Employer obligations are changing, here's how
The Australian Federal Government is releasing almost daily updates on health advice and restrictions, making it difficult to keep up with and make decisions for your business.
During that time, employers will be faced with challenges that don’t have a clear answer, and a lot of those challenges are being faced for the first time in history. While we can’t give you a definitive answer for what to do right now, we can give you some insights from experts and leaders on how to approach your personal situation.
Businesses that can’t work from home
There’s a lot of resources out there about how to move your team to working from home (we’ve written an ebook on it, too) but this isn’t an option for every business. From data and security reasons, to being a construction business, working in healthcare or education, and other essential services that keep society running like groceries, power and water, and garbage collection, there’s a much larger list of people who can’t work from home than what first springs to mind.
If you are such a business, you have two options. One, halt operations and have your team stay home, or two, continue operating.
Both options have knock on effects. If you choose to halt operations, you’re then left with the decision of asking staff to take annual or unpaid leave, offering to pay them as normal, a mixed agreement, and deciding when and if you’ll reopen.
Continuing operations is a must for some, but it could include changes in capacity (perhaps a rotation of skeleton crews) and will definitely require additional precautions for the health and safety of staff and customers.
Obligations as an employer
Right now, it’s hard to say what legal obligations employers have, especially as the mandates from the government continue changing. Staying on top of the orders given by the government and regularly contacting your legal team to see what developments affect you is a must right now. Small business owners will have a tougher time of this, and we recommend you follow government announcements closely so you can make the most informed decision possible.
Smaller steps you can take is making sure your team has adequate access to hand sanitizers, soaps, additional breaks to reduce mental strain, support from team members and managers, and that you address any requests and concerns in a timely manner. Triaging all challenges that come your way will also help to prevent it from becoming overwhelming.
When it comes to ethical or moral obligations, Claudia Barriga-Larriviere, Employer Brand & Belonging at AMP, says there are three main things employers can do for their employees.
“The first is honour the promises you made, even if it’s not a win-win”, says Claudia. This covers everything from welcoming new hires you brought in the beginning of the year to any agreements you made with your employees you made at the beginning of the current situation. Honouring a promise doesn’t always mean keeping it - sometimes it’s just not possible - but it does mean having empathy and doing your best to make it work before giving up.
In line with honouring your promises, Claudia’s next tip is “remove as much ambiguity as you can”. She says a quick cadence and quick responses, alongside clear communication will reinforce whatever it is you decide to do. An example she gives is the AMP CFO giving a webinar to employees where he “zoomed out and put everything in context”, effectively removing ambiguity to the situation and providing additional information that helped employees clearly understand what was going on. A reminder to your team that you will get through this and it will end is also welcome, too.
Claudia’s last ethical point is to “ensure that your line managers are trained and aware of unconscious bias”. In a world of quarantined households, schools being in a state of flux, and uncertainty around work, gendered expectations and biases can become magnified.
The share of housework and childcare could become even more lopsided than it already was before COVID-19.
“If you’re a manager, it’s your job to be considerate,” and this includes not making an uninformed assumption that your male staff can work on site because their wife is working from home.
The truth is, no two workplace environments are the same. And on top of that, no two work-from-home set ups are the same! Not all employees will have a smooth transition to working from home. Some will juggle a range of obstacles, from not having an internet connection or equipment to work from, to living with housemates, pets, children, and significant others. These can all impact productivity, your bottom line and employee’s mental wellbeing during this time.
Your duty of care as an employer is to support this transition. With everything else going on, this needs to be simple and easy to implement with quick but long lasting results.
First, it is your responsibility to ensure your team has everything they need to complete their work. Whether this means letting them take a computer monitor from the office, or paying their phone bill so they can hotspot the internet from it, you’ll need to discuss this with each employee individually to suit their circumstances.
Second, it is in your best interest to support employee mental health. As mentioned, the obstacles employees are facing while transitioning to new personal and professional circumstances, plus the ongoing stress that comes with facing a global pandemic, needs to be addressed. As an employer, your role has evolved and now requires you to accommodate for each individual in your team. Regular check-ins, an EAP, and zoom meditation sessions are all great ways to start.
To go one step further, and to take the pressure off of you, enable your employees to take charge of bettering their own mental wellness in their own time.
We have partnered with and recommend Calm to provide guided meditation, masterclasses, and sleep and anxiety support. Click here to find out how you can get access to Calm through Perkbox.
There’s a silver lining
Claudia adds that this is a “great opportunity to see who is a great leader”. Who excels at communication, who is dependable, who is there for and supporting others, and who has empathy throughout this period of time? Managers or employees who usually fly under the radar or don’t feel the need to be the loudest in the room can shine in these kinds of unusual situations. “Make sure you keep that person”, says Claudia, they’ll be invaluable to the company not just right now, but in the future as well.