How Should HR Approach Federal Mandates?

The responsibilities of HR departments have become even more pivotal during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s how HR can approach and implement federal mandates at their organizations.

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Doctor applying vaccine on patient's arm while using face masks at hospital office

Almost 2 years in, the COVID-19 pandemic still presents plenty of headaches for HR managers. Between navigating workers conflicting beliefs about receiving the COVID vaccine, and staying compliant with evolving protocols, the responsibilities of HR departments have become even more pivotal. It is one of the many issues plaguing HR teams, and it will only become a bigger problem if not properly managed.

But what exactly are these responsibilities and why are they so important? What is HR’s role in implementing federal mandates? There are a number of answers.

Staying informed

This one is basic but important. Staying on top of COVID news will help HR managers formulate better plans, determine what competitors are doing, how they are responding, and come up with better, more informed solutions to COVID-related workplace concerns.

For example, the Biden administration released a new federal rule on November 4 — setting January 4, 2022 as the deadline for large companies to mandate coronavirus vaccinations or start weekly testing of workers. This mandate is the largest yet for private businesses. On November 6, a federal appeals court temporarily halted the rule, but the administration responded that it’s confident the requirement will withstand legal challenges in part because its safety rules pre-empt state laws.

It is always a good idea to check the CDC website at least once a week. It is updated frequently and is the best source for the latest pandemic info. Also, remember to keep your eyes on local mandates.

Preemptive distribution of information

Whether it’s an emailed memo, a mandatory meeting, or extensive talks with the leaders of the business, it’s up to HR to get this information out as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

This is key. People can’t follow the rules if they don’t know them, and you cannot assume they have their finger on the pulse of pandemic-driven laws and mandates. It falls on the HR manager to make sure this information finds its way to everyone at the company. Whether it’s an emailed memo, a mandatory meeting, or extensive talks with the leaders of the business, it’s up to HR to get this information out as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

Additionally, it is a best practice for HR to follow up with employees and double check they received and reviewed the information. If they don’t know, make sure they know and understand. Do not worry about “bugging” them or “interrupting” their workday. You have the moral high ground here. A condition of every person’s employment is that they follow company rules and respect their coworkers. Because non-compliance would be breaking both of those rules, it’s extremely important that your HR managers become better at ensuring that employees know the rules and follow them.

Fielding questions and concerns

This is another big one that many HR teams overlook. HR managers must make themselves available to answer questions and field concerns. People will come into every meeting with their own thoughts and assumptions about what is going on. Present your information to them and address concerns and questions as they come up. There are so many conflicting pieces of information about the pandemic that it is vital that you are able to answer any/all questions thrown your way. If you don’t know, make finding out a priority. Again, if employees don’t know the current mandates, then that falls on your HR teams.

The goal here is to make it so that any claims of ignorance are not only unbelievable but next to impossible. Not knowing is only an option if you allow it to be. It is in your company’s best interests to create a compliant, communicative work environment, and COVID has presented every business with the perfect opportunity to do just that.

The pandemic is not over yet, and we must all be prepared for potential rises in case numbers and new shutdowns. The virus’s 2-month cycle remains a cause for vigilance and concern. Cases seem to surge for 2 months and then decline for 2 months before rising again. This has been consistent throughout the pandemic. What HR can do to mitigate any negative impacts is simple: stay informed, check more than you may think you need to, and keep employees updated.

What HR can do to mitigate any negative impacts is simple: stay informed, check more than you may think you need to, and keep employees updated.

Consequences for non-compliance

Non-compliance is not an option, and any breaches of protocol or refusals to follow federal mask mandates should be met with consequences. These consequences do not have to be severe, but they do need to communicate the seriousness of the matter. Some companies have implemented a 3-strike policy. Others are much more strict and much less forgiving. The physical location and industry of your business will help influence which approach your HR department takes.

Additionally, some companies are offering incentive programs for people who agree to get the vaccine. $100 gift cards, paid time off, donations to select charities, and virtual care packages are among the perks available to those who get vaccinated.

These tips will give your company a clearer way forward regarding COVID mandates. This is an important issue that many HR teams have had significant trouble navigating, but with solid guidance and a willingness to learn, it’s possible to improve working conditions and make safety the highest priority.

Check out our People Ops Podcast episode “What’s HR’s role in implementing federal mandates?”

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