The Importance of the Human Resources and Compliance Partnership in the New COVID-19 Pandemic Era

Human Resources and Compliance have always had a natural and tight bond, assuming that there is no territorial or in-fighting political disputes.  In this new COVID-19 pandemic era, the HR and Compliance partnership is even more important.

HR and Compliance have a critical challenge for moving forward – restoring employee trust in a safe and healthy work environment.  Company workforces are shell-shocked and they need to be supported during this difficult time and slow transition back to work.  It will take time and extensive effort by HR and Compliance.

At the outset, like any other important initiative, company leadership has to adopt, disseminate and communicate new policies and procedures to guarantee worker safety and health.  Leadership has to commit itself to building a new system of trust and integrity surrounding a safe and healthy workplace. 

From top to bottom, new policies and procedures surrounding employee work requirements and operations have to be understood and embraced.  A company built on trust and integrity will find the process easier than those that suffer from a weak culture of ethics and compliance.

HR and Compliance have to reinforce the messaging around safety and health measures.  If employees do not feel safe, a company will be unable to move forward. 

HR and Compliance need to design and implement a robust workplace training program aimed at educating employees and demonstrating the new rules and expectations on safety and health.  Compliance is a natural partner in this area because of experience in training programs.  Prior to resuming a work schedule, remote training programs, if feasible, should be conducted as an important first step.

HR and Compliance face a formidable culture challenge – reducing fear and reassuring the workforce of the company’s commitment to health and safety.  In recognition of this new era, HR and Compliance have to recognize that for many employees COVID-19 may already have caused harm or loss of life to employee families and friends.  Employees may be suffering from grief and emotional distress as they return to work.  Grief counseling and other support services have to be made available at increased levels.

Another important issue for the company is the requirement and/or availability of testing.  It is unclear yet how comprehensive testing will be made available in the country – whether the federal government, the states or local governments will expand the availability of testing.  Some have suggested that companies have to take responsibility for providing testing services to employees.

Companies face a minefield of issues surrounding employment conditions and testing for their employees.  Companies have to ensure that COVID-19 issues are not used or perceived to be used as a ruse for a form of discrimination or harassment.

At a minimum, companies have to provide relevant information concerning testing and availability of such services as needed.  In addition, employee privacy issues have to be balanced against workplace safety when a company obtains information that an employee has tested positive for COVID-19 and has to ensure the safety of its workplace from spreading the virus among its employees. 

Companies have to educate themselves from government public health officials concerning effective testing regimes and when it may be necessary to recognize a specific type of testing s reliable and accurate.  For example, if an employee provides documentation of a negative test result, the company has to ensure that the test is reliable and has a low false negative result (or false positive depending on the purpose of the test). 

If a company relies on remote working arrangements, the company has to identify a new risk profile that addresses cyber-security risks, incorporating new interaction norms to avoid harassment and hostile work environments in the virtual workplace, and increased monitoring of employee activity. 

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