6 critical questions to answer before we return to work after COVID– there are important workplace health and safety questions to answer

Return to Work after COVID Questions

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Before we return to work after COVID, there are important workplace health and safety questions to answer.  The rights of employees, employers and business owners are all a factor.   I interviewed Human Resources expert, Caroline Valentine, of ValentineHR, and asked her about a wide range of topics.   My questions included those below and much more.

  • How will hiring be affected by the COVID-19 virus?
  • Is it legal for my employer to force me to work when I’m sick?
  • Could employers start testing employees for COVID-19 at work?
  • What is the importance of Workplace Health and Safety?
  • What rights do employees have in a time of COVID?
  • What does OSHA say about COVID?

 

You can watch the full discussion here or read the full transcript below.

Joseph Kopser:

Good afternoon. I’m Joseph Kopser. Welcome back to another installment of Catalyst TALKS. I’m joined today by Caroline Valentine. Thank you for being here today, Caroline. This is a great example where I heard her at another presentation delivering a message of the future of work, of what the conditions are going to be in terms of understanding employer, employee rights and regulations and unknowns. And I said, “Oh, I’ve got to get Caroline on a Catalyst TALK,” because before we returned to work, we’ve got to know what’s out there and what is open to us. And so for that, Caroline, thank you for being a part of this. First of all, how are you doing? And briefly describe kind of your journey of how you got to now. Your biography is in the description session or section below, but to how you’re doing and how’d you get to now?

Caroline Valentine:

Doing well here in Austin, Texas. My organization, myself and my seven associates, we’ve all been working remotely for years now. So this doesn’t seem too unusual for us. So we’re coping with that pretty well. Our client base is so broad. We’ve got clients that are hiring clients that are struggling to keep their employees, clients that are having to constrict right now. I came into this because I saw that there were a lot of small businesses and nonprofits that needed help from a senior HR professional and were struggling to find that resource. So that’s how we started our business and how we’ve grown it now with the size we are.

Joseph Kopser:

Well, and that’s what I put on the screen here. Your website, people want to find you. I love the point that you say that you speak human because if there’s ever a time in an era of COVID, we all need to be speaking human. So what are some of the questions, I’ve actually even prepared a few, that you’re hearing the most? I saw these on the Internet as I was doing some Google searching to really kind of help get a sense of what’s going on. But in the green room you reminded me, we’re just all over the place in terms of employees, employers, and business owners. Which of those questions you want to dig into first?

Caroline Valentine:

Well, why don’t we go ahead and start with the first one. How has hiring to be affected by this virus situation? I think that there are opportunities right now with a lot of organizations that are growing and that’s something that we want to highlight is that as an economy, not only as economy of United States, but on a global level, there’s all kinds of opportunities that are available right now. Companies are getting started and they’re growing to fill needs and demands that exist out there. The future of recruiting I think is not going to be very much different than what it has been. There may be more employees that are looking, but they’re still going to be, want to be working for employers of choice. So your recruitment brand is still going to be very important. The recruitment process is going to be just as important.

Caroline Valentine:

Employees are looking for organizations where they value the employees, they’re safe environments where they have considered the employee experience, and they would want to commit to employers. But again, they want to make sure that that is a safe and ethical place that they can go to work.

Joseph Kopser:

Yeah, and I’d love to jump in there. Let’s go into that because several questions come from this idea of workplace health and safety. What are the laws, regulations, what do you need to know as a person, an employee, as an employer, what should we be thinking about? And I’m happy to pull up any other resources you might refer to.

Caroline Valentine:

Yeah, I was going to say, interestingly enough, depending on the industry that you might be in, you’re either very aware and familiar with the CDC Center for Disease Control and OSHA, Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration. You may be already very aware of those, because if you’ve been in industries that have been highly regulated by a variety of reasons because of your travel or food or medicine or whatever it is your industry is, then you’re very familiar with these organizations.

Caroline Valentine:

They have a wealth of information available to employers around safety precautions or coming out with all kinds of new information almost daily around how to create a safe environment. And I would say, that’s a good first place for you to go. Secondly, look at your State agencies, look at your local environment. And as I think that the trust relationship between employees and employers creating a safe environment, training the employees on the importance of being safe, making the changes that you need to make. I think open floor plans are going to be potentially reduced and/or a thing of the past. When we come back from this, I think the ability to tele-work and telecommute is going to be expanded when we come back from this. I think that the employees wanting to participate in developing workplaces that make sense for everyone is going to become a very important feature as we move through 2020, 2021.

