What does work look like in 2021? Workplace experts share their predictions

No one could have anticipated the total upheaval to the workplace in 2020 — the transition to remote work, a new reliance on technology, persistent pressures on employee mental health and well-being, child care concerns — the year was a roller coaster of crisis management for organizations and HR leaders.

With the one-year mark since coronavirus engulfed the U.S. now here, employers and employees are starting 2021 with one question: What will work be like this year?

“We are starting to see light at the end of the tunnel for the pandemic. Companies are better able to plan and make decisions about what is going to happen in the next six to twelve months,” says Brie Reynolds, career development manager at FlexJobs, a remote job searching platform.

While the transition to remote work seemed challenging at the start of the pandemic, employers are feeling more confident about their business success in 2021. Forty-four percent of executives believe the economy will improve this year, according to a survey by the Employer Associations of America. That confidence is leading employers to make important business decisions regarding pay raises and hiring: 64% of employers plan to implement salary increases, and 26% plan to boost their recruiting efforts.

“The pandemic has forced companies to be agile and innovative during these uncertain times,” says Mark Adams, director of compliance for EAA, an advocacy group that helps employers stay compliant with labor laws. “While expenditures are being scrutinized now more than ever before, the need to invest strategically remains important as businesses seek to rebound in 2021 and make up for lost ground.”

Remote work is here to stay

At the start of the pandemic, employees struggled to meet the demands of the digital workplace without many of the resources and benefits of the in-person office. Almost one year later, there’s little doubt that remote work has changed the way we work forever.

“Companies made it through almost a full year of remote work with relatively few problems,” Reynolds says. “Most companies are reporting that remote work was successful, and employees want it to continue. Companies are ready to make the switch now that they’ve really had a chance to test it out.”

Seventy percent of employees would like to continue to work remotely part of the time post-COVID, according to Glassdoor. Not only has remote work boosted productivity for some groups, the trend has offered employees an opportunity for better work-life balance and the freedom to live and work away from expensive corporate hubs, like Silicon Valley and cities such as New York and Los Angeles.

“If you're able to open yourself up to remote work, you can get more diversity in your workforce in terms of people's experience and their backgrounds,” Reynolds says. “That’s becoming increasingly important for employers to pay attention to.”

While organizations like Facebook and Slack have announced their employees can work remotely indefinitely, they’ve also suggested they’d make potential pay cuts for employees living in areas with a lower cost of living. Twenty-six percent of employers plan to base compensation on location, according to Willis Towers Watson. But 62% percent of employees would be willing to take a paycut if it allowed them to work from home, according to a survey from software companies GoTo and LogMeIn.

Thirty-five percent of workplaces do not have a firm plan for fully reopening their office, while 16% hope to reopen during Q1, according to a survey by The Conference Board. Hanging in the balance is the ability to have protective policies in place so that the workplace population feels safe, says Gary Pearce, chief risk architect at Aclaimant, a workplace safety and risk management platform.

“Protection is a must, not a nice to have,” Pearce says. “If you can't demonstrate that you're protecting your own people, you're not going to be able to keep employees.”

Workplace safety and vaccination protocol

With two vaccines currently on the market, a return to pre-COVID life is becoming easier to imagine. But ensuring that employees get the vaccine before returning to the workplace is the newest workplace debate confronting employers.

Just half of employees believe their employer should require a COVID-19 vaccine before allowing employees to return to work, according to Eagle Hill Consulting. Gen Z employees were the most on-board with a vaccine mandate, with 62% supporting a requirement, compared with 50% of Millennials and 46% of Generation X and baby boomer employees.

“If you're going to have that requirement, you have to have all the administrative processes in place. How do you verify as an employer that somebody went and got it? What documentation will suffice?” Pearce says. “I think the best case is when it doesn't have to come down to a mandate, but rather people are persuaded by having been given the best information, that this is the right thing to do to protect their family and to protect their fellow workers.”

Other safety precautions like frequent testing, social distancing and mask wearing will become a new way of life back at the office. The Conference Board found that 82% of employers plan to purchase safety equipment like masks, cleaning supplies and contactless entry devices, and 80% will enforce policies like limiting the number of employees allowed in the workplace at a time.

