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The coronavirus outbreak sparked what the World Health Organization is calling an "INFODEMIC" — an overwhelming amount of information on social media and websites. Some of it was and still is accurate. And some is downright untrue.

Dr. Mike Ryan from the head of WHO's health emergencies program, commented "We need a vaccine against misinformation”.

While the effects of COVID-19 on the global economy have been dire, there is a growing awareness that companies need to be prepared to deal with epidemics in their own backyards. The legal implications have been wide-ranging and complex as South African labor laws have been ill equipped to deal with pandemics.

As the crisis was impossible to predict with conventional wisdom and forecasting tools it left us with “No Playbook for this”.

Many business owners are having to come to terms with the impact that COVID-19 is having on their businesses. Many hard choices are needing to be made, now more than ever. These choices and priorities need to be kept hyperclear. While many HR Departments are now in the front lines, keeping employees engaged, enthused and productive.

Let us write the “Playbook” - what is HR’s “new normal”?

1. Retrenchments:Never has this been more relevant than now, as businesses begin to respond to the impacts of Covid-19 on their operations, says Johan Botes partner and head of the employment at Baker McKenzie.

In the current environment, employers may have no option but to commence with redundancy process due to operational requirements, he said.

“If there had been any doubt about the dire need for this approach previously, the impact of Covid-19 on businesses has confirmed that all creative alternatives to further job loss must be encouraged. Where reductions are unavoidable, humane ways of parting ways can and should be explored.”

2. Compensation Restructuring:Certain companies are planning to rationalize/reduce compensation on a temporary basis. Certain other companies are restructuring compensation in such a way to have lower fixed & higher variable package. The variable pay is linked to productivity and performance parameters. This measure reduces the fixed cost burden of the company and makes it possible to earn higher compensation by achieving the desired productivity and targets

3. HR Policies and Procedures:   As “business as usual” no longer exists businesses need to continue to operate and in order, to maintain business operations, employers must continue to manage an effective and productive workforce. Below are just a couple of recommendations of polices that you may want to review within your company:

  • Drug and Alcohol Policy - stress and anxiety levels are high. If an employee is suspected of drug or alcohol use, the company does have the right to require testing. Substance abuse policies should include procedures for when and how testing will occur, and clearly set forth the consequences for testing positive or refusing to test. The procedure must comply with company policy, and the policy must be applied consistently for all employees.

  • Leave policy - closely examine leave policies to determine the best coverage for this situation. Even if the company’s standard policy is for an employee to exhaust paid sick and annual leave before they can access unpaid leave, this unique situation may justify, if not require, a modified policy.

  • Employment equity policy

  • Recruitment policy

  • Electronic communications policy (including but not limited to IT, email & social media)

  • Review and update job descriptions where applicable  

4. Remote working arrangements:Businesses looking to introduce a work from home program should create specific guidelines to ensure all employees understand what is required from them when they work remotely:

  • Having the proper technology

  • Using a secure connection - remote workers should have a secured Wi-Fi network and work with a trusted virtual private network (VPN).

  • Implementing communications programs

  • Setting clear expectations in your work from home policy - create a work from home policy with your specific expectations of the program. The policy would include instructions for an employee’s daily work schedule, your company’s overtime policy, description of a dedicated workspace, instructions for reporting personal injury and damage to company equipment, and protection of proprietary company information

  • Trusting your employees - one of the most crucial elements of a work from home policy is not included in the actual document. Employers need to have trust in their employees to get their jobs done when they are not working onsite.

5. Health and Safety:HR now faces a formidable challenge – reducing fear and reassuring employees of the company’s commitment to health and safety.  

HR has, to recognize that for many employees COVID-19 may already have caused harm or loss of life to employee families and friends. 

Employees may be suffering from grief and emotional distress as they return to work. 

“Diligent planning can help protect employees, clients and the business. But plans are only as good as their execution.”

Article by:Tiffany Reed - HR Consultant

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