The pandemic, like all other major disruptions, creates a need to change and adapt during the disruption. From that experience new norms are created and become very important to the lifestyle of individuals going forward. For example, after the pandemic of 1918 a new Federal Department of Health was created. By new I mean first ever. What that pandemic demonstrated was the need to regulate health and safety in society and at work. As a result, public sanitation improved tremendously. This also influenced people to increase their personal hygiene.
In this pandemic, we have seen issues like inequality, precarious work, the working conditions for gig workers and the value of work at the lowest paid level being at the forefront as essential work, putting them at greater risk to be infected. The disadvantages these workers experienced cannot be ignored going forward and solutions will need to be created once the pandemic is contained.
From an HR perspective, three issues will become urgent and in need of resolution. First, will be health and safety at work. The next issue will be to create solutions that will allow paid time off to get evaluated, tested, and staying home to protect all the other employees from getting infected. This will need to be done not just to full time employees but also for casual, contract and part-time employees. Finally, this pandemic has demonstrated that all workers are valuable and those performing the work should be treated with increased respect and given a living wage and benefits. To me this is a health issue.
I want to highlight the role HR will play in managing these changes and the role of Occupational Health and Safety. This role is crucial in ensuring the health and safety of the workforce. Employees will become much more conscious of the impact the working conditions have on their health and safety, from the physical space to how the employment policies apply on an on-going basis and in the event of a future pandemic.
One outcome of the pandemic is that employees have become much more aware of how many organizations did not voluntarily improve physical space, their employment status, and concerns of their health. This knowledge will render them more positively inclined to listen to Unions wishing to organize them. As such, one way or another, employers need to look at all the working conditions and adjust where necessary.
Employees will be more concerned about the impact on their health by not only the conditions at work but also management’s approach and attitude towards their health. Employees with underlying conditions may want to seek some form of accommodation because of their conditions. Paid time off work, especially for short term needs, will have to be managed in such a way that supports the individual. Evaluation processes should not assume that the request is suspect and look for ways to deny. This approach creates a negative culture when leadership needs to create trust that has been eroded during this pandemic. Requests for accommodation will increase because of feeling unsafe, especially during a health crises event in the community, such as another virus infection.
The pandemic has already demonstrated solutions, like working from home to resolve individual accommodation requests. This will require new approaches to ensure that production expectations are clear and reasonable. Provide the supports the employee will need to perform such as, technology, on-line communication, and access to current and relevant information to succeed. Systems to keep track of assignments will also have to be developed as well as determining how to recognize and reward work achievements. The evaluation of accommodation requests will require a new attitude and a new approach based on solid medical evidence and looking at how we make it work, rather than finding ways to deny the request. Done fairly and with a positive attitude, this will increase trust and commitment.
Finally, I would recommend a thorough review of all policies involving leaves and health and safety to ensure that systems for reporting and evaluating issues that arise are handled with an open mind, fairly, and with the health and safety of the individual given utmost consideration. I recommend that all the reviews include the expertise of the Occupational Health and Safety function and with employee/union input so that the creation of policies and practices that supports keeping employees safe will create a trusting and committed relationship.