“You can't lose those safety protocols,” says Judi Korzec, CEO and founder of VaxAtlas, a vaccine management company. “It's going to take time to get to that point where you say, ‘Enough [employees] are vaccinated.’ If you're vaccinated, you don't need the test, but you need one or the other to keep your population safe.”

Implementing programs that incorporate consistent COVID testing and other safety precautions will be critical to establishing trust with employees after a year of mixed messages and ever-changing protocols, Korzec says.

“Employers are trying to do the very best they can and get their businesses back and follow the rules, but those change very quickly. It was so hard to keep up with and there probably was a little bit of lost trust there,” Korzec says. “The more tools and communication and orderly processes employers bring to the table, they’ll regain [employee] trust, because everyone wants their life back.”

Continued reliance on technology

Despite the challenges of COVID, employees have an overall positive attitude toward their employers and the way they’ve been supported during the pandemic. Seventy-eight percent of employees say their employer has handled the challenges of the pandemic appropriately, according to McKinsey. More than a quarter of employers have boosted employee benefits since the start of the pandemic, research by Fidelity Investments found.

Employers have looked seriously at ways to better support their workplace population, often turning to technology to fill in the gaps. Virtual nutrition programs, online access to therapy and holistic mental health care, virtual parental support groups and other programs will continue to be a critical component to help employees balance the demands of their work and home lives.

“When organizations systematically show that they care for their employees, they get better results,” says Laura Hamill, an organization psychologist at Limeade, an employee experience software company. “I think that something that is front and center to everybody in HR right now is the well-being of our employees and there have been a lot of impressive ways that organizations are emphasizing that.”

Employers must be empathetic to the challenges their employees have continued to face during this crisis, Hamill says. An ability to share openly can be key to building a more loyal and resilient workforce during COVID and beyond.

“It's time to have a radical change in how we think about work. In order for real change to happen, you have to be able to envision it first. You have to be able to say, ‘I could see how caring for people and being more human at work could happen in my company,’” Hamill says. “This global pandemic has forced us to see that when you treat people like human beings, when you care about them, it's just better for the employees — and it's better for your business.”

SOURCE: Place, A. (25 January 2020) "What does work look like in 2021? Workplace experts share their predictions" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/workplace-trends-for-2021


Offices struggle with COVID-19 social distancing measures

Across the nation, many are beginning, if they have not already, are allowed to work from their offices, instead of having to work remotely. Now, due to the coronavirus pandemic, there are several new protocols that many may struggle to maintain. Read this blog post to learn more.


Millions of workers in recent months have returned to offices outfitted with new pandemic protocols meant to keep them healthy and safe. But temperature checks and plexiglass barriers between desks can't prevent one of the most dangerous workplace behaviors for the spread of COVID-19 — the irresistible desire to mingle.

“If you have people coming into the office, it’s very rare for them consistently to be six feet apart,” said Kanav Dhir, the head of product at VergeSense, a company that has 30,000 object-recognition sensors deployed in office buildings around the world tracking worker whereabouts.

Since the worldwide coronavirus outbreak, the company has found that 60% of interactions among North American workers violate the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s six-foot distancing guidelines, as do an even higher share in Asia, where offices usually are smaller.

Most people who can work at home still are and likely will be until at least mid-2021. But as some white-collar workers begin a cautious return, it’s becoming clear how hard it is to make the workplace safe. A bevy of sophisticated sensors and data are being used to develop detailed plans; even IBM’s vaunted Watson artificial intelligence is weighing in. In many cases the data can only verify what should be evident: The modern office, designed to pack in as many workers as possible, was never meant to enforce social distancing.

To date, the coronavirus has infected more than 8 million Americans and is blamed for 220,000 U.S. deaths. So far, efforts to get large numbers of workers into the office haven’t worked out very well. Some workers at Goldman Sachs Group and JPMorgan Chase tested positive after they returned to work and were sent home. With infection rates rising again nationwide, many companies have told most employees to work from home until next year, or even forever. Michigan’s governor approved new rules last week that bar employers from forcing workers back to the office if they can do their job at home.

For those employers pushing ahead with a return to the office, sensors that measure room occupancy are proving to be a necessity, said Doug Stewart, co-head of digital buildings at the technology unit Cushman & Wakefield, which manages about 785-million-square feet of commercial space in North and South America. Most offices are already fitted with sensors of some kind, even if it’s just a badging system or security cameras. Those lagging on such capabilities are now scrambling to add more, he said.

