One (or two) questions that have been brought to ASE by employers when requesting a review of their employee handbook over the last year has been, do we need a COVID-19 policy? And/or what other policies do I need to have in place given the pandemic?
Before I go any further, I want to firmly state, employers should be communicating the heck out of new policies and practices resulting from workplace changes driven by the pandemic. In particular, employers should be “screaming” their new COVID-19 safety and health policies and rules to employees working on-site. They should also be repeatedly stating how employees should comply with communications directives and what is expected from them if working from home. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Then communicate some more. To move quickly, these policies can be put out in memos, postings, or emails.
To respond specifically about what policies should be added to an employee handbook, my recommendation has been a bit more reserved. One suggestion is to add a policy on Communicable Diseases. A second suggestion, if you foresee continuing remote work after the pandemic, is to also add a Remote Work/Telecommuting policy.
Why only those two modest policy suggestions? Because most employers do not update their employee handbooks as often as they should. Therefore, a Communicable Disease policy can be drafted broad enough to address everything from the common cold up to what we are dealing with today – Coronavirus/COVID-19. A specific policy for just COVID-19, as you can easily imagine, will be shortly outdated and its safety and health specific information related to just that disease are changing quicker than most handbooks normally get updated. Use other means to communicate the ever-changing safety and health details.
Outside of the handbook, what should be communicated about today’s pandemic? ASE provides a host of policy communications relevant to the current pandemic in our Contagious Diseases and Pandemic Toolkit, available on the ASE Member Dashboard. We are also a Protect Michigan Commission business partner. As we enter the inoculation stages of this pandemic, Michigan has developed and has available for download a number of employee communications pieces that can be used to communicate important and accurate information about vaccination. Those communication pieces need to be communicated quickly. Employers are invited to go to the Communications Toolkit at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MHDDS) site at Michigan.gov/COVIDVaccine. The toolkit has multilingual graphics, videos, posters, and handouts that employers can use to get the word out to workers and their families about the COVID-19 vaccine and when and how to receive the inoculation.
The other policy resulting from this pandemic that will probably stand the test of time (or at least until the next handbook update 2- 4 years down the road) is a Telecommuting or Remote Work policy. Most employers already had adopted a remote work program. What has changed is that it was once seen as a progressive, work-life balancing program, today it is now a virtual (pun intended) necessity for most employers. The conventional wisdom is that significant segments of employer jobs can be performed (to at least some extent) from home and beyond.
One other policy area that employers will have to embrace in the new remote workplace is cyber security. Workers push and pull information (data) from a what is believed to be a reasonably secure worksite out into every nook and cranny employees take their connected and possibly unsecured electronic device to. Ponemon Institute reports the average cost of a data breach is $3.86 million.
At this point, most employer handbooks should have some fashion of Electronic Communications policy included in it. This is another employment handbook policy that employers will probably need to shore up going forward. Most small employers’ handbooks have some policies addressing computer or internet security. Larger more mature businesses have extensive policies on the use of company computer and other equipment. Employers should review their current Electronic Communications policies and practices to determine if they are secure enough. The normal employee is not going to assume or even know if the electronic devices they use everyday are secure enough to use for sensitive data. Employers working with their IT department or vendor should develop an effective policy for its workplace that will embrace the security risk they face when employees work remotely.
Additional ASE Resources
Handbook Development – ASE provides both classes and consulting on employee handbook development. The Designing Employee Handbooks course will be held virtually June 1, 2021. Learn more and register here. For handbook development consulting and services, contact Michael Burns.
Cybersecurity Course – ASE is offering a new course, Cybersecurity Basics for the HR Professional, on March 11, 2021 (virtual course). Learn more and register here.
COVID-19 Employer Resources – Visit our COVID-19 Employer Resources page to stay up to date on current state and federal regulations.
Contagious Diseases and Pandemic Toolkit – ASE members have access to the ASE Contagious Diseases and Pandemic Toolkit via the ASE Member Dashboard. The toolkit contains over 50 tools, forms, and template policies as well as over 50 useful links for easy reference to local, state, and federal resources. Non-members can request to purchase the toolkit here.