As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, it is critical that organizations are equipped with the information and resources needed to support their workforce and maintain operational efficiency today and in the months ahead.
Businesses play a critical role in protecting the health and safety of employees and limiting the impact of a pandemic on our communities and our economy. However, COVID-19 and its implications are evolving at a rapid pace and it can be overwhelming for businesses and employees to stay on top of the developments.
The U.S. and Canadian governments, public health agencies, and public health authorities have been working together to ensure that preparedness and response measures for both businesses and the community are appropriate and adaptable, based on the latest scientific research and the evolving situation. Businesses must stay on top of day-to-day changes and adjust their responses accordingly.
This guide is designed to help employers manage and care for their workforce during the pandemic, support business continuity, and prepare for resumption of business activities. Topics covered in the guide include:
- Maintaining business continuity and operational efficiency
- Developing an internal communications plan
- Managing and engaging a dispersed workforce
- Reviewing and updating company policies
- Supporting employee well-being during times of stress
- Managing the spread of COVID-19 moving forward
- Additional resources for employers
Maintaining business continuity and operational efficiency
Organizations should develop or update their business continuity plans as the situation evolves. These plans should identify potential impacts that threaten the organization, and provide a framework for building organizational resiliency. Business continuity plans contribute to an organization's ability to deliver products and services after disruption - such as the COVID-19 pandemic - and ensure that critical functions and processes are continually evaluated and improved upon.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce advises that businesses consider the following as part of their business continuity and crisis plans:
- What is the process for decision-making during times of crisis?
- How are you identifying and safeguarding your company’s essential corporate records and documents?
- What is the risk of the pandemic to your employees, partners, customers, and suppliers?
- How and when are you communicating to internal and external stakeholders and managing the flow of information?
- How will your organization keep operating while employees are not in the office?
- What technology will you provide for employees to continue to work efficiently and safely?
- What is your plan for recovery?
- What steps is the organization taking to protect the health and safety of employees?
- What infection control practices will the organization implement?
- What equipment will your workforce need to protect themselves and those around them?
- What resources are available for employees?
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security also provides guidance, including a high-level template, for business continuity planning.
Developing an internal communications plan
During a health crisis, communication is essential to put employees at ease, keep them informed, and help ensure that the broader organization is following company policies and best practices. A well-defined and widely understood communications plan can help create trust within the organization and ensure employees are up to date on company information, policies, and organizational changes. An effective internal communications plan typically includes direction on the following:
- Key stakeholder that will deliver ongoing communications (for example, a member from the leadership team such as the CEO)
- Frequency of communications to employees
- Channels through which the communications will be delivered
- How information will reach employees who are sick or on leave
- The process in which communications will be reviewed and vetted
- A point of contact to address employee questions and concerns
- Internal and external resources that are available to employees and their families
- Where employees can access company information and updates
Communicating information to employees
Communications plans will vary from organization to organization, however, it’s critical that employers are transparent and authentic during this time. Employers can consider communicating some - if not all - of the following topics to their workforce:
- Provide resources from public health agencies
- Reinforce the importance of social distancing and preventing the spread of the virus
- Encourage employees to practice appropriate hygiene measures, from washing their hands to covering their mouths when coughing
- Updated policies around work from home arrangements
- Updated policies around paid leave
- Employee assistance program (EAP) resources (if available) and community resources. Employees may need additional social, behavioral, and other services, for example, to cope with stress
As Ceridian’s Chairman and CEO David Ossip says, “Now more than ever, communication must be transparent, authentic, frequent, and – above all – two-way". Learn more about how he implemented an ongoing and frequent internal communications strategy to keep Ceridian’s workforce informed.
Managing and engaging a dispersed workforce
Helping the workforce transition to remote working
According to The World Economic Forum (WEF), remote working is a strategy that serves businesses in a number of ways. It serves employee needs, provides resilient ways for businesses to engage with their networks while continuing to deliver value, and addresses larger community and public health needs.
