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Posted by Lisa Farrell, Marketing Manager on Mar 23, 2020 2:48:47 PM

The Coronavirus is on everyone’s mind.

But beyond the rampant fears of getting sick or losing loved ones to the disease, many employees are staring down layoffs and unemployment for the foreseeable future.

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HR teams are working double-time to determine what that future looks like — for both employees and the organization.

Right now HR teams are fielding a lot of questions from employees, many of which don’t have answers yet. Here’s some important information to help you make the right decisions for your employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Establish Regular Communication with Employees

Consistent, regular communication is key to soothing employee fears, even if you don’t have substantial updates to share. Try setting a communication cadence with updates at a specific time each day, suggests Robin Schooling, managing partner of HR and people strategy at the Peridus Group. This minimizes the number of direct calls your team has to handle while still making employees feel heard. “Let employees know that you hear them and you know that they have questions,” Schooling says.

Identify the most effective communication channels for regular updates. Company email is a good option if you have it. If not, consider building an email list, Schooling suggests. Text messaging software like eztexting.com can help you reach your employees quickly, or your HRIS may even have integrated push notification, email or texting capabilities to keep messages centralized.

Building a landing page for COVID-19 updates also helps you communicate effectively and efficiently with employees, Schooling says. You can pin a link to the landing page at the top of your internal company website so employees can self-direct to it. You want employees to have a resource without being overwhelmed by it, Schooling notes. An FAQ format allows you to integrate general health and safety guidelines from the CDC and WHO while also publishing information specific to your organization, such as layoff reports, remote work news or updates on reopening. This is also a good place to pin information on local unemployment resources.

Finally, be transparent in your communications. “Your employees know that leadership is meeting privately, and it can make them feel fearful and uneasy,” Schooling says. “If you were in their position, what would you want to know?” Communicate what you can, but if you don’t have the answers yet that’s okay, too. Be honest.

Determine Sick Leave Policies in Response to the New FFCR Act

The question uppermost on employees’ minds right now is whether or not they’ll have an income for the foreseeable future. Many employers don’t have an answer to that question yet. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, effective April 2, provides rules for paid employee leave if an employee is personally affected by the virus or must take care of family members who are sick or out of school.

The legislation, however, doesn’t apply to everyone: Only organizations with more than 50 and less than 500 employees are required to be compliant with the new law, leaving out more than 7 million workers.

Many organizations are operating at reduced hours and will not be able to afford fronting the expenses of employee sick leave. Layoffs or furloughs may be inevitable, especially for the retail, hospitality and service industries. Your organization must make decisions about how to proceed to give employees the best chance.

“If you need to cut your payroll expenses, think about whether it’s a layoff (i.e. no intent to bring back) or a furlough (we intend to bring employees back when this ends),” Schooling says. “Employees on furlough (or with reduced hours) may still be able to collect unemployment, but check with your local unemployment office to make sure.”

Since the bill doesn’t go into effect until April 2, Schooling suggests taking a day or two to really consider whether or not your organization can afford to implement paid leave. And be sure to communicate with employees as you consider the range of possibilities. They deserve to know what their future holds.

Consider Kindness a Long-Term Strategy

How employers act now will define their brand and reputation, Schooling points out. Keep that in mind as you interact with employees. Everyone is scared right now, so follow the golden rule and treat your employees the way you’d like to be treated. Now is not the time to penalize employees for being late, or force employees to come in if they aren’t feeling well or don’t have childcare.

“Are you being kind and compassionate? Are you communicating with transparency?” Schooling suggests asking yourself. These benchmarks can help you stay grounded and focused on providing the best experience you can to employees. Empathize with your employees and treat them with understanding. A little kindness can go a long way.

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