Mitigating Personnel Risks: Preparing for 2021

Mitigating Personnel Risks Preparing for 2021

As a best practice, most businesses wouldn’t consider implementing organizational-wide changes without a carefully constructed project management plan with goals, tactics, deliverables, and timelines. But welcome to 2020 – the year companies broke all the rules as we were forced into survival mode. 2020…where businesses find guidance and implement policy and procedure based on the appropriate acronym: the CDC, PPP, CARES, FFCA, IRS, or DOL. Okay – businesses always had to find guidance from the IRS and DOL – but COVID-19 came with its own set of circulars, fact sheets, and calculations.

The two most extreme changes businesses can experience happened without any plans in place as the shut-down switch was flipped: how companies interact, engage, and communicate with customers and how they interact, engage, and communicate with employees. Yet, business leaders stepped up to the plate and made proverbial bricks without straw.

Since March, we have had the privilege of working with business owners, presidents, and CEOs who exhibit one of the most valuable characteristics of good leadership:  the ability to innovate during a crisis. And many of those innovations turned out to be smarter, more efficient, and even potentially more profitable than previous ways of working with customers and employees. Admittedly, some of the innovations are workarounds, designed simply as placeholders as we wait for everything to get back to “normal”. But I believe we all know that although we may want everything to return to pre-pandemic normal, some inventions have become the conventions by which we will operate long after 2020 is written into history and infamy. The challenge is to mitigate risk to your business and examine some of these now-normal unplanned changes that were implemented without considering the unintentional consequences that pre-change project management often uncovers.

This is a good time to look at employment policies through a “lessoned learned” lens. Because of the unique situations employers are faced with, we’ve discovered polices often are unclear or silent on details and practical application. If a policy is ambiguous, then it’s impossible to apply it equitably because it can be interpreted differently by managers, supervisors, and employees. Also, it’s important to ensure policies that are clearly written aren’t being applied in ways that can be construed as discriminatory or subjective. 

Here are some policies in your employee handbook or manual that might need updating and/or clarification to help mitigate risks to you and your business:


Does your attendance policy have strict requirements and/or consequences? Your business may be at risk if you use this policy to discipline or separate an employee you’ve been trying to off-board for a long time and you don’t equitably apply its provisions and disciplinary measures to everyone in similar circumstances.

If you don’t currently have a policy that clearly states the CDC guidelines for quarantine, isolation, and return to work, your attendance policy needs an addendum.  Don’t assume everyone knows what these guidelines are and that managers and supervisors are applying them correctly. That could put your business at risk.

Vacation/Paid Time Off

If your employees were laid-off, furloughed, or using the paid time off provisions of the Family First Corona Virus Act (FFCRA), you may have staff who have returned to work with a boat-load of vacation or other paid time off. How will you decide how much of this time can be utilized when you need staff to be at work as your business regains momentum? If you are allowing some staff to use their paid time off and not others without a clear policy for 2020, your business may be at risk. You might need a unique 2020 – 2021 vacation/paid time off policy to get you through this year and next.

Remote Work

Some businesses are digging their heels in and rejecting the concept of on-going remote work. It would appear these companies really don’t need a remote work policy or procedures. Unless another situation arises that makes remote work a business continuity option, like a hurricane, an employee’s non-serious injury, or intermittent FMLA.

You can require your staff to show up to your brick-and-mortar, but if you don’t have a remote policy for the what-ifs, you could put your business at risk if you randomly allow people to work from home. And if there are jobs or activities within a job that can successfully be performed in a remote setting, your business may be at risk of losing valuable employees who can and want to work from home some or all of the time. Most likely they are already shopping for an employer who has a remote work policy and is using it. 

Work Hours

We work with businesses that provide early childhood, elementary, and secondary education. These schools and childcare providers are bound by state and federal laws regarding teacher-student ratios in classrooms. Even the schools that had concrete start and end times and no-flex, no part-time, no paid lunches or staggered worktimes policies are reimagining their workforce based on the needs of the employees and the business. So, we’re writing policies for them to ensure there are clear guidelines around work hours that can be equitably applied without interpretation…to mitigate the risk to their businesses.

Some other policies to consider:

  • Timekeeping including clock in/out procedures
  • Leave policies including FMLA and leaves of absence
  • Travel policies including business and personal travel
  • Information technology and usage
  • Health and wellness

In 2020, COVID-19 put people and businesses all over the globe at risk in ways no one could have predicted or planned for. The year is almost over but many of the changes to work will follow us into 2021 and beyond. Now is a good time to take preventative measures by updating and clarifying your employment policies as a springboard to a future of success for your employees and your business.

Ann Beecham is a Senior HR Consultant at Newland Associates