While remote work is an effective means to practice social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the transition can be difficult for many employees. A rapid pivot in how and where work is done is essential to flatten the curve, however, it can put significant strain on employee well-being as well as business continuity. Here are a few ways organizations can make this transition more seamless:
- Make remote working policies easily accessible in a centralized system
- Ensure employees have the right equipment, for example, monitors and keyboards
- Implement flexible arrangements and work hours, for example, flexible time away from work to address personal matters
- Provide support for employees and their families, for example, resources for kids who are home from school
- Provide webinars that cover organizational best practices and troubleshooting, such as when to use a VPN
- Encourage the use of multiple communications channels, for example, video conferencing for regular team meetings and messaging boards to provide real-time updates and address questions
- Consider expanding technical support by making technology leaders available for an extended period of time to answer questions in topic-specific rooms and channels online
Workforce planning and managing changing work arrangements
Responding to a crisis creates a unique set of challenges for managing the workforce. Companies will need to consider the impact of changing work arrangements, adjustments to working hours, and developments in employment law and legislation, and how best to track and manage them during this period, with minimal disruptions.
While the appropriate strategy is not one-size-fits all, the following are some general considerations for employers on the road to preparedness:
- Employee information: Confirm that employee information is correct, and ask employees to update their personal information, including address, contact information, and emergency contact information
- Time tracking: Create new pay or earnings codes to track different situations, including keeping track of sick time related to COVID-19, hours spent on COVID-19-related response projects, paying employees for additional time worked, or tracking paid and unpaid leave
- Payroll delivery: Consider alternate methods of pay delivery for employees, such as direct deposit instead of paper checks, and make earnings statements and tax forms accessible digitally
- Scheduling: If possible, consider flextime or alternate scheduling options to help stagger shifts and promote social distancing, and to help accommodate employee’s personal needs
Learn more: HR and payroll tips for responding to COVID-19
Organizations should always refer to the applicable employment standards when making decisions regarding workforce planning. We have included some reference sources at the end of this document.
Best practices for engaging the workforce virtually
Organizations may have employees working from home, on-site, or a combination of both. Here are several ways to engage employees and keep the workforce connected:
- Stay connected through virtual town halls, video chats, conferences, virtual lunches, etc.
- Set a more frequent cadence for team check-ins
- Allow for social interaction by setting up separate channels for employees to talk about non-work-related topics such as work from home hacks
- Have HR and people leaders host webinars for managers and employees on managing mental wellness and building resilience
- Set up extra-curricular activities such as learning a new skill as a team or starting a book club
- Promote physical wellness by encouraging standing or walking meetings, or virtual group fitness sessions or step challenges
- Assign employees meaningful work that is tied to organizational goals as well as their career goals
Considerations for essential employees working on-site
In workplaces where workers have high or very high exposure risk, employers should follow the guidance OSHA and the Government of Canada provide and implement control measures depending on how high risk the job is. For example, OSHA recommends most workers at high or very high exposure risk likely need to wear gloves, a gown, a face shield or goggles, and either a face mask or a respirator, depending on their job tasks and exposure. Provide all workers with job-specific education and training on preventing transmission of COVID-19.
Reviewing and updating company policies
Organizations will need to take a critical look at their company and HR policies and practices to make sure they are consistent with changing public health recommendations and existing laws. Here are a few areas organizations will need to assess as the pandemic evolves:
- Sick leave policies: There are many different leave requirements throughout the U.S. and Canada, which means employers have many factors to consider when reviewing their existing policies or developing new leave policies. For example, in the U.S., an employee’s entitlement to leave, and whether that leave must be paid or not, will depend not just on the size and location of your organization, but also on the reason(s) for which the employee needs to take leave. New job protection measures are being introduced quickly in both the U.S. and Canada as lawmakers try to assist employees amid closures of non-essential jobs.
