It’s more or less business as usual now isn’t it though? We have settled into a workable routine and we have a sense of normalcy again.
Moving on with our new reality, all we can really do now as management teams is to define our critical uncertainties and develop plausible scenarios in order to discuss the anticipated impacts and the possible responses to give for each one of them.
Specifically, in order that we update our strategies and policies accordingly. Trouble is though, the policies are usually not updated, and we only start talking about them when something actually happens.
Is it an offence to be consistently late to work, given the social distancing requirements at all service points that an employee needs to access in a typical day? Public transport and food vendors always experienced long queues but now the situation is worse.
Would the employer make an allowance for staff? Could a policy be created to establish criteria and guidelines? What about if a staff member refuses to use the sanitiser and screening equipment provided at work because he has personal provisions?
Would he/she be refused entry to the premises? Are there stipulated quality standards (in policy format) applicable to the various categories of PPE we use in our workplace?
What about a situation where a colleague whose work was not earmarked for the work-from-home option is uncomfortable with returning to the workplace because of his concerns about personal safety? Is that insubordination?
Or absconding? Failure to comply with reasonable instructions? What does our policy say about that scenario? Do we have a provision to treat that absence as leave? For how long though?
And, what if the colleague opts to resign because we don’t know how to treat his continued absence? Are we going to apply the standard notice requirement or are we prepared to waive it because of COVID-19?
Do we have the policy on that? Have we reduced performance expectations in view of unfolding realities in the COVID-19 aftermath? What if a colleague was paid on a commission basis, earning according to sales targets?
How will the company pay the colleague during these months where the business is operating but targets are not met because of market conditions?
Will the colleague receive a subsistence allowance or simply be terminated?
Every organisation will obviously have its own realities to cater for, but the employment policy manual will
Employees will have fears of returning to business as usual, and communicating how safety is a top priority will allay fears and increase brand loyalty.
More than just posters on the notice boards, official policy statements must be made regarding health screening procedures, exposure-response plans, personal protective equipment, cleaning procedures and procuring ongoing supplies. Beyond that, we also need to articulate realistic work plans, including staggered shifts and lunch/rest breaks, rotating weeks in the office and working remotely, (are we still calling it an eight or nine hour day, and, do we still talk about punctuality, or are we just looking at output now) restricting business travel, defining customer and/or visitor contact protocols, introduction of contactless transaction procedures.
Are we able to grant staff loans, and if so, do we need to review the eligibility and pay back procedures? What about paid leave? Are we able to expand leave categories to accommodate absence that is not ‘annual’ or ‘sick’ or ‘emergency’ leave?
Do we have to make any pay cuts according to employee status changes? For instance, a full time job that has deployed to a part time job from home – are we compensating that colleague on his old salary as a personal to holder, or are we negotiating a new package? Have we defined the policy?
Are we introducing a ‘hazard’ allowance for those who can’t work from home?
The typical employment contract up to last year didn’t have a force majeure clause, but now, we may see more employers incorporating it into the various agreements with individual staff and their collective bargaining bodies.
We may also need to review no-strike clauses to ensure continuity during future infectious disease outbreaks.
But in the meantime let’s keep the communication mechanism humming.
All involved in the environment should be able to access information and applicable guidelines about all aspects of their employment relationship, whether it is being continued or not.
Please note that comments are welcome at email@example.com. Every effort is made to respond to individuals, and mail received is treated as confidential.
Please note however that in cases of specific work-related grievances and disputes submitted, Shameela Winston will not pronounce opinions nor prescribe remedies.