Joseph Kopser:

Let me ask you about a scenario. Let’s say that I’ve been working from home and been successful and my employer now is asking me to come in Monday through Friday nine to five like the good old days. What opportunities to your point about redesigning the workplace, not just terms of physical space but also hours? Who’s going to lead those discussions? Maybe I’d rather come in super-early. This notion of swing shifts that we’ve talked about for years or staggered starting/end times. Is this a new opportunity? What do you think there?

Caroline Valentine:

Absolutely. Organizations that have felt the need to be very structured that are now having to accommodate because of the current pandemic situation, they are finding that there is an ability to be flexible that they may not have realized before. And what it’s also leading to is an understanding of what productivity really is. Sometimes managers were thinking that person’s here from eight to five they’re being productive. Not necessarily the case. It was more that face time I saw them and therefore I assume they were working. Now with working remotely, you’re really seeing who’s productive and how productive they can be.

Joseph Kopser:

Was it you that said, during that presentation, I’ve heard so many different people speak, that now we might be discovering that that’s socialite at work who makes everyone feel happy and they go all over the place is actually not a very productive employee.

Caroline Valentine:

No. How are they really contributing to your bottom line? How are they really helping you move your organization forward? So I think that’s going to be something to consider here as we move through the situation that we’re in. I also think we’re going to be seeing is employees pushing back and saying, “Hey, I can be productive in ways and I can, if you allow me to have some flexibility here, you’re going to find me to be the really amazing employee that I can be.” I think that’s going to be really important to consider. Lastly, we touched a little bit on compliance. In the past, having to work in an office or having to work in a certain environment may have been a requirement of the job that led to a reduction on the ability of Americans with disabilities to be able to work in that environment. I think you’re going to see a lot of pushback right now about opportunities where people can telecommute and tele-work work, which is going to open up opportunities for those folks under ADA regulations.

Joseph Kopser:

Well, and that’s actually quite a good news story I would think because it’s going to mean that people who are traditionally kept out of opportunity get the point to the entire, not entire, a majority of the United States workforce that’s working from home.

Caroline Valentine:

Yeah, [inaudible 00:07:18] interesting.

Joseph Kopser:

One other quick one, because we’re almost at 10 minutes. I told you this 10 minutes was going to go fast. If I see on social media that somebody in my workforce, in my company and I’m an employee is obviously not practicing social distancing or they’re going out and they could become a vector. What laws or rules protect me from that person, but I get to work?

Caroline Valentine:

This is one of the top questions that I am seeing across the United States actually across the world. How much can we see how an individual personal decisions and personal life is affecting their ability to be successful in the workplace? I mean, this is an extension of us trying to understand how to mandate this through drug testing, how to mandate this through a motor vehicle, criminal background checks, all of that happening. So this is just another extension of that for us to say, “Hey, are you practicing safe health away from the office?” And it’s an evolving situation. So, can I tell you right now, yes you can fire that person or no, you can not fire that person. It’s really on a case by case basis because you have to look at it in terms of how much valid data do you have, how much risk are you willing to take? And whether or not that employee might say or do something.

Caroline Valentine:

But I think over the next couple of months we’re going to begin to see the Department of Labor or ERISA, EEOC come out and give us some on these things because these agencies are going to have to really coordinate. EEOC doesn’t want to be saying, “You can do these things,” and then CDC is saying, “No, no, you can’t do these things.”

Joseph Kopser:

What’s EEOC?

Caroline Valentine:

Sorry, what did you say?

Joseph Kopser:

EEOC, I just want to pull it up-

Caroline Valentine:

EEOC, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Right now they’re of course the maintaining employees have the right to do these things and employees have the right to do this. All of this there that’s there. That’s the whole reason for their existence was they were founded under the Civil Rights Act back in the ’60s. And if they’re in conflict with the CDC or OSHA about whether or not an employee should or should not be able to come to work, if they’ve been practicing unsafe ways of distancing or not distancing themselves, then I think you’re going to find again, going to figure it out from the Federal government’s perspective, how are they going to coordinate those agencies to say what is or isn’t? At this point right now it is a case by case situation. And if you’re an employer that’s trying to figure this out, what I would say is you want to first of all look towards how much data and information do you have. Was it hearsay? Is it accurate?