The systems were used before the pandemic to jam as many people together in the most cost-effective way, not limit workplace crowding or keep employees away from each other, Stewart said. With that in mind, companies can analyze the data all they want, but changing human behavior — we’re social creatures, after all — is harder, he said.

“Just because technology identifies it, and the analytics is flagging it, doesn’t mean the behavior will change,” Stewart said.

Because office crowding can show up in air quality, proper ventilation has replaced comfort as the focus for building managers, said Aaron Lapsley, who directs Cushman’s digital building operations with Stewart. Measuring the amount of carbon dioxide or the concentration of aerial particles can determine if airflow needs to be adjusted — or whether some people need to be told to leave a specific area. Employees are now more likely to use smartphone apps to receive alerts and keep tabs on the health and safety of the building, he said.

Something even as trivial as a trip to the bathroom or coffee machine has to be re-examined, said Mike Sandridge, executive director of client success at the technology unit of Jones Lang LaSalle, which oversees about 5-billion-square feet of property globally. Some restrooms have had to be limited to one person, and a red light will come on to let others know whether it’s occupied, based on stepping on a switch. When it’s free, the light turns green. Companies can also monitor whether the snack area is getting crowded, he said.

To help get some of its 350,000 employees back to its 150 offices around the world, International Business Machines is using its problem-solving Watson AI to analyze data from WiFi usage to help design and adjust office occupancy, said Joanne Wright, vice president of enterprise operations.

Understanding worker habits is more useful if you have a way to nudge them into new patterns. Since the pandemic began, Radiant RFID has sold 10,000 wristbands that vibrate when co-workers are too close to each other. The technology was originally designed to warn workers away from dangerous machinery, not other people. So far, the wristbands are responsible for reducing unsafe contacts by about 65%, said Kenneth Ratton, chief executive of the company, which makes radio-communication devices. At this point, the data on more than 3 billion encounters shows the average worker has had about 300 interactions closer than six feet lasting 10 minutes or more.

“The biggest problem is we as Americans haven't really been socially distanced, ever,” Ratton said.

Nadia Diwas is using another kind of technology: a wireless key fob she carries in her pocket made by her employer, Semtech, which tracks her movements and interactions, making it useful for contact tracing if someone gets sick, which is as important as warning people they are too close. The technology originally was developed by Semtech to help devices such as thermostats communicate on the so-called internet of things.

The reality is that people still need to work together, and if you’re back in the office, that means face-to-face interaction, said Diwas, who works in an electronics lab with two and sometimes three other people. She said she comes in contact with more people at the grocery store than in the office.

“It does make me more aware and more careful,” Diwas said in an interview. “The way I picture it in my head is that if both of us stretch our arms out, we should not touch each other.”

For most office workers, the best way to keep a safe distance from colleagues for the foreseeable future will still be on Zoom.

SOURCE: Green, J. (26 October 2020) "Offices struggle with COVID-19 social distancing measures" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from employeebenefitadviser.com/articles/offices-struggle-with-covid-19-social-distancing-measures


Just 28% of Americans expect to return to the workplace before 2021

According to a recent study from a Conference Board Survey, only 28 percent of Americans expect that they can return to the workplace before the year 2021. Although that percentage has increased, many are still uneasy about the idea of returning to public spaces. Read this blog post to learn more.


Just 28% of Americans say they already have or expect to return to workplaces before the end of the year, indicating the coronavirus pandemic is making remote work more mainstream, a Conference Board survey showed Thursday.

Nearly one-third of respondents said they would be uncomfortable getting back to offices, shops and factories, while half said their greatest concern was contracting the disease at work, according to the Sept. 16-25 online survey of more than 1,100 workers. Only 17% of employees said they were very comfortable or even wanted to return.

The coronavirus continues to spread across the U.S., with 34 states recording higher seven-day averages of new cases compared with a month ago. While progress is being made on a vaccine, it will be months before it’s available to the general public. Even when it is ready, the Conference Board’s survey showed just 7% expect a return to their workplace.

“For knowledge workers and others where remote working is an option, you’re going to see more of a remote or hybrid working arrangement become the standard way,” said Rebecca Ray, executive vice president of human capital at the Conference Board.

