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HR Brief–COVID Questions & Why Do We Need A Current Handbook?

10/21/2020

It’s been a month since my last e-blast, not that the HR world has come to a halt; but I am sensitive to the amount of email that floods our inboxes each day!

Over the last month, I’ve continued to receive calls and emails with questions regarding COVID-19.  The one I receive most often is, “Should I require a negative test result before I let my employee return to work?”  The second most often received is, “We’ve just had our first positive!  What do we do!!!?”

As briefly as I can, I’ll answer these questions below.

  1. Since we now know that an infected person can continue to test Positive weeks after symptoms are gone, my best advice is to have the employee follow the CDC guidelines for returning to work.  The CDC even has a webpage that provides this information.  At the bottom of that page are links to information about timing for quarantining someone who has been exposed.  If you are paying out the Paid Sick Leave (PSL) under the FFCRA, and are applying the Tax Credits, you need to document thoroughly dates, employee names, a written statement by the employee, etc. I would also strongly request a Fit-fort-Duty Release from the employee’s doctor or public health facility.  This release will not only provide you with additional documentation for the Tax Credit, but it will also provide evidence of due-diligence in the event of any type of litigation arising.
  2. You will want a copy of the document that states the employee is positive.  You will also want the employee to give you a list of everyone at work with whom he/she came in close contact in the last week or so.  You must keep the infected employee’s name confidential; unless you receive written permission to disclose his/her name.  (I have a Disclosure form and would be glad to send you!)  You would need to have a private conversation with each employee, vendor, or anyone on your premises with whom the employee would have exposed.  If employees, these folks should be sent home to quarantine and should not return to work until fourteen days have passed since the last contact was made with the positive employee.  If the quarantining employee can work from home, I would certainly require that as long as the employee was well.

Briefly, I want to discuss the importance of having a current Employee Handbook.  With the onset of COVID-19, there are a number of typical policies this contagious illness is impacting such as; attendance, safety, leave benefit, telecommuting, layoffs and recalls, etc.  Even if an employer has less than ten employees, one of those ten can end up being your worst nightmare!  (Talk to a couple of my Clients!)

Your Company’s Employee Handbook is not supposed to be a “volume” of information.  Typically, only 35 to 55 pages is generally sufficient to communicate the important policies and guidelines by which your Company operates AND lays out some of the basic expectations the Company has for its employees.  This is what makes the Handbook a critical asset to any employer!  It establishes the policies, guidelines, and the expectations for the employee.  It also spells out certain expectations the employee can have from the employer, like benefits, a workplace free from harassment, and as safe as the employer can provide, among other things.

I read a LinkedIn post that was referenced by Eric B. Meyer, an Attorney from Fisher Broyles.   The post was playing devil’s advocate asking questions about fearing making mistakes verses doing nothing.  Or analyzing something to death (I’m an analyzer ☹) as opposed to going for it!  He asked a very relevant question to the topic of Handbooks… “What is the cost of inaction?”

Too many employers, perhaps because they are small, never get around to writing down the policies by which they want to govern their Company and Employees.  Perhaps they think it’s unnecessary.  “We only have seven people!  And we’re like family here.”

In my experience:

  1. Employee gets terminated for attendance.  No Attendance policy.  When the boss has enough, he lets you go!  But there’s no consistency.  Because there’s no policy.  A month later, you get a letter from the EEOC informing you that this employee has filed a discrimination charge because you fired him because he has a disability.  Others have had attendance issues and they are still working at ABC Company.
  2. Employee gets injured on the job, but says nothing.  No policy regarding reporting accidents.  Employee goes to his family physician the next day and is late.  Informs you he hit his knee at work the day before.  His family doctor, unbeknownst to you is his brother-in-law, and has put him out of work for 3 months.  That “family-like” employee threatens to take you to court if his WC claim gets denied.  What do you do?  The Company had no guideline specifying that the employee must report immediately any accident, regardless of how minor.  Or that the Employee would always go to the health provider selected by the employer and the Workers Comp Carrier.  And there’s so much more involved in a Workers Comp claim that can help an employer gain better control of excessive accidents.  It starts with a sound Accident Reporting Policy.
  3. And then there’s Returning to Work from an illness or work-related injury…there are guidelines that should be in place in the form of policies in your Handbook.  These help the employer and clearly communicate the expectation to the employee.  There’s a lot to know!

So, the “cost of inaction” can cripple a business, especially a small business.  Weighing the risks is something we all do from time to time in some situations.  I believe ignoring the need to provide employees and your managers with a Company Employee Handbook will eventually bite you.  If not through litigation, then through excessive Absences that leads to loss of production.  Inconsistencies between supervisors in how they respond to employees or how individual employees are treated in general can lead to low employee morale that becomes evident in lack of efficiency.  Failure to communicate a policy related to Safety when there are any Accidents is not good, but  when there are uncontrolled Accidents and Near Misses, this quickly translates to escalating Workers Comp premiums, possibly an OSHA Log that gets flagged followed by a surprise OSHA Inspection; and the worst of all, an employee who doesn’t go home to his/her family at night.

“The cost of inaction” …  It can add up quickly.

I think I’ve offered a lot to think about.  HR-related laws are always changing—even Title VII had a revision this summer.  Give me a call.  I’d be thrilled to come meet with you, or have a virtual meeting, to discuss how HR Engagement can be of help to you and your organization with your update or your first Company Employee Handbook!

 

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