How Do I Plan for the Next Wave of the Coronavirus?

Do not waste a crisis; learn from it. Even though it’s only been a couple of months since COVID-19 started to affect everyday life, the adjustment period seems to be unending. Although this crisis took businesses by surprise, many employers were more prepared than others for one primary reason; they had emergency preparedness plans in place to ensure continuity of services, which is a good lesson to learn from. As employers start to reopen, infection rates will increase. It’s not a matter of if, but when. When it does happen, what lessons learned are applicable to ease the impact of the next wave?

Planning: Business continuity, emergency preparedness planning, pandemic policy. There are multiple proactive plans employers can develop and implement in times of crisis. However, 50 percent of respondents did not have any type of plan in place at the time of this pandemic, as reported in a recent Employers Council survey. In comparison, 46 percent of employers had a plan in place that was activated for this event. The remaining four percent of respondents were unsure if they even had any type of plan in place. As restrictions ease, now is the time to develop, revise, and practice future business continuity plans for the next wave of the virus using lessons learned. As you contemplate your plans, Employers Council resources are available to you: AN EMPLOYER’S GUIDE TO MANAGING PANDEMICS or EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS – OVERVIEW.

Laws: Current employment laws have not gone away. They may have been augmented but are ultimately still in effect, such as wage and hour, ADA, FMLA, etc. Employees will still be voluntarily or involuntarily separated, so payout of wages must still comply with current wage and hour law. Also, employees will still require FMLA for reasons other than coronavirus, and if an employee is working from home but they have a disability and need an accommodation, employers are still obligated to engage in the interactive process. At times like this, information can be confusing, so when in doubt, contact the Employers Council.

Policies and procedures: As you develop your plans, review current internal policies and procedures. Planning is a fluid process; subsequently, policies and procedures should be flexible, given the current environment. Ask yourself if your benefit or telecommuting policies are adequate. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, it is not uncommon for employees to come to work sick due to potential repercussions such as lost wages, perceived negative attitudes towards sickness, etc. Now is the time to change that paradigm by encouraging employees to stay home when sick. As a result of this crisis, 42 percent of employers are providing additional paid time off beyond standard paid time off. If you want to see what other employers are doing, Employers Council has conducted several recent surveys concerning employer strategies and employer trends.

Communication: A communication plan is an equally essential part of a business continuity plan. A communications plan provides a clear roadmap for consistently communicating with stakeholders, including customers and employees, so they feel informed about the state of the organization. It also demonstrates transparency and keeps all current and furloughed employees engaged. A communications plan can demonstrate the ability to ensure that the appropriate forms of communication are used to share important messages balancing organizational and employee needs. A communications plan can include specific messages such as important updates and outline safety precautions. A plan can ensure the entire leadership team is aware and knowledgeable about all the issues and timeframes, communicates what is known and what is not known, addresses the worst-case scenario, and outlines the different formats of communications such as town hall meetings, written communications, etc. Also, it is recommended a communications plan address information regarding employee assistance plans, changes in benefits, including financial support available to employees who are impacted by the crisis either on a permanent or temporary basis. Finally, a thoughtful and well-executed communications plan demonstrates organizational values and integrity.

Resources: As previously stated, information concerning the pandemic and the resulting laws can be confusing coming from so many different sources and at a rapid pace. How do you know which are reliable? While you should use the Employer’s Council to help with individualized and specific questions, there are many other reliable sources of information for your business’ needs. Although media reports only supply cursory high-level information, accounting firms, law firms, and industry associations can provide invaluable resources addressing specific legal and tax implications. The federal and state agencies’ websites also contain information for the implementation of the relevant laws. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor has created an extensive website for the implementation of the FFCRA with questions and answers that is frequently updated. Another invaluable source for strategy and feedback are the employees. Members have reported their employees have been an invaluable resource of ingenious strategies for return to work and safety precautions, all of which have been instrumental in keeping the business going.

Employers Council continues to support our resilient members by creating content with updated and relevant guidance on our website. As always, you are welcome to use any of the resources provided and are always welcome to call with any assistance you may need.