A cultural shift to working from home and the pause or stop in business reopenings have upended the commercial real estate market. Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President Eric Rosengren warned that a resurgence in the virus could lead to troubles in the financial sector via commerical real estate.

The “commercial real estate sector is going to be impacted in the long term as we now need much less space for offices, retail, and probably higher education,” said Gad Levanon, head of the Conference Board Labor Markets Institute.

The Conference Board’s survey echoed with a recent poll of company executives by Cisco Systems. More than half plan to downsize their offices as remote working will become commonplace after the pandemic subsides, according to the Cisco survey.

The Conference Board survey also showed that lower-ranking employees are more concerned about returning. Some 20% of rank-and-file workers and 21% of front-line managers indicated they feel pressure to return in order to keep their jobs, compared with just 4% of executives. Individual contributors are also the least comfortable coming back to job sites.

Some 29% of respondents said they had little faith that their colleagues would adhere to safety protocols and guidelines upon return. One-third questioned the wisdom of going back to workplaces because they said productivity has remained high when working remotely, the survey showed.

SOURCE: Ren, H. (15 October 2020) "Just 28% of Americans expect to return to the workplace before 2021" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/articles/just-28-of-americans-expect-to-return-to-the-workplace-before-2021


Benefits Consideration for Onboarding Furloughed and Laid Off Employees

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to create obstacles for the workplace, many professionals are still having to continue with their day-to-day work lives which include having hard discussions with furloughed and laid-off employees. Read this blog post to learn helpful tips on re-enrolling employees into their benefits.


COVID-19 continues to throw us curveballs. While some states that were continuing on their path to recovery are having to backtrack, others have managed to temporarily halt the progression of COVID-19 and are proceeding as planned.

Amidst all this uncertainty, one thing is certain: human resource professionals continue to face overwhelming obstacles. Below, we outline issues that human resource professionals are likely to face as they onboard furloughed and laid-off employees.

Onboarding Furloughed Employees

HEALTH AND WELFARE PLANS

For employees enrolled in one or more employer sponsored health and welfare plans and receiving coverage during the furlough period:

  • Payroll deductions for required employee contributions for the plan generally resume upon return from furlough, subject to any changes in employment status that may affect eligibility.
  • To the extent repayment of employee contributions advanced during the furlough period is required, consider how to collect the employee contributions (e.g., through payroll deduction or otherwise), keeping in mind state law requirements related to payroll deductions.
  • Consider the extent to which election changes may be made upon return from furlough.

For employees not enrolled in an employer-sponsored health and welfare plan during the furlough period (or enrolled in COBRA continuation coverage):

  • Determine when eligibility for the plan resumes in accordance with plan terms (e.g., immediately or after a waiting period), subject to any impact on eligibility due to changes in employment status.
  • Consider the process for enrolling employees and the extent to which election changes may be made upon return from furlough, including any HIPAA special enrollment rights.

In addition:

  • Evaluate the impact of the furlough on employees' full-time status under the Affordable Care Act's (ACA's) lookback measurement period and stability period requirements.
  • Evaluate the impact of return from furlough on participation in wellness program activities and eligibility for wellness program incentives.
  • To the extent employees will have staggered work schedules, consider entitlement to benefits based on reduced hours (full time/part time) or new job requirements and whether any plan amendments are needed.

401(K) PLANS

Generally, employee and company contributions resume upon return from furlough; however, changes in job titles or positions may affect eligibility:

  • Determine whether employee and company contributions will resume immediately upon return from furlough based on elections in place immediately before the furlough period or whether new elections will be required.
  • Determine the extent to which legally required notices relating to plan participation must be provided.
  • Address the treatment of loan repayments upon return from furlough.
  • Determine the extent to which the period of furlough must be counted for purposes of plan eligibility, vesting and the right to allocation of contributions.

PENSION PLANS

  • Consider whether changes in job titles or positions may affect eligibility for continued participation upon return from furlough.
  • Review plan terms to determine the extent to which the period of furlough must be counted for purposes of plan eligibility, vesting and benefit accrual.

OTHER BENEFITS

  • Consider the impact of return from furlough on any commuter benefits (parking and transit).
  • Consider the impact of return from furlough on vacation and holiday accrual.

