Continuity During COVID-19

Beth Dean | Nextep

SUGGESTING THAT EVENTS of 2020 have been unexpected is a bit of an understatement. At this point we’re seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic in America and every day it seems there are new challenges facing employees and business owners. 

One of the biggest Human Resources (HR) challenges for employers is how to deal with the human element of COVID-19. What do I do if an employee gets sick? Is there any financial relief for me or my employees? What about masks? 

We hear questions like these every day.

Obviously, safety is the first priority. This point can be tricky for employers, especially when it’s difficult to ensure proper social distancing. But once those details have been worked out, it can be confusing to know what comes next. 

Answers to Your Questions

Here are some of the most frequent questions we’ve received from business owners during the pandemic. 

What can I do to help keep my workplace safe? When it comes to preventing the spread of illness in the workplace, we believe the first line of defense is for employees to stay home when they’re experiencing symptoms. Ultimately, this is only as effective as the degree to which your employees feel empowered to use sick days. When people fear repercussions, they feel obligated to come into work while sick, which is how illnesses spread.

For those at work, there are several things you as an employer can do: 

•   Implement a contingency plan and contagious disease policy with your HR team. 
•   Provide disinfectant, hand sanitizer, and other sanitization products for your employees.
•   Utilize Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) materials to educate your employees on how to protect themselves and reduce exposure to the virus.
•   Encourage everyone to be actively involved in keeping the workplace safe. 

Can I ask an employee to leave the workplace if they’re displaying symptoms of COVID-19? If an employee is displaying COVID-19 symptoms, they should not be at work. They should follow CDC guidelines regarding home isolation and/or testing. 

Employees may have the right to paid sick leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) if they test positive for COVID-19. Consult with your HR professional for details.

Can we send a sick employee home? As a general rule, employees who have a fever greater than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit should not be permitted to work. Additionally, employees who display other COVID-19 symptoms (e.g. shortness of breath, cough, etc.) should stay home. Follow the recommendations set forth by the CDC regarding home isolation as a result of their symptoms or exposure.

Incorporating the best of the changes on a more permanent basis will make for a changed workforce, surely, but for a better one that’s even more equipped for the next crisis.

Working from home has been a big change. How can I make it work? Working from home has its own unique challenges. Here are some ways to make it successful:

•   Use video conferencing for meetings. It maintains that personal, face-to-face interaction and encourages engagement, even if it’s virtual.
•   Encourage your team to take breaks. When working at home, it’s easy to work through a lunch break or keep going even after quitting time.
•   Over-communicate with your team. Daily or even twice-daily team huddles are a great way to let them know exactly what’s going on and give them a chance to catch you up on projects.

My employee has been exposed to COVID-19. What do I do? If your employee has been exposed to COVID-19, they need to stay home for 14 days after the last exposure and self-monitor for symptoms. If your employee must be at work, assess their symptoms prior to starting the workday, maintain social distancing, and wear face masks.  If they become sick, send them home immediately. 

Employers play an integral role in slowing the spread of the virus by encouraging employees to stay home, offering flexible telework options, and showing kindness to your people during this crazy time. 

My city/state has a mask mandate. Are my employees required to wear a mask at work? First, follow state and local regulations. If your business is able to keep workers at least six feet apart and they aren’t exposed to the public, you can allow your employees to work without masks. Continue to encourage social distancing and consider requiring wearing masks in situations where social distancing isn’t possible. 

How can I support my employees who are juggling work and children at home with virtual school? Now, more than ever, it’s important to create a culture that is flexible, supportive and kind. Flexible scheduling and work hours can go a long way with employees who need to care for their children.  If your employees can’t work from home, they can use Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act (EFMLA) or PTO, if available.  


Lessons Learned

Listening to the challenges our employees face has helped us transition to the new normal. During this pandemic, we’ve learned that companies and workers can be much more resilient than we ever thought. It’s been an honor to see how people step up in the face of crisis to keep going and help one another. 

Different solutions work for different situations; here are some of the things that helped us at Nextep:

Constant Communication

In light of the unpredictability in the world, we found that over-communication is key. 

Some of the changes that worked for us include weekly updates from our corporate HR department that included department shout-outs, company retention and hiring plans, and updates from government leaders on stay-at-home orders. 

Our CEO, Brian Fayak, also made himself available for Q&A sessions. Employees submitted questions, and nothing was off-limits. He answered them all honestly, and there were some tough ones!

It’s important to keep teams communicating with one another. When your employees are used to interacting and collaborating with their coworkers, it’s essential to maintain the similar level of camaraderie virtually. We used daily team huddles, video chats, virtual happy hours, and an open-door policy with leadership to help keep communication flowing.

Checking In 

For leaders, it’s been important to check in regularly with employees to get a gauge on how they’re truly doing.  

Without a doubt, the pandemic has negative implications for businesses across the country, but it also has negative human implications. Some employees had to homeschool their kids through the spring semester, others with compromised immune systems have had to take extra precautions. Whatever the situation, each person’s life has been changed in some way and deserves attention. 

Our teams have been busier than ever helping our clients navigate the changes. Leaders check on their teams frequently. Sometimes it’s a simple video chat, while other times leaders are taking on tasks or shifting priorities to alleviate the workload. 

Encouraging paid time off (PTO), letting your team leave early if their work is done, and scheduling regular one-on-one video chats has gone a long way towards boosting morale.

Most of all, flexibility has been crucial. Personal lives have been turned upside down. Giving employees the time they need to care for themselves and their families is helpful.

Incorporate New Ideas

For many companies, there will be no such thing as “business as usual” for a long time.

Incorporating the best of the changes on a more permanent basis will make for a changed workforce, surely, but for a better one that’s even more equipped for the next crisis. Much of what we’ve learned ignited new ideas we can continue to use moving forward. 

One of the biggest lessons for us was that many of our employees enjoyed the flexibility of working from home, and, quite frankly, they’re really dang good at it. This encouraged us to create a new policy that allows flexibility in working from home from time to time going forward. 

Whatever the changes, listen to your employees’ needs and keep up the great work!  

Beth Dean is the manager of marketing for Nextep, Inc., a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) that works hand-in-hand with small- and mid-sized companies to provide outsourced HR services. To learn more, visit