Caroline Valentine:

Have you actually spoken to that employee? Do you know the real story? How credible is the information that you’re getting? And what other practices at the workplace has this employee either abided by or not abided by. Some other opportunities to say in the workplace, maybe they haven’t been as safe as you would have liked. And that’s a [inaudible 00:10:30].

Joseph Kopser:

But you describe a great point, leads to a question which is, as Amy and I were raising our daughters the last 10 to 15 years, we always said, “Do not put on social media any photo or activity that you couldn’t already explain to a boss later down the road or a hiring director.” And they’re, “Oh well, they can’t look at that.” Well is that going to change under those new post-COVID world or will it just be one of those unwritten rules that people are breaking all the time? What do you think there?

Caroline Valentine:

You know that’s so interesting. So I think that the answer is going to depend on the industry that you’re in, the sector you’re in, and it’s going to depend on the philosophy of the leaders. I think we’re going to have to consider generationally like we just brought up with your daughters, generationally what does that look like? The line between public and private and personal and professional is continuing to blur. And as we have those lines continue to blur, I think we’re going to be looking towards the courts to say what really is or isn’t discrimination, what really is or isn’t lawful or unlawful terminations? And then we begin to see more of that. And I think we’re going to have to broaden our understanding of what is professional and what isn’t? What is it we’re going to allow? We’re already seeing as different States are passing laws as it relates to marijuana possession and our usage. We’re already beginning to see that.

Caroline Valentine:

Where are we going to fall again, depends sometimes on the city that you’re in, the State that you’re in, the industry that you’re in. What are common sense regulations that need to happen? And I think that’s something you’re going to see more and more of as we get past COVID. I mean, right now, what’s the latest on the Facebook memes? Right now, it’s the actual professional broadcaster who didn’t realize that everyone could see he didn’t have pants on. I mean, right, but we’re beginning to see that, you know what? Are blue jeans and flip flops the new reality in the workplace? We’ll have to see. But I think that common sense should dominate it, I think that understanding the laws as it exists right now and how to apply them correctly is important. But I think most importantly is about having communication, communicating with your employees, developing that trust and communication and having agreements that everyone can keep.

Caroline Valentine:

I think if you can start there, you’re going to be more successful in the workplace than you worrying about what somebody might say or do later. Just have a good relationship with your employees and most of the time you’re going to be able to be successful.

Joseph Kopser:

Yes. Well, you did not disappoint at all, Caroline, from the first time I heard you to now, you answered a ton of questions and unfortunately as we go through this, even more questions will come up. I included your link down below. We’ve already actually gone, don’t tell me we’ve heck, we’re almost near 15 minutes. That’s how fast these go. But what I do hope is that people who see this video or as I move it over onto LinkedIn and create a blog about it later on, know that it’s organizations like yours who have been around doing this. I think your firm’s been around since 2004. Though we have not seen COVID before, you’ve seen a lot of things that can help people think through these issues, both as an employer and employee, and with that we can hopefully get back to work in this unknown idea of what the future of work looks like. So Caroline, thanks for being a part of this today.

Caroline Valentine:

Thank you so much Joseph. Have a great day.

Joseph Kopser:

Take care of you too. So I want to thank you for tuning in for another installment of Catalyst TALKS. If there are any other people or any other topics, keep doing what you’re doing. People are sending me ideas, sending me names of folks, or even in the few cases volunteering themselves of a project or an innovation that they’re working on that we’d love to feature. Remember, as Mitch Jacobson said, “Stay home, stay healthy, and stay in touch.” And I look forward to seeing how we can work together in this new era of COVID and beyond because leadership and strategy in a changing world is nothing new. This is just a new variable in it. Thanks a lot for tuning in and I’ll talk to you all later.

 


Joseph Kopser of Grayline Group is host of Catalyst TALKS. A series of live, interactive interviews with thought leaders, subject matter experts and operators with first hand experience in the skills needed to lead the workplace in a changing world. His talks focus on the technology, agility, leadership, knowledge, and strategy needed to build teams in a changing world. Joseph is also co-founder of the non-profit USTomorrow focused on workforce readiness. Joseph’s focus is to help people adapt to the changing future of work Grayline Group knows that technology is changing faster than business models, and globalization has magnified the threat surface for companies, investors, and governments. Change creates opportunity and risk. It requires the skills of new leadership and strategy in the workplace. Grayline Group brings together experts, data, and solutions to help business and government leaders manage transformation resulting from technological and socioeconomic catalysts.

 

 

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