Onboarding Laid-Off Employees

HEALTH AND WELFARE PLANS

  • Treat rehired employees who have been laid off as new hires who must complete new hire paperwork for health and welfare plan eligibility.
  • Consider the impact of the termination of employment and rehire on the employee's status as a full-time employee under the ACA's lookback measurement period and stability period requirements.

QUALIFIED RETIREMENT PLANS

  • Defer to plan terms and break-in-service rules for purposes of determining the impact of the layoff on plan eligibility, vesting and benefit accrual.
  • Review plan terms and procedures for enrolling rehired employees in a 401(k) plan, including application of the plan's auto-enrollment feature, if any.

SOURCE: Pepper, T. (29 July 2020) "Benefits Consideration for Onboarding Furloughed and Laid Off Employees" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/benefits-consideration-for-onboarding-furloughed-and-laid-off-employees.aspx


COVID-19 at-home testing kits can make returning to work safer

As many begin to return to the workplace, both employers and employees are fearful of bringing the COVID-19 virus into the workplace. A company has produced an at-home testing kit for those returning to work. Read this blog post to learn more.


While access to wide-spread coronavirus testing is still a barrier for millions of Americans, computer software company Appian is partnering with Everlywell, a digital health company, to offer COVID-19 at-home testing kits for employees returning to the workplace.

“Everlywell was founded to give people access to high-quality lab tests that can be taken at home,” said Julia Cheek, founder and CEO of Everlywell. “We are proud to support Appian’s customers in providing FDA-authorized COVID-19 testing to help keep them safe.”

Since March, more than 50 million coronavirus tests have been reported to the CDC, of which 5 million were positive. But as states reopen their economies and infection rates increase, there are growing concerns about supply chain problems, according to Politico. Reopening has increased demand for testing, causing samples to pile up faster than labs can analyze them, which is lengthening turnaround times for results — complicating efforts to contain the virus.

Everlywell’s at-home lab tests seek to streamline the process of testing for their employer clients. The COVID-19 test will be integrated within the Appian Workforce Safety solution. Through the partnership, people using Appian’s return-to-site solutions will be able to request home delivery of Everlywell’s COVID-19 testing kit by taking a screening questionnaire based on CDC guidelines. Each test request will be reviewed by an independent physician from Everlywell’s third-party telehealth partner. Test results can be delivered to the test-taker’s mobile device in 24-48 hours after the sample arrives at an authorized lab.

The lab tests have received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. The testing used by the company and its lab partners meet the FDA’s performance criteria for COVID-19 test accuracy, and telehealth consultations are included for those who test positive.

“How much you know as an organization is how much you can protect the members of your organization,” says Matt Calkins, CEO of Appian. “This is the fastest way to get information on infection. We've seen that high amounts of testing can help minimize COVID-19. Knowledge is power, so we're trying to get [employers] as much knowledge as possible, as quickly as possible, and provide them with another tool to keep their employees safe.”

As employers make their strategies for returning to work, workplace safety is of top concern. Antibody screening, thermal cameras and on-site nurses are all methods being considered to help employees stay safe. Digital health is playing a major role in helping employees self-report their risks, whether that be the employee taking the subway, or living with someone who’s immunosuppressed. It can also help employers scalably monitor and assess people's symptoms on a daily basis, ensuring that sick employees stay at home and quarantine. Workplace changes may also include desks and workstations being spread further apart, and stricter limitations on large meetings and gatherings in the office.

Appian’s platform helps employers centralize and automate all the key components needed for safe returns to work. Through the platform, employers can process health screenings, return-to-site authorizations, contact tracing, isolation processing, and now, COVID-19 testing.

“A lot of people would rather work with an employer who goes the extra mile, who’s willing to offer and pay for tests if necessary for their own employees, and to quickly deploy it, where there’s even a suspicion of transmission,” Calkins says. “It’s a responsible gesture and a serious signal that the employer cares about the health of their workforce, and employees are reassured that their colleagues are more likely to be healthy.”

SOURCE: Nedlund, E. (30 July 2020) "COVID-19 at-home testing kits can make returning to work safer" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/covid-19-at-home-testing-kits-can-make-returning-to-work-safer


Antibody Testing for COVID-19 in the Workplace

Many employers have heard of various workplaces testing for antibodies in regards to COVID-19. As businesses are wanting employees to feel confident in returning to the office, there are still various unanswered questions in regards to the testing. Read this blog post to learn more.


