all sizes.

For Small Businesses, this season is especially challenging as many of you are owners and managers who have always been solely responsible for the various HR functions of your business.  In other cases, you have a trusted staff person who handles some HR tasks for the Company, but with little to no HR training.  This is not the time to “not know what you don’t know” as my website says.  Not knowing what you should know can end up costing you a lot of money!

I’ve been working to partner with various other disciplines in an effort to provide recommendations when my Clients have need.  For example, I’ve partnered with a local Attorney, who wants to assist small business owners on an “on-call” basis; like a “General Counsel on-call.”  He is affordable and knowledgeable in a number of areas, having practiced for nearly thirty (30) years.  I also partner with a highly reputable Insurance agency that specializes in every type of coverage for the small business–from health insurance to workers’ comp.  Additionally, I can recommend a Payroll Software supplier, an Employee Assistance Program, an Accountant, and of course, a very knowledgeable HR Professional!   😊   So, don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you’re looking for assistance in a particular area of business.

A few items to note in this Brief are as follows:

1.  Sadly, our political divide is growing wider by the day.  This reality has caused a staggering percentage of employees to report that as a result, conversations with coworkers have become “stressful and/or frustrating”1 and an even higher percentage no longer talk with coworkers about their own political opinions.  Depending on which side of the aisle the employee is on, intimidation by the other side is
alleged, causing a volatile work environment when opinions are expressed openly.   

However, you need to know that if you are private employer, your employees have no first amendment right to free speech with regard to political speech or activities in the workplace–in most states.  In fact, the right to free speech on the work site can be significantly limited on most topics.  A few exceptions–union-related concerted activity in an effort to promote an election of or continuation of a unionized environment.  Or whistle-blowing–informing management or the authorities of alleged harassment, willful safety violations, or any other illegal practice; and their pay.
As a private employer, you can discipline and even terminate an employee who continues to cause discord and/or creates a volatile environment for others due to his/her refusal to abstain from political speech in the workplace. You should carefully review, however, the Social Media policy in your Company’s Handbook, as well as any policy that addresses off-duty conduct.  There is a fine line there and, although the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) now has a Republican majority, and has shifted slightly to a more employer-friendly position, this area is still one that can land an employer in court!  This is a key reason Employee Handbooks should be updated by an experienced HR Professional every two years, and reviewed by an Employment Attorney.   I’ve included a 
link to an article re:  free speech that might be of interest to you during this election season.

2.  COVID-
19, and the various governmental mandates that followed — “stay-in-place” and the shut-down of businesses and churches and so on — has had a far-reaching impact beyond our economy.  The CDC maintains an interesting map of the U.S.A. showing the states and their percentages of reports of symptoms of Anxiety & Depressive Disorders in the population.  As recent as July 16th through the 21st, 39.5% of North Carolinians reported symptoms!  South Carolina was 42.3%!  This reflects those who reported symptoms.
As employers, you need to remain aware. Front-line supervision can be attentive to the signs that become evident in the workplace.  Signs such as:  an obvious drop in performance and output, attendance issues, moodiness, sluggishness, overall sadness, unkempt appearance, excessive worrying, isolating from others, and lacking focus.
According to the CDC’s most recent stats, suicide is the overall 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. A. and the 8th cause of death among men2.  Suicides increased 35% from 1999 to 2018!  Experts are bracing for the continued rise in suicides due to the economic impacts being wrought, the mandated social isolation, and other emotional consequences that have come with the pandemic.  Thankfully, the COVID-19 percent positive cases are decreasing in the majority of locations, and the mortality rate has consistently been extremely low (See page 11 of the Weekly COVID-19 Surveillance Report at the
NC-DHHS site).  

Most employees are not going to offer to their supervisor, “Hey, John, I’m really struggling with depression these days.  Can you help me?”   But like the saying goes, “If you see something, say something!”   Offer some training to your front-line Supervisors on the warning signs and how to approach the individual.  Consider contracting with an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) to which the employee could be referred.  Show concern and compassion.  It may be the only concern and care that person receives!  You could save that person’s life!

I appreciated those who responded to my last HR Brief with an affirmation that the content was beneficial.  That is always my goal, so please, respond with questions and concerns you may be struggling with in your own business.  I’ll be happy to respond by email and perhaps address it in length in the next HR Brief!

Take care and stay well.
Warm regards,



Liz Pflieger, PHR, SHRM-CP




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