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Times Are Changing: How the COVID-19 Outbreak Is Transforming Workplaces


Posted on Tuesday, March 24, 2020


Time & Attendance Software: COVID Transforms Workplaces | Time Rack

It’s not just hand washing: the global COVID-19 outbreak is rapidly changing how and where we work. Although public health is driving many of the stay-at-home orders issued by state governments in recent days, these orders are also reshaping the habits of workers in fundamental ways.

Meanwhile, employers are left trying to both manage their workforces and take care of their own health while making sense of the rapid changes in both regulations and workplaces.

We’re in uncharted territory. But there’s no reason to panic. Finding your plan, making sure you have the right resources for accurate information and knowing what to expect from the recent legislation gives you a strong foundation in uncertain times – even if it seems like times are changing on the hour, every hour.

It’s wise to remember the words of Peter Drucker, the groundbreaking management consultant and educator: “The entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.”

A good first step is meeting the needs of an increasingly remote workforce.

Asynchronous Work, a Fast-Growing Trend

Rhamy Alejeal, CEO of Memphis’ People Processes, has seen the outbreak as accelerating existing trends. “The whole system has already been dying for quite some time. Office space utilization has gone down; companies that have invested in expansive headquarters a mere five years ago are finding them underutilized even without this. I expect we’ll see more investment in real estate that better supports home office work,” Alejeal says.

Alejeal also says there are a number of things employers can do right now to prepare for an increasingly mobile workforce. “In general, you need to have a strong understanding of your telecommuting policies, your work from home policies,” Alejeal states. “You need asset management, so you need a process by which you make sure the equipment you provide is taken care of and accessible. The primary concern is performance management and culture – those are the two things that are most difficult to extend to work from home.”

“For those who do have direct contact – for example, customer service representatives -- they need more focus on traditional office hours even when they work from home,” suggests Alejeal. “For those it’s not unreasonable to require childcare and those sorts of things when people do work from home.”

Also important is maintaining employee morale – which is particularly important in a high-stress time when workers are concerned about their health and the health of those around them. “A lot of time is spent right now with ‘water cooler’ talk. When you have a diverse, distributed workforce, that doesn’t happen automatically,” Alejeal cautions. “You can plan in-person meet-ups, or as I recommend, weekly, direct one-on-ones with management for performance management, goal setting and so on. And there is also unstructured time that is set aside for employees to interact with one other. So, an hour a week on a Monday morning, mini breakouts, company chats, things where you share what’s going on with your life, what movies you’ve seen, et cetera.”

"Also important is maintaining employee morale – which is particularly important in a high-stress time when workers are concerned about their health and the health of those around them."

New laws are also rapidly transforming workplaces. Case in point: the landmark Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

What the New World of Paid Medical Leave May Mean for Employers

H.R. 6201 was signed into law on Wednesday, March 18. Containing multiple stimulus measures, the bill goes into effect April 2 and will remain in effect until Dec. 31.

For employers, the most noteworthy area of the law are the expanded provisions to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Making substantial expansions to the FMLA, these provisions apply to all businesses with 500 or fewer employees, although future regulations may make exemptions for businesses with fewer than 50 employees.

The sections on paid medical leave are of particular interests to employers.

HR consulting firm eqHR Solutions has been paying careful attention to the new legislation. “One of the major changes of the emergency FMLA expansion is going to be in effect during this pandemic,” says eqHR human resources consultant Carolina Romero. The major change: regardless of how long they’ve been with a company, all full- and part-time employees of companies with fewer than 500 employees become eligible for 80 hours of paid sick leave under the new law’s Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. “Typically, with FMLA, you have to have worked for a longer amount of time. That’s quite a huge change,” Romero says.

Romero points out there are exemptions. “It does exclude health care providers and emergency responders, the first 10 days are unpaid, and employees can use paid time off during the first 10 days, but they are not required to do so. If they choose to, they can use the sick leave and vacation they already have … but you can’t require them,” Romero states.

Sidebar: How will HR 6201 affect your workplace? Here’s a quick walk-through of the new law from Carolina Romero. Note: These rules may change in the coming days and weeks.

Emergency Paid FMLA: Care for children at home
Emergency Paid FMLA: Care for children at home

Emergency Paid FMLA

(Be aware these apply only to employees who are unable to work or work remotely and need to care for their minor children whose childcare provider or school has closed. Other uses stated previously in the bill no longer apply.)

