Pandemic-Inspired Policy Changes

February 04, 2022
MRA Edge
Read time: 3 mins

The past couple years have changed the landscape of employment in so many ways. It seems that the HR world became more reactive than proactive, in the hopes that it would be temporary. Now that we know some things are here to stay, it would be remiss not to follow up on the things we realize will be indefinite or permanent.

One way to officially acknowledge a lasting change is to create a policy. Many new policies became necessary during the pandemic—masking, social distancing, sanitation—but some existing policies may also need review to ensure compliance or even to avoid being outdated or obsolete.

If a company did not have a contagious diseases policy prior to the pandemic, it is likely that one was created during the pandemic. A contagious disease policy can be permanent in nature if written broadly enough to be applied to future situations. This could help leaders and employees navigate the initial stages of a contagious disease situation, helping the organization be more prepared in the future. Key points to include are:

  • Indicating that the policy is intended to address an outbreak of contagious disease, epidemics, and pandemics on either a small or global level.
  • Recognizing that global or local health concerns affecting the general population impact employees’ ability to work around others and may make it difficult to work at the employer’s location, a vendor, a customer, off-site meetings, or other locations while representing the employer.
  • The steps to be taken if an employee suspects or confirms contact or contamination with an infectious disease.
  • A statement regarding the source of information that will be relied upon to make decisions. For example, the CDC, federal, state, or local government, or other reputable organization can be indicated.

An optional addition to this policy can include addressing travel, either personal or work-related. Include testing requirements before and after travel, precautions to take when traveling to areas of high risk, any recommended quarantine periods after returning, and if human resources should be informed.

Remote work was first a necessity, then an accommodation, and in some cases has now become an expectation. Companies are advised to create policies that communicate the company’s philosophy on remote work while addressing inherent concerns with remote working arrangements. Remote work policies should:

  • Include a statement addressing when a remote work arrangement is appropriate, if it is not something offered to everyone. If remote work is not guaranteed, that should be made clear.
  • Address the difference between working remotely and working from home. The more permanent an alternate work location is, the more applicable compliance with local employment law, benefits, and payroll becomes.
  • State any considerations for remote work, including length of service, type of work performed, or the necessity to be face-to-face with others.

Clarify the expectations for a work day and how to document time. This is especially important for nonexempt employees. Some employers also request that employees sign a remote working agreement. This can include employer and employee expectations, home office allowance, care of company property, and attendance expectations. It is recommended that this agreement be timebound and reviewed on a predetermined basis to ensure the arrangement is working for both parties.

Effective and clearly communicated policies can save companies time and confusion but can also help them move from being reactive to proactive when navigating difficult situations. Policies should be written with a focus on both best practices and compliance to help ensure a company is competitive while providing the first line of defense against discrimination, claims of unfair treatment, and illegal employment practices.

For more information on creating or updating policies, contact Robyn Spiering, Interim HR Services Director, at [email protected] or 262.696-3577.