Blog

HR news and updates from the E.L Blue Team

Operating your business in the 2022 COVID19 environment

25 Jan 2022 | COVID-19, Human Resource Management, Human Resource Outsourcing, Payroll

COVID is here to stay, businesses need to ensure they are positions to operate effectively in this environment.  There will be more close contacts, more self-reporting / testing, increases in self-isolating and, unfortunately, more people contracting the virus.   Being prepared for operating your business in the 2022 COVID environment will allow for better decision making, better HR management and greater confidence from your workforce.

 

A good initial step is to review and fine tune policies

COVID19 Policy

All businesses should already have a COVID policy in place. However, now is a great time to review the company’s current COVID policy, assess the risks to operations and fine tune policies that are obsolete.

Auditing the company’s hygiene, cleaning and social distancing practices will ensure safe workplace requirements are being met.

All policies should clarify the responsibilities of all employees – to keep the workplace safe, practice social distancing and follow procedures.

Providing a reporting or advisory requirements for staff who are ill and think they might have COVID, will ensure staff know what to do when they feel ill.  

Clear policy to isolate, undertake testing (RAT tests or PCR testing) and report in to management should be clear and simple to follow.  

Subject to the industry, isolation requirements are being adjusted, ensure your workforce is aware of their requirements.

Vaccination

Depending on the industry, businesses might face mandatory vaccination and record keeping requirements.  In most cases the second dose deadline is fast approaching.  Ensuring record keeping is consistent, secure and up-to-date is critical.

Where vaccination is not mandated by a health order, businesses should consult with the workforce on vaccination requirements and establish appropriate policy.   This should be done with workplace safety in mind.  Companies that make changes to their vaccination policies need to take into account all employee perspectives and consult prior to implementing change. 

It is also possible to require all new employees to be vaccinated and make that clear in recruitment messaging.  Appropriate record keeping will be essential. 

Leave Policy

As companies and individuals grapple with the uncertainty of the COVID spread, ensuring staff are clear on leave entitlements and how gain access to appropriate leave is important. 

A concise policy regarding COVID related leave can make a big difference for permanent and casual members of the workforce.

It is important to clarify which leave can be used under what circumstances.

  • If sick with COVID, what process and evidence is required to apply for sick leave.
  • If no sick leave is remaining, what other leave can be used.
  • What sort of leave is available for casual employees and would they be compensated and under what circumstances.
  • If having to isolate due to close contact, what sort of leave is possible.
  • What sort of leave is available if caring for a family member with COVID.
  • Can the employee work-from-home during a close contact or when a family members illness establishes the need to isolate.

There are quite a number of variations regarding leave, while FairWork has set some guidance, many companies are tailoring their approach and making it more flexible and supportive of employees facing different circumstances.  

Working from Home Policies

Many businesses established a WFH policy when under lockdown, and just adjusted the requirements as COVID conditions changed.  In many cases management and leadership teams expected office based workers to return to the office as before. 

What has happened is a boom in employee expectations for hybrid / remote working options. 

Workplace flexibility for many is now the norm.  With employees either self-determining office days or only attending the office for collaborative or team activities.   A number of firms use hybrid / WFH policies to attract new recruits. 

With these two situations in mind, it is a good time to revisit and ‘formalise’ the WFH policy.

COVID related Working from Home Policy: 

This would address the following type of situations;

  • In cases where the employee is unable to attend the workplace owing to a positive COVID test result.
  • Where employees are required to self-isolate owing to close contacts / family member illness.
  • New government restrictions / travel orders etc.

Employees would have to be well enough to work and have an appropriate working environment.

It is expected that once cleared, employees would return to their ‘normal’ workplace. 

There would be reporting, productivity and office contact requirements established.

General Working from Home / Hybrid / Remote working:

This is a hot topic and expected to define workplaces into the future.

Depending on the business and employee role, a WFH policy would determining remote and hybrid work policy which would be applicable on an on-going basis.

WFH policies are flexible, employees could WFH 100% of the time if the business chose.  However, many companies are opting for a hybrid arrangement – where employees attend the office a few days a week.   Office attendance is often focused on collaborative activities, team meetings, team building and training, where face to face interaction is beneficial.  

The hybrid arrangement has quite a few benefits, it allows supervisors to check in with their team (mental wellbeing, productivity etc.), gives employees opportunity to get ‘face time’ with senior managers and build rapport with their team members.

WFH or Hybrid structures, especially for administrative and knowledge based workers, are becoming a tangible benefit for employees, and becoming part of recruitment incentives.

If a business is considering WFH arrangements, it will need to be tailored to the business and reflect work processes and role requirements.  Consulting with employees and establishing a clear policy and process around handling working from home requests should help minimise disruptions.   

Under the NES, Employees can request flexible working arrangements, however this is often assessed with the employee being in a position of hardship or needing flexibility to handle carer responsibilities.  Employers can refuse such requests if they have reasonable business grounds.  FairWork hears appeals for refusals to flexible working arrangements, but looks closely at both, the reasons for the request (a lifestyle basis does not get much weighting) and the grounds the employer bases its refusal.    

No matter which workplace, the office or at home, the employers are still responsible to provide a safe work environment, and that employees that work from home are not disadvantaged in anyway. 

Let everyone know..

Consulting and getting the policy finalised is a good first step, more important is to ensure that all employees are aware of the policies, of any changes and also how it applies to them.

It is good management practice for HR or management to provide information sessions or training with regard to policy changes, especially when it requires the employees to change behaviour (reporting, testing, isolating, leave applications etc).

A solid plan around advising of policy change will minimise repetitive questions or uncertainty.

Employee Certainty

Recent changes in government policies, messaging and acceptable behaviour requirements, has not provided much comfort to most employees.  If the company has clear policies that are well disseminated, employees are operating from a position of confidence.

E.L Blue develops company specific policies which meet compliance requirements and provide great clarity for managers and the workforce.  Let us know if you need some advice.

www.elblue.com.au