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Preparing for the Unthinkable

No one prepares you or tells you what to do if you lose an employee (abducted by aliens, ghosted, or the absolute worst, if they pass away). Never mind if they are a trusted member of your leadership team. There’s no playbook. SHRM provides one article with cold notification text for telling your employees. There is no humanity in it.

When we faced the worst of these possibilities, I didn’t know where to turn. I did what I thought was best in the moment. I followed my heart and tried to act with as much humanity as possible.

Here are some observations and lessons from this experience:

 

Notifying Your Team

Points of Contact: We all have emergency POCs for our employees. But how often are they updated? Our team had been okay about this, but now I’m going to be militant getting them reviewed semi-annually.

On the employee side, how many partners/family members have contact information for your employee’s supervisor? We may all go home and talk about work but how many of us share contact information? Further, how many share it for more than one person in the organization? We now insist that all our employees give their families not only their supervisors contact info but mine as well. In an emergency, time counts. Having two POCs for the company increases the likelihood that someone will pick up when they call and can handle all the company aspects.

The Leadership Team: Leadership and colleagues need to know. The sooner the better. My immediate reaction was to get all of the Directors on a call immediately. Better that they hear it from me than on social media.

The Ground Team: Coworkers also need to know – not only because they care, but because we may need their help in trying to cover for the employee in question. We held a quick all hands 10 min zoom call (a sign of the times). I told everyone everything that I could, so we all worked from the same information.

Partners and Clients: For us, it wasn’t as clear what was actively being worked on by the employee as they had multiple projects and clients. I personally talked to as many as I could to let them know of the situation. All have been understanding and kind. We’ve had to ask for grace way more often than I ever want to, but the support has been universal.

 

Work Product:

Our employee was working off their own computer and therefore wasn’t under our prevue. We had thought all client files were being backed up in the cloud, and luckily for us, that ended up being the case. If it wasn’t we wouldn’t have had access to their personal laptop. We would be in the unfortunate position of guessing on deliverables, going back through emails, and trying to construct what had happened. Going forward, we will repeatedly spot check that all company work is in the cloud. And not doing so will result in discipline up to and including possible termination. That’s how seriously we are going to take it.

 

Insurance:

Our employee was not a standard salaried employee, so their insurance coverage wasn’t always as clear cut as we would like. We worked closely with our broker to ensure that the information we had was exactly what the carriers had, so there were no questions in coverage. In doing so, we discovered that we needed to audit the basis of coverage under STD, LTD, ADD and Life insurance policies. Most companies offer these coverages for free to employees and you sign up once when onboarding and then never think of it. We are now going back to audit all of our invoices for the year and the basis of salary that the carriers are using. We’ve been good about auditing health insurance, but we need to be better about this bill.

 

Helplessness:

Because their passing was so unexpected and out of nowhere, everyone is wrestling with it. We all want to be helpful in some manner. Unfortunately, especially when in wait and see mode, there is absolutely nothing that can be done, except to cover for client work, ensure the family has food and make sure we’re there to answer any questions. This leads many of us (myself very much included) to feel helpless. Our jobs as leaders is to help solve problems. And there was no solving this one. This personally weighed me down. Everyone wants to feel useful. We ended up opening a 529 plan for our employee’s son. This at least gives us something to contribute towards to feel useful. It also allows us to make an impact. My personal goal is to drive as much money into this fund as possible in the memory of our colleague. Flowers are nice, but debt free college options for their 9-year-old is was more important in my mind.

 

Humanity:

My company has now seen me ugly cry via zoom (let me tell you how ugly that is). Clients I’ve never spoken with have heard from me and we’ve talked about life and death in a manner that some people never share with friends. I have personally swung from rage to despair in 5 short minutes. Instead of hiding my feelings or trying to remain nothing but professional, I’ve just been me. It’s the only way I know how to be. Time will tell if this was a bad idea or if showing your humanity is indeed the way to lead.

 

As stated before, there is no standard for experiencing this depth of sadness in your work or personal life. All in all, it is necessary to lead with heart and putting humans first. I truly hope that you never have to experience something like this, but in the unlikely event that you do, I hope these reminders make the ‘company-stuff’ as painless as possible.

Remaining Current Amid Ever-Fluctuating Information Regarding COVID and the Workplace

In this time of uncertainty, information overload, not to mention public and political debate over what is the right course of action (and who is to blame for the mistakes of said actions), is rampant.  It is difficult to know exactly what is useful and accurate information, or even where to find it.

As fast as information is released, it is modified or changed altogether, making it extremely difficult for organizations to recognize which guidance to rely on.  Now more than ever is the time for business leaders to truly partner with their HR Professionals and corporate Safety Officers to ensure that information and changes to public edicts is communicated and implemented in a timely fashion.  Proactivity and readiness will ensure your workforce is well taken care of during this pandemic.  How your organization handles this pandemic will no doubt affect the morale and productivity of your workforce, not to mention your ability to engage and retain your employees.

As mentioned, it is important to keep up with the latest information and choose a select few sources for reference.  The best course of action is to rely on a limited number of resources from reputable sources.  Sources such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) have comprehensive, workplace-targeted resources and guidelines.

In addition to the above resources, you will want to follow the relevant state and local resources, as they are often targeted to the specific outbreak statistics and corresponding response remedies for the local area.  For example, if you are in employer conducting business in the Commonwealth of Virginia, you are required to provide employees with job-specific education and training on preventing the transmission of COVID-19.  The specific training that must be provided depends on the risk level employees face at work, as defined by the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health’s (VIOSH) Emergency Temporary Standards.  This training is required to be completed by August 26, 2020.

It is important to keep in mind that agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and OSHA have specific guidance with regards to testing, quarantining, handling employee complaints, and the fine line between exposure, illness, and those employees who are medically deemed as high risk.  In each of these situations, there is the potential for the integration of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), necessitating an interactive discussion with the employee.

Whether it be a Google Alert, a subscription to your employment attorney’s newsletters (let us know if you need a referral, we know some great ones), or simply checking your sources on a very regular basis, there are many ways to stay current.  The HR team at BOOST is also well versed in the latest COVID-related rules and regulations.  If you are looking for advice on how to navigate returning to the office, employee exposures, other questions about business continuity during the COVID pandemic, let’s connect!

Return to Work Plan: Not Business as Usual. (Webinar Replay)

On Tuesday, June 9th, BOOST’s CEO Stephanie Alexander moderated a digital panel discussing the transition of many businesses back to the workplace. As such, there are a number of important questions that employers need to be answered including:

  • What new legal requirements do employers need to consider?
  • What policies and procedures do employers need to implement before their employees step back into the workplace?
  • What do employers have to do versus what should they be doing?

In this discussion, we heard from Nichole Atallah and Sarah Nash of PilieroMazza PLLC and Mary Holmes of BOOST LLC.

You can catch the full replay here:

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