  1. Although the first 10 days of leave are unpaid, emergency paid sick leave or accrued sick leave can subsidize them.
  2. Pay must be 2/3rds of an employee’s regular rate. The rate is capped at $200 per day and with a $10,000 aggregate.
  3. Certain workers – health care providers and first responders – can be exempted from this leave.

Emergency Paid Sick Leave

(Employees cannot be required to use accrued PTO before using this.)

  1. Employers will be reimbursed by a payroll tax credit.
  2. For situations specifically related to coronavirus, employees are entitled to 80 hours – two weeks – of paid sick leave.
  3. If the employee is part-time, they are entitled to the number of hours they work on average for a two-week period.
  4. These rules also apply to public agencies with one or more employees.
  5. The law breaks up covered employees into two distinct groups:

    First Group

    • Employees who are under federal, state or local Coronavirus quarantine
    • Employees who have been advised to self-quarantine by their healthcare provider
    • Employees who have symptoms and are awaiting official diagnosis

    Employees in this group are paid at the greater of their regular rate of pay - or the minimum wage. This pay has a daily cap of $511 and a $5,110 aggregate.

    Second Group

    • Employees caring for an individual subject to the orders listed above
    • Employees advised by their healthcare provider to self-quarantine
    • Employees who have symptoms and are awaiting official diagnosis

    Employees in this second group are paid at 2/3rds of their regular pay rate or 2/3rds of the applicable minimum wage – whichever is higher. This pay has a daily cap of $200 and a $2,000 aggregate.

“The responsibility is going to be on the employer to pay for this, unfortunately,” Romero warns. “There will be a payroll tax credit; as to what that’s going to be that hasn’t been established yet. There are small business loans available for those who haven’t qualified yet. There is a limited exception for this, for employers who have 25 employees or less. In that case, they may not be mandated to follow the emergency FMLA.”

“Things are changing on the hour and they haven’t released yet what kind of funding they’re going to release to the public,” says Romero. “As it stands right now, the employer must pay for it.”

Reasons for Caution

Chris Cooley, co-founder of MyHRConcierge, a human resources services provider, also calls for caution. “Right now, everything is so fluid, the bill has come out and business owners just need to be diligent and finding good resources of information and using that information in a consistent matter,” Cooley says.

Cooley also addresses concerns about employers trying to conduct tests at work. “You need to be careful with that. The EEOC just very recently came out and said you can take an employee’s temperature, and from that aspect you can,” warns Cooley. “What you have to figure out now though is if you take their temperature, are there any risks for yourself? What information are you going to get? You can have carriers without fever.

“You have to weigh the risk,” says Cooley.

It’s also unclear if employers are liable for any COVID-19 cases which may occur in their workplaces. “That’s tricky. We haven’t been there yet,” says Cooley. “I think a lot of this will be determined by time and cases.” As for potential lawsuits? “Get your attorney and you just have to fight that case. We’re going to find out more about that (situation) as we move forward.”

For employers in states who have yet to issue stay at home orders, Cooley also warns against making employees work from home – even if they have conditions that make them susceptible to COVID-19. “If they’re in a position that works from the office, and there are other similar positions in the office and if their diabetes or asthma does not preclude or hinder them from doing their work, you cannot say ‘Hey, I want you to work offsite because you’re diabetic.’ Because then you’d be singling them out and discriminating against them.”

Finally, this is no time to be unaware of fraud – remember, hackers and scammers aren’t sitting this crisis out. Leigh Grady is the payroll manager for FINSYNC, based in Atlanta. She warns ongoing dangers like phishing aren’t going to go away during this time. “I think you have to be very cognizant of who you’re doing business with. Have a better understanding of your clients, too,” Grady cautions.

Finally, this is no time to be unaware of fraud – remember, hackers and scammers aren’t sitting this crisis out.

Weathering the Storm with Time Rack and Time Rack HR

Time Rack’s cloud-based software offers employers the flexibility they need while keeping up with the demands of the market. You’ll have access to the same reports and data you rely on whether you’re on site or working remotely. For your employees, our time tracking mobile app allows employees to clock in and out on their own devices using their front-facing camera … which also cuts down on expensive abuses like buddy punching.

It’s also critically important at this time to stay ahead of massive changes like H.R. 6201. Time Rack HR is an invaluable partner which reduces HR workload and errors while keeping you compliant and up to date in a time of rapid changes. Plus, Time Rack HR allows access to a HR Support Center and HR On-Demand, featuring live HR advice, a searchable database of guides and checklists on HR topics and more.

Time Rack HR Support During COVID-19

The workforce is changing – we’ll help you keep up. Want to learn more? Click the link below.

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