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9 Areas of Focus for HR Right Now – Part 7

Thanks for joining us on this nice little reflective exercise. There has been so much news to keep up with this year, that we thought it would be helpful to put pen to paper on our key COVID-19 takeaways. We hope our numbers 1 through 6 provided some food for thought, and also some helpful advice. We are back this week with number 7, and it’s a big one.

7. Leave & Accommodations

Leave laws are always front and center for us at Alera Group, but this year we had different considerations. While this topic interplays with many of the other themes on this list, I thought it important to reiterate some key legislative items we’ve been dealt this year.

Currently, there are very few legal parameters for supporting working parents during the pandemic, and no protections for employees worried about exposing people in their household. Any accommodations allowed here are largely based on the discretion of the employer. For working parents, consider flexible hours and different shifts. Further, companies should think about whether teleworking could work more permanently, you are likely to face some employee hesitancy to return to the office. This will be especially important depending on your office location and the case rates in that area.

As we think about traditional ADA accommodations processes and try to carry them out in a COVID-19 world, we pose the following questions:

  • If an employee self-identifies themselves as high-risk, should an employer be asking for proof?
  • If an employee states they cannot wear a mask due to a disability, but cannot provide documentation, what does the employer do?
  • If an employee is asking for leave but is not eligible under ADA or FMLA, what other options are available?

I recently presented at DMEC where we suggested implementing short-term accommodations trials, especially when there is difficulty obtaining documentation, which there has been due to the closing of medical offices to non-emergency patients and reluctance to visit medical offices out of fear. So if an employee asks for accommodation without documentation, try something that you find reasonable for three or six months without asking for medical information, and then revisit the trial at that point. Further, exhaust all return to work options (whether in-person or remote) first, and use leaves as a last resort.

With the expiration of the FFCRA, Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) and Emergency Family and Medical Leave (EFMLA) is no longer required, but the tax credit has been extended. Click here for more details on that. All of these complexities are making the case for federal leave law, in which we could avoid this patchwork of different leaves, but speakers remarked that while the desire is there, there are too many challenges to get it going during this economic climate.

Several states have implemented their own leave policies related to COVID-19: California, New York, New Jersey, Colorado, Washington D.C., with pending legislation in Massachusetts. Employers in these states will need to weave these into their programs.

Further, while there is no leave currently for those afraid to return to the workplace, employers should be cautious as it is possible for debilitating anxiety to occur in these cases, which could trigger a leave.

At the end of the day, while employers often worry about the misuse of programs, research shows that less than 5% of individuals taking leave are abusing it. Further, as engrained in our culture, people are generally shamed of needing time off work to take care of themselves or others. To this end, we need to take a caring lens when it comes to leave and accommodations. Lastly, communicate your policies often, be proactive, make it easy for employees to find available resources, check in on your colleagues, and be sure to have formal Stay and Work and Return to Work programs in place and updated.

Don’t miss our series wrap-up, numbers 8 and 9, coming next week!

 

About the Author
Christine Culgin
Director of Marketing at Spring Consulting Group, an Alera Group Company

Christine Culgin is Spring Consulting Group,  Director of Marketing. She studied Spanish and Economics at Lafayette College and later went on to receive her master's degree in global marketing communications and advertising from Emerson College. Christine specializes in B2B marketing and handles content creation, email marketing, social media, blogging, SEO and event management at Spring.

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