HR leads return to office • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine

HR leads return to office

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Companies count on human resources professionals to provide plan for keeping employees safe

HR professionals have been thrust into a situation where their voice is more necessary than ever.

Cyndi Harbin
Cyndi Harbin

“We ushered our workforces into a COVID-19 world of telework, virtual meetings, and unfortunately, furloughs and layoffs, and we’re the ones who will put our workplaces back together,” said Johnny Taylor, SHRM-SCP, president and chief executive officer of the Society for Human Resource Management. “CEOs are counting on our speed, our expertise and our creativity in reshaping the workplace for resistance and recovery.”

One of the best actions to ensure safety in the workplace is to prepare an action plan in response to a biological threat, including COVID-19. Wisdom comes through experiences, and I believe we all grew a little wiser through this crisis. So, if you have a disaster plan prepared, now is a good time to review it, and be sure that it is relevant and effective for business to continue. This plan will offer guidance, and direction in the event of a threat to your workforce and allows for a rational response from employers.

If you have not developed a plan, SHRM recommends creating a taskforce or team, then identify a leader, preferably one with disaster planning experience. Encourage participation from all levels, and aspects of the business, especially safety and security because their input will determine the priorities, and how to develop a plan for each one.

It would be most effective to have a “run through” before an actual crisis. There most likely will be areas for improvement.

SHRM recommends employers strongly consider the minimal amount of staff that can operate the business to keep the doors open. In other words, who and what are the critical functions of the business, and how to maintain operations with less staff.

Company policies and procedures should be reviewed and evaluated for effectiveness during the crisis. Employers should consider whether to temporarily suspend, enhance or create new policies because of a pandemic. Whether or not time off is necessary, and if it will be paid, is a decision a business must make as staff either continue working remotely or return to the workplace. Business owners should take time to familiarize themselves with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, other paid leave provisions, and union collective bargaining agreements.

The safety of a company’s employees as they return to the workplace is a priority. There are many ways this can be accomplished and should be discussed and decided by your taskforce/team and senior management. Some of the preventative measures will be more intensive cleaning and sanitizing in the workplace, screening employees, encouraging vaccinations, limiting business trips and face-to-face meetings, and continually monitoring the health of the workforce, as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Employees will welcome regular communication with clear instruction on how to effectively wash their hands and keep workspaces clean. Employers should hang posters in bathrooms and common areas, too. Employers may also choose to have masks available, as well, as gloves, to deter the spread of any infectious disease in the workplace. Employers also may wish to add free CDC flu content directly to their intranet for employee use. The CDC also has COVID-19 coronavirus-specific information and posters.

Screening and vaccinations are some other preventative measures businesses should consider as employees gradually return to the workplace. Your team should determine how your company screens your workforce and to keep employees safe. You may elect to check temperatures upon arrival to the workplace or provide time off to an employee who has been exposed or tested positive, and choose to have mandatory testing before your employees can return to work. Vaccinations may be encouraged or provided free of cost to employees but cannot be mandatory under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other labor rules.

Overall, we should continually monitor the health of our employees and business operations to ensure a safe workplace is being maintained. Encourage employees to stay home if they display symptoms, are sick or believe they have been exposed to someone with an infectious disease such as COVID-19.

Yes, we want our businesses to resume normal operations but not at the cost of employees and their families’ health. Please be safe, be smart and stay well.

Click here to read more from the August-September 2020 issue of Northwest Indiana Business Magazine.


  • Cyndi Harbin

    Cyndi Harbin is the state workforce readiness director for HR Indiana Society for Human Resource Management and past president of NWI SHRM.

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