Presagia, a leading developer of cloud-based leave management software and Ceridian Gold partner created a resource guide that includes best practices around leave management as well as information to help you stay up to date on key pieces of COVID-19 related legislation.
- Policy for tracking sick employees: Organizations will need a policy around identifying and documenting employees that have contracted COVID-19. While employers are currently permitted to collect certain necessary information, appropriate recordkeeping measures still apply. For example, keeping sensitive information confidential and stored separate from other employee records. Also, note that disclosures may be required in some jurisdictions before certain information can be collected.
- Absenteeism policies: Absences related directly to COVID-19 should not result in discipline, employers should consider exempting absences unrelated to COVID-19, and employees who may be ill should be encouraged to stay home. Except in very limited circumstances, such as if a manager questions whether an employee is truly sick, a doctor’s note or certificate should not be required. OSHA advises employers must ensure sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies.
- Company travel policy: The U.S. and Canada have closed borders and restricted travel. Employers will need to deploy an updated company travel policy to reflect these changes as the situation evolves and consider a revised travel policy for the months to come. As part of this review, employers’ expectations should be clearly communicated to employees regarding business and personal travel. Over the coming months, organizations will need to make sure they have the latest information on areas that continue to be classified as high-risk. They will also need to consider and review policies around returning travelers, for example, travelers returning from high-risk areas should stay out of the workplace for 14 days.
Supporting employee well-being during times of stress
The threat of COVID-19 is creating a lot of fear and anxiety for the workforce. Employers should be mindful that employees will have unique needs and personal situations when they transition to working from home, including caring for kids, tending to sick relatives, and other circumstances. Employers should consider supporting employee wellness holistically, from physical and mental health to financial support.
Offer holistic benefits
An evolving global health crisis presents organizations with an opportunity to rethink their benefits offerings, with an eye to both immediate and potential future employee needs. Organizations can, for example, offer wellness programs that include mental health benefits to help ensure workers have access to the type of care needed to prevent, treat, or manage psychological distress and burnout.
In our recent webinar on COVID-19 mental health implications, John Foley, Vice President of Human Resources at Builders FirstSource believes employers can support the workforce by communicating often and authentically. Most people have never experienced this level of uncertainty and change which is why it’s important to keep people informed by telling them what’s going on internally, for example, how many employees have tested positive for COVID-19, if any, and what steps the organization has taken to mitigate risk and support employee safety.
Read more about how three HR leaders are navigating through a global health crisis
Encourage two-way communication
While it’s critical that organizations are ensuring visibility every step of the way as changes occur, it’s just as important for employers to ensure employees’ voices are heard. Providing a platform for employees to voice concerns and ask questions will allow organizations to collect feedback from people and identify patterns and trends in employees’ emotional states. With this information, organizations can build action plans to respond quickly to employee concerns, as well as help reduce burnout and absenteeism.
Support financial wellness
When employees are financially stressed, both their health and work performance can suffer. Organizations can support employee financial well-being by considering more flexible pay options. For example, on-demand pay technology allows an employee to access their wages earned on the same day, rather than waiting for the pay period to end to be paid out. This will help employees reduce stress around finances and signal to employees that the organization is recognizing and meeting their needs.
Provide resources for employees
Consider extending company resources or exploring discount programs to give employees more tech support and infrastructure. For example, organizations can extend use video conferencing tools like Zoom for employees’ personal calls, or provide loaner laptops and other electronics for parents with kids at home. Some organizations also provide discount programs for employees to purchase the same hardware, software, and applications they use at work for personal use. Employers can consider connecting employees to employee assistance program (EAP) resources (if available) and online resources such as the CDC’s guide to managing stress and anxiety as well as CAMH’s guide to mental health and the COVID-19 pandemic. Employers and employees can also download the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. This free online toolkit outlines 13 factors that affect the mental health of employees in the workplace.
