Q&A: Navigating COVID-19 and Preparing for Workplace Reentry

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HR COVID-19 reopeningPatricia M. Clendening, SHRM-SCP, GPHR, SPHR, President of HR Strategies, LLC, recently presented the webinar Navigating COVID-19 and Preparing for Workplace Reentry. Patricia returned to answer many commonly asked questions from the webinar.

You mentioned that it was important to focus on internal team interactions while remote working.  Why is it important and how do you suggest we accomplish this?

Prior to the pandemic, many employers didn’t believe or think that employees could effectively work remotely.  They either didn’t have the technology or infrastructure to work this way or they didn’t believe their employees would be able to do their jobs effectively without some supervision.  We have all come to the understanding that we are able to do just that and have been effectively meeting the requirements necessary to do our jobs.
It’s important to establish expectations and communicate those upfront. Some suggestions are to:

  • Have a team discussion regarding expectations for remote working
  • Maintain a list of daily actionable tasks to ensure joint accountability
  • Review approval process and governance with team to mitigate potential risks
  • Leverage video conferencing, if available, so that you can see your colleagues, but first confirm if everyone is agreeable to that format
  • Be empathetic – you may not know what your team members are going through or how they are impacted by the current state of affairs

Why is it important to keep records for FFCRA and how long do they need to be kept?

Employers that are paying either full pay or 2/3 pay in addition to the cost of health benefits for employees that are receiving benefits under FFCRA must keep records for four years.  Employers will be able to deduct these amounts from their payroll taxes rather than deposit them with the IRS.  The payroll taxes that are available for retention include withheld federal income taxes, the employee share of social security and Medicare taxes and the employer share of social security and Medicare taxes with respect to all employees.  If there are not sufficient payroll taxes to cover the cost of qualified sick and childcare leave paid, employers will be able to file a request for an accelerated payment from the IRS.  The IRS expects to process these requests in two weeks or less.
These records should be kept for four years and they should be retained as you would any other medical records, separate from any personnel files and maintained as confidential.

What are the sexual harassment costs to companies?

Workplace harassment can result in substantial costs to companies, including legal costs if there are formal charges of harassment, costs related to employee turnover, and costs related to lower productivity from increased absences, lower motivation and commitment, and team disruption. While there are no recent estimates of the business costs of sexual harassment, earlier studies suggest these costs are substantial. Some of the economic burden of sexual harassment comes out of taxpayers’ pockets. According to the EEOC, in 2018 $134 million was paid out in monetary benefits alone.

Are you allowed to take an employee’s temperature?

If you would have asked that question a month or so ago, I would have said no.  Generally, measuring an employee’s body temperature is a medical examination. Because the CDC and state/local health authorities have acknowledged community spread of COVID-19 and issued attendant precautions, employers may measure employees’ body temperature. However, employers should be aware that some people with COVID-19 do not have a fever.
The CDC states that employees who become ill with symptoms of COVID-19 should leave the workplace. The ADA does not interfere with employers following this advice.

Can employers screen job applicants for symptoms of COVID-19 and can the employer delay a start day or rescind an offer of an applicant that has COVID?

An employer may screen job applicants for symptoms of COVID-19 after making a conditional job offer, as long as it does so for all entering employees in the same type of job.  This ADA rule applies whether or not the applicant has a disability.
Based on current CDC guidance, this individual cannot safely enter the workplace, and therefore the employer may withdraw the job offer.

How do I know if we need to change any of our current policies?

It’s important to review all of your policies, specifically your attendance, return to work, telework, general rules of conduct and travel policies.  Check to see where the current CDC or state guidelines may be in conflict with your current policies.  It is much easier to review these now before you are faced with having to modify policies later when dealing with employee(s) and challenges they are facing due to COVID.  Ask yourself how you will handle the following:

  • An employee tested positive, how and when can they return;
  • An employee’s spouse or dependent tested positive, can the employee come to work and when?
  • When the office opens and someone doesn’t feel safe returning, how do you respond;
  • When can employees travel for company business and what requirements do you have;
  • What happens if an employee refuses to have their temperature taken;
  • If someone has been furloughed or laid off, how do you handle rehiring;
  • What happens if you reach out to a laid off employee to have them return and they don’t respond to your phone calls, texts or emails?

These are just a few of the challenges we will see as move forward with returning to the new normal.
Be sure to check out a recording of this webinar, also her previous webinar with us How to navigate the ever changing anti-harassment regulations, and blog Q&A: How to Navigate the Ever-Changing Anti-Harassment Regulations, and check out our other HR resources, such as our online compliance training courses in the Basics of Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and  Preventing and Addressing Workplace Harassment and Bullying
Patricia M. Clendening is a Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR) and a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). She recently achieved SHRM-SCP, was the first in Delaware with this competency-based certification and the only person in Delaware to have all three designations.  She has over 30 years of experience in Human Resources management with Fortune 100 corporations in a variety of Coaching, Change Management, Strategic Planning, Training and Development, and Employee Relations roles.  In 2002 she launched HR Strategies, LLC to provide HR services to mid-size organizations.
Tricia has been the recipient of numerous awards, regularly spends time on Capitol Hill meeting with government officials including Presidential Candidates, and has been instrumental in the writing of several pieces of legislation including HB360, Delaware’s new anti-harassment legislation.

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