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These are employers’ top coronavirus-related concerns

Employers are pretty much on the same page when it comes to tackling the many workplace issues stemming from the pandemic.
By: | April 3, 2020 • 3 min read
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Whether it is properly managing leave/sick pay or keeping employee safety and morale as high as possible in these trying times, COVID-19-related employer concerns are piling up fast, according to a new survey from Littler, the employment and labor law firm.

Completed by 912 employers from a wide range of business sectors, the survey results revealed employers navigating far-ranging and some “thorny” issues, according to Alka Ramchandani-Raj, a member of Littler’s COVID-19 Task Force. Those issues range from dealing with operational challenges related to closures and staffing shortages, to keeping employees safe and managing morale, to making tough decisions related to compensation and providing leave to those unable to work.

“COVID-19 has created a host of challenges for employers while accelerating fundamental shifts already underway in the workplace,” Ramchandani-Raj says. “As the pandemic’s many lasting implications begin to emerge, it’s encouraging that employers are moving quickly to take a range of actions in response to this rapidly evolving situation.”

Specifically, on the leave and sick pay-issue, 89% of employers are concerned about determining whether to pay employees during absences related to the coronavirus. Further, 85% reported adjusting their sick-leave policies or providing additional paid time off, or were considering taking these actions. Also, a common theme expressed by respondents related to how to handle employees who cannot perform their jobs remotely and those who must care for children out of school or others who are sick.

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“Companies already facing a patchwork of employee-leave laws must now also comply with requirements to provide additional paid leave from measures passed in response to the pandemic. And many companies are implementing new policies and benefits to support employees during this difficult time,” says Melissa Peters, a COVID-19 Task Force member. “The current regulatory environment and the novel nature of this virus give rise to several complex and nuanced questions about how to manage leaves of absence entitlements triggered by COVID-19.”

Regarding employee safety and morale, 93% of respondents are worried about ensuring that workplace conditions and policies comply with applicable safety and health regulations. Participants say the most common steps taken in response were communicating hygiene practices and prevention measures (98%), restricting travel (83%) and canceling meetings (78%). Several survey respondents mentioned that they were struggling with how to lessen employee anxiety while striking the right balance in responding appropriately without panicking workers.

“Even before officials were starting to recommend stricter social-distancing measures and states were beginning to institute stay-at-home orders, our survey respondents were taking several steps to keep their employees safe,” says Brad Hammock, co-chair of Littler’s Workplace Safety & Health Practice Group (and a member of the COVID-19 Task Force). “At the same time, with the workplace a defining part of many individuals’ lives, managing employee morale and mental health, as well as providing resources and support to help them cope, is understandably top of mind with employers.”

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Among the additional concerns and actions, temporarily closing offices, factories or stores if an employee or customer tests positive for the virus clearly is the No. 1 worry, as 96% expressed concern.

Finally, 83% of respondents noted concern about inadvertently discriminating against members of a protected class or giving rise to discrimination claims in their COVID-19 strategy. However, avoiding discrimination against employees ranked lowest among employers’ concerns, with 17% reporting not being concerned at all.

Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.

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