Watch our recent webinar, COVID-19: Mental Health Implications
Managing the spread of COVID-19 moving forward
Developing an infectious disease preparedness and response plan
Preparedness is the best way organizations can mitigate the risks posed by the pandemic, particularly as the situation evolves day-to-day. OSHA recommends that employers develop an infectious disease preparedness and response plan to protect against the spread of COVID-19 today and prepare for potential reintroduction of the virus in the months to come. The plan should consider the levels of risk associated with various worksites and job tasks employees perform at those sites. The plan should also address other steps employers can take to reduce the risk of worker exposure to the virus in their workplace (listed below).
Employees that show symptoms of COVID-19
Organizations will need to develop policies around identifying and isolating sick employees, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Here are a few steps to consider:
- Inform and encourage employees to self-monitor for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 if they suspect possible exposure
- Track when employees are experiencing symptoms and who they have been in contact with
- Immediately isolate people who have symptoms. For example, move potentially infectious people away from employees, customers, and other visitors
- Tell employees to notify their manager and leave the workplace immediately to self-isolate
- Set a policy around when sick employees can return to work. The CDC recommends that sick employees should not return to work until the criteria to discontinue home isolation are met
Learn about Dayforce’s Employee Safety Monitoring technology to help organizations manage and track employee COVID-19 exposure
Employees caring for sick family members
The CDC recommends employees who are well but have a sick family member at home should notify their manager or supervisor and follow CDC recommended precautions.
Best practices for preventing the spread of COVID-19
Employers can play a major role in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in our communities – especially as work from home policies are eventually lifted. Organizations can follow actions recommended by The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), such as encouraging sick employees to stay home and follow the CDC’s recommended steps to limit the spread of COVID-19. Both the CDC and the World Health Organizations (WHO) recommend employers continue to reinforce preventative measures – which can be applied even as normal business activities resume – by implementing the following practices:
- Provide no-touch options for doors, receptacles, and other shared areas
- Increase the cadence of routine environmental cleaning such as disinfecting surfaces, equipment, and other elements of the work environment
- Encourage respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes. Make hygiene communications visible around the workplace via posters and other visual aids
- Continue promoting social distancing practices. Where possible, implement work from home policies, increase physical space between employee workstations, provide flexible meeting options, and stagger shifts
- Provide employees and customers with tissues, face masks, and hand sanitizer
When employees eventually return to the office and resume regular business activities, employers may want to consider setting a policy around holding in-person meetings. The WHO advises employees ask the following questions before holding meetings in smaller spaces:
- Is a face-to-face meeting or event needed or could it be replaced with a video conference?
- Could the meeting be scaled down to fewer people?
- Are there enough supplies in the meeting area such as tissues, hand sanitizer, and face masks?
- Are attendees showing any symptoms ahead of the meeting? Advise attendees in advance that if they have any symptoms or feel unwell, they should not attend
Additional resources for employers
The COVID-19 pandemic is evolving on a daily basis. An organization’s response to this health crisis should be based on reliable and up to date information provided from sources such as the WHO, CDC, and public health agencies. Here is a list of additional resources to help employers make informed business decisions during COVID-19:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
World Health Organization (WHO): Getting your workplace ready for COVID-19
Resources for U.S. employers
U.S. Department of Labor: Coronavirus Resources
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19
Presagia (Ceridian Gold partner): Best Practices for Leave Management During COVID-19
Resources for Canadian employers
Government of Canada: Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan: Support for Canadians and Businesses
Government of Canada: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Being prepared
Government of Canada: Resources for Canadian businesses - Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)
Canadian Chamber of Commerce: Pandemic Preparedness for Business
Dayforce Employee Safety Monitoring: One of several new features and resources Ceridian has launched to help companies manage their employee response during the COVID-19 pandemic
COVID-19-related learning portal: Resources on COVID-19 preparedness and spread prevention, managing remote teams, and workplace mental wellness. These resources are available free-of-charge to both Dayforce customers and prospects. Access the Learning Portal