March 5, 2020

Human Resource Planning for Coronavirus – Cross-Training and 8 Other Tips

While we don’t know the outcome and final impact of the Coronavirus, this is an appropriate time to review your contingency planning for your staff in case of a disaster or emergency.

We can anticipate that in a worst case scenario, employees may not be able to come to work due to illness or quarantine. You may have to limit movement and connections with staff and customers. Companies may lose productivity and employees may lose income through illness or layoffs.

It’s never too early to start thinking about people planning, particularly as we don’t know the outcomes or pathway for the Coronavirus over coming few weeks and months.

Here’s some actions to consider:

1) Employee Communications – remind employees that they should not come to work if they are feeling ill. This is not the time to be second-guessing someone’s decision to stay home from work. There should be no negative consequences under those circumstances. Let them know who to advise, when, and how often. You may request a doctor’s note before they come back to work.

2) Cross training staff – this is an ideal time to ensure that your staff are cross-trained to handle other duties to ensure your business can continue to operate effectively. Identify back-up staff for key roles. For example, how will you complete your month-ends? How will you unload incoming shipments?

3) Working from home – create or review your Work at Home policies, including computer security, check-in process, recording time worked, etc. Having clear guidelines will ensure that expectations are met and work continues with minimal disruption. Ensure your computer systems are secure and employees know how to log-in safety. If you don’t have “chat” tools, this is a highly effective and low cost way to have multiple on-line discussions in real time. How will you connect with your team if everyone is working from home?

4) Sick Pay Policies – Ensure staff know what will happen if they are ill and unable to work. If you don’t have a short term disability plan, will you allow people to continue to be paid and make up the time after, to avoid disrupting their income? Will you allow them to access their vacation to provide income?

5) Temporary Layoffs – No one wants to consider temporary layoffs, but they may need to take place. We’ve recently seen temporary layoffs due to the rail blockades. Will you have to consider temporary layoffs if you can’t get materials from suppliers or a loss of revenue? Develop contingency plans to identify how and who you might have to lay off. Be familiar with your local Employment Standards legislation so you can do this with the right notice and support for your staff.

6) Personal and Emergency Contacts/Beneficiaries – When was the last time you had employees update their personal and emergency contact information? If people become ill or don’t show up for work, is their emergency contact information up to date? It’s a good idea to review these every 12 months.

No one wants to think about the worst case scenario, but this is also a good time to ensure that everyone has their current beneficiaries updated for life insurance, critical illness insurance, RRSP beneficiaries, etc.

7) Support for Mental Health – If you have an Employee Assistance Plan, it’s a good time to ensure that everyone is aware of this for any kind of counselling that may be required, during or after the event. Being quarantined or having family members isolated or impacted by the virus can have a significant impact on mental health and well-being.

8) Reducing Physical Contact in the Workplace – Many organizations are already cancelling or postponing employee activities or travel plans. Do you have guidelines for your staff – using hand sanitizers, avoiding handshakes, etc.? While most of this is now common sense, providing standard guidelines may reduce anxiety for staff and ensure consistent expectations for behaviour.

9) Community Support
Many organizations are involved in supporting their local community. This could be a time to organize a blood donor clinic since blood donations may be impacted if large portions of the population are quarantined.

Having worked for the pharmaceutical company that developed the vaccine for the SARs virus, GlaxoSmithKline, I’ve seen the tremendous impact this can have on employees and their workplace.

As Charles Dickens wrote in a Tale of Two Cities – ” It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”
We live in uncertain times. As leaders, we have the opportunity today to make the best of this by being well prepared.

Please feel free to contact us if you require any assistance or guidance in preparing your organization for these uncertain times ahead. We provide common sense support with Human Resource policies, communications, and strategies to ensure that your employees remain engaged and your company prospers.

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