The impact that COVID-19 is having on our country, economy and workforce is profound. We are fighting for our lives, for our loved ones—and for most, our businesses. I’ve heard this current business climate referred to as “surreal, unprecedented and unparalleled,” and at the front of the fight for businesses and their employees everywhere are the human resources professionals. I heard this from my Tulane Law School students last week in the online Master of Jurisprudence in Labor & Employment Law (MJ-LEL) program. In my course, Managing the Employee Life Cycle, we discussed how the virus has impacted our organizations and how we can lead and provide workplace guidance for COVID-19.
The coronavirus continues to spread, and HR departments everywhere are putting out fires, easing employee fears, responding at all hours, conducting workforce planning and analyzing employee benefits. A recent study found that 93% of human resource professionals say their company is providing new additional family benefits to its employees during the COVID-19 outbreak. At the same time, 75% are considering adding additional benefits according to the new survey findings. The survey, commissioned by Cleo and conducted by Wakefield Research, surveyed 500 HR and benefits leaders in large enterprise organizations between March 18 and March 20 in order to explore how HR leaders are investing in family benefits during the COVID-19 global pandemic.1
For businesses with less than 500 employees, there’s the FFCRA, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, effective April 1, 2020. The FFCRA is intended to help the small businesses, which consist of 47% of businesses in the country. The two main components of the FFCRA are an Enhanced Sick Leave Act and an Enhanced Family Medical Leave Act. The purpose of the legislation is to get us through this crisis and protect our employees, but with rushed regulations and minimum guidance initially from officials, it is left to employment attorneys and human resources departments to decipher and implement.
Most of our employees are working from home. Some are considered part of an essential business, but many have been laid off, furloughed or given reduced work schedules and wages. Our business owners need help protecting their assets and are concerned with how to keep their business viable, while keeping their people employed. Who are they going to turn to for help? HR, of course!
Talk about a shake-up in the HR community: COVID-19 HR guidance means new compliance requirements and workplace rules to learn with a quick turnaround, while still honoring the legacy workplace rules. It reminds me of a line in an old song, “We’ve got a long way to go, and a short time to get there.” HR professionals must be informed and prepared. If you had a business resiliency plan in place, good for you! But, if you are like most HR professionals that I have spoken with, it likely didn’t contain provisions for a virus as epic as this coronavirus.
Now more than ever, HR is being looked to for workplace guidance for COVID-19. How will you prepare, how will you remain compliant, how will you adapt your policies and procedures to accommodate your business and employee needs? I recommend immersing yourself in knowledge and reliable data. Think outside of the traditional “HR box.” Since you may likely be working from home, now may be a good time to consider that certification or earn your MJ-LEL. It will certainly be worth the investment, but I admit I am a little biased.