Many companies are considering offering their employees antibody (Ab) testing for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. While businesses want employees to be confident about returning to work, and the government wants better estimates of infection rates, there are still many questions about the value, reliability and usefulness of the testing.

The Basics of Antibody Testing

Ab testing uses a blood sample to look for antibodies the immune system develops to fight SARS-CoV-2. The test may show the presence of antibodies, an indicator of a likely past SARS-CoV-2 infection. Negative results indicate that a past infection is not likely. Neither result confirms whether the individual is currently infected (asymptomatic or otherwise), and Ab tests should not be used to diagnose whether someone is presently infected with COVID-19.

It typically takes 10-18 days following infection for the body to produce enough antibodies to be detected. A positive result does not indicate whether the detected antibodies can provide any protection or immunity against becoming infected again.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has so far barred test producers from selling the tests to the public. Ab tests for SARS-CoV-2 must be administered by a federally approved health care provider or research group. For more information, see this guidance on the World Health Organization website, as well as this information from the FDA.

What Are Antibodies?

The presence of antibodies to any virus confirms past exposure to that virus or the receipt of a vaccine for it. The body remembers that exposure and will recognize the virus if exposed again. Antibodies take time to develop into their role as the body's biological memory of past infections. Because many of us have not been exposed to this new coronavirus, our immune systems have no memory of it.

Those who may have antibodies for SARS-CoV-2 may not necessarily be able to fight off a second infection. To do that, the body needs sufficient numbers of antibodies, and they need to be effective. The degree to which people with coronavirus antibodies are protected from getting COVID-19 a second or third time is still unknown. Broad use of Ab tests and clinical follow-up will provide these answers. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "we do not know yet if having antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19 can protect someone from getting infected again or, if they do, how long this protection might last. Scientists are conducting research to answer those questions."

If the antibodies are effective in causing immunity, we must also determine how long they might last in the body. Other coronavirus antibodies tend to last a few years. Those for the common cold can last only a few weeks or months. After the SARS coronavirus outbreak in 2003, one study found that only 9 percent of people had antibodies six years after getting sick.

Next Steps for Employers

Currently, there are many reasons why employers might hesitate to pursue Ab testing for employees. Ab tests only look backward, and most people will already know if they had COVID-19. Some physicians insist that test results offer little guidance on how or when to reopen workplaces, and organizations shouldn't modify policies or procedures based on test results. They argue that safety procedures should remain the same regardless of Ab test results. Unfortunately, testing may make things worse, as some people who test positive for having antibodies may relax social distancing and sanitizing in the belief that they are now immune.

Knowing what to do with the test results is the primary dilemma. Encouraging blood draws and testing among employees may not be a compelling pursuit for companies until we know what to do with the results. Major questions remain:

  • Quantity. We don't know the degree to which people infected by the coronavirus develop antibodies. Some may never develop antibodies. Figuring that out requires longer-term studies of who gets reinfected.
  • Effectiveness. We don't know the degree to which the antibodies provide immunity and protection.
  • Consistency. We don't know how consistently these antibodies provide protection from person to person.

If Ab testing in the workplace is used, it should be accompanied by a clear explanation of what the results might indicate about the employee's past health and what they do not indicate about the employee's present and future health status.

SOURCE: Musselman, K. (29 May 2020) "Antibody Testing for COVID-19 in the Workplace" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/risk-management/pages/antibody-testing-for-covid-19-in-the-workplace-.aspx


As Coronavirus Spreads, Managers Ask How to Handle Telecommuting

With the Coronavirus spreading throughout larger cities in the United States, employers are looking at various ways to keep the workplace and employees safe and healthy. Many employers are turning to remote work to support these efforts. Read this blog post from SHRM to learn more about supporting remote work.


As the coronavirus continues to spread through the U.S.—so far infecting at least 162 people and causing 11 deaths—many employers are considering telling or have already told their employees to work from home. In China, where the virus was first identified, millions of people are working remotely.

But there are technological, process, security, workers' compensation and even tax considerations employers must keep in mind to support remote work.

How to Create an