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The Health, Scheduling, Compliance and Equity Implications of Back-to-Work Planning

Today's post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member Mark Wales.

When we did our 2021 Annual Workplace Predictions, I was concerned that the pre-pandemic movement towards fair and consistent scheduling for hourly employees would take a backseat to urgent requirements for getting employees back to work and new profoundly serious concerns about health and safety. Great strategies that had been developed to maximize hours for employees by making shifts available across locations are currently not viable in a pandemic and post-pandemic world. They introduce risk to both employees and ongoing business operations through potential infection across work locations. Research has shown this to be the sad truth as it was a major factor in the spread of COVID-19 across elder care homes.

Now we have OSHA guidelines around workplaces and COVID-19. The resulting citations have already gathered millions of dollars in fines and that number will likely only grow with a new administration in the U.S. focused more on creating safer working environments. So, now we have the carrot of keeping your workforce, your workplace, your customers healthy, and the stick in the form OSHA fines.

Compliance has always been a necessity of workforce management, unsexy, and rarely appreciated by other parts of the business, except for the legal department. However, there may be a looming specter, and that is the very real threat of class action litigation from disgruntled employees who feel that the law has not been applied appropriately or fairly.

As practitioners, we know that even in the best of times it is hard to maintain consistently high levels of compliance across the diverse and numerous locations of hourly workers, especially compared to a limited number of corporate offices. The rollercoaster nature of both federal guidelines and local COVID-19 restrictions only makes this task more difficult.

During the pandemic, we have also faced a second large challenge for workforce management, and that is a wider understanding of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Organizations are realizing there is a deeper aspect to the dimension of health and safety. While white collar workers may have the ability to opt for more remote working, allowing offices to maintain higher standards of social distancing and any required isolation periods, this rarely happens for hourly workers. Their workplaces, such as stores, factories, plants and vehicles, naturally entail more face-to-face interaction with colleagues and customers. We have a significant challenge to understand how to manage this in a fair and equitable way that does not introduce institutional biases.

Many organizations I have spoken with are still wrestling with understanding the evolving rules and guidelines, especially with the loosening or tightening of local COVID-19 regulations. Often, if their locations are not open for business, then they are in a holding pattern, and checking the monthly updates and adjusting their back-to-work plans accordingly. Those that are open for business, in some form or another, are learning as they go on how to adjust their operational models and maintain a new level of health and safety. It is yet to be seen what the long-term response will be in terms of employee activism and/or class action litigation to the success of organizations in how they develop and execute their operational procedures. This will be a long-term concern for workforce management.

What compliance issues do you think have risen to the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section.

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