How to Create a Post-COVID Addendum to Your Employee Handbook
Update your employee handbook with post-COVID addendums that include things that worked for your company — and make sure to plan for any future contingencies.
As businesses large and small reopen, getting back to normal routines is top of mind for workers and management. The pandemic thrust companies to change the way they work — and where — overnight. The rush to accommodate needs brought new policies and procedures. Now that the crisis is passing, it’s a great idea to update your employee handbook with post-COVID addendums that include some of the things that worked, and plan for any future contingencies.
Several operational shifts occurred during the pandemic: primarily where we work and how. These should be prominent in your addendum, and they gave rise to other topics that should be covered. Here are some suggestions on what to cover and how to incorporate them into your updated post-COVID employee handbook.
Sick leave policies
Your normal sick leave policy may have been turned on its head during the pandemic. Federal legislation, such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), made sick leave mandatory for business, even if the employee wasn’t ill. Employees were paid to care for a sick family member and parents with children learning remotely were entitled to paid sick time. While mandatory FFCRA pay expired in March 2021, extended tax credits through September 2021 are still available.
Post-COVID sick leave policies should reflect the company will at least minimally comply with any federal or state mandated sick leave policies in response to a public health emergency. While your own sick leave policies may be more generous than federal or local authority requires, your policy should outline that you will provide whatever sick leave allowance and pay that’s necessary by law.
You may not have weathered a disaster in the past, but having a crisis management plan in place is a hard lesson learned from COVID-19. Your policy should reference:
- Your Crisis Management Plan
- Who will communicate action steps to employees and customers, and
- What role, if any, workers have in rolling out the plan
Your plan to keep remote work as an option or a permanent practice should be outlined in your handbook update.
For many companies, the shift to working remotely has actually worked — after the initial hiccups were sorted out. Employees liked not having to commute; businesses liked the reduction in office expenses. Your plan to keep remote work as an option or a permanent practice should be outlined in your handbook update. Whether you only allow remote work in response to a crisis, or it becomes a common practice, you’ll want to set guidance in several areas:
- What categories of workers will have remote work access
- What days/hours of remote work will be available
- If manager approval be required to work remotely or the policy is company authorized
- Performance expectations for remote workers/teams
- Home office equipment assignments or stipends
- How to document hours worked
Many companies experienced a learning curve when making the change to remote work. They also added software updates and installation, access to teleconferencing, etc. Include any of the issues addressed during the pandemic to your updated policy manual.
The advent of remote work brought with it the threat of cyber incursions. Employees working from home or at cafes — some accessing company data through unsecured computers or smartphones — put organizations at risk. You should set strict security policy outlining how to keep company information confidential. Include:
- Two-factor password verification required to access main databases
- Secure equipment at all times; never leave phones or laptops unattended in public spaces — or where your roommates can snoop!
- Close windows and tabs not in use
- Avoid Wi-Fi hotspots if possible; most are not secure and can allow malicious access
- Install antivirus software on home equipment
- Require employees use device locks, particularly for smartphones with access to company emails and databases
- Immediately report any loss or damage of equipment or suspected incursion into data
Your data may warrant even more extensive cyber security, including Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and Mobile Device Management (MDM) tools. Look to your IT expert to determine the level of security needed and the training necessary for remote workers.
Communicable disease policy
Another hard-earned lesson from the pandemic was that sick employees should stay away from the workplace. While your sick time policy addresses available and payable time off, a communicable disease policy outlines the expectation that sick employees will not report to work when ill.
Your policy should address everything from the common cold and conjunctivitis (pink eye) through global pandemics. The risk of disease spread not only threatens coworkers (particularly those with compromised immune systems), working while ill results in lower productivity and increased absenteeism. Staying at home nets a faster recovery for the employee, and less exposure for their team.
While your sick time policy addresses available and payable time off, a communicable disease policy outlines the expectation that sick employees will not report to work when ill.
We may be at the tail end of social distancing and temperature checks, but some of the office logistic policies enacted during the pandemic make good sense to continue. Office cleaning and hygiene practices, for example, may have protected against COVID-19, but they work as well for the common cold and annual flu. Include:
- Updates to facilities, including distancing of desks/workspaces, and elimination of communal workspaces
- Limited capacity in break/lunch rooms, if necessary
- Staggered break/lunch times to accommodate smaller room capacity
- Cleaning procedures for communal areas
- Reducing the use of shared utensils/coffee mugs
- Access to cleaning and hand sanitizing products
- Mask requirements, if appropriate
- Distancing requirements, if necessary
Addendum policies should reflect your goal to keep the workplace as safe as possible for employees and customers. Post-COVID additions to your employee handbook should emphasize communicable disease protocols put in place to minimize the risk of a deadly pandemic as well as a nasty cold.
Accommodations for at-risk employees
A post-COVID policy for high-risk employees should outline the need for medical certification that the staff member’s health could be compromised in the event of a further outbreak.
Employees at high-risk for infection were able to access special accommodations during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the event of a future health threat, these staff members should be aware the company supports them and will work with them to minimize risk.
A post-COVID policy for high-risk employees should outline the need for medical certification that the staff member’s health could be compromised in the event of a further outbreak. The policy should include what steps can be taken — remote work, sick time, etc. — to minimize the risk to their health and welfare.
Medical clearance: testing/vaccine policy
Some organizations have put mandatory testing and mandatory vaccination policies in place in response to COVID-19. Depending on your industry, tests and vaccines may be mandatory by law to address public health concerns. In a world without the COVID-19 threat, your policy may be more relaxed, but reserve the right to require medical testing, if appropriate and necessary.
Some employers require staff members who are off sick for more than 3 days to acquire a doctor’s note clearing them to safely return to work. This policy works well to minimize communicable disease spread in the workplace. You may wish to update or add a medical clearance policy to reduce risk. An overall medical clearance policy should include any mandated testing and vaccinations required for national or local healthcare issues, as well as general guidelines for employees to return to work safely.
Employers should move quickly to update employee handbooks as the pandemic begins to wane. Having policies and procedures in place assures employees and customers you’re ready for to protect them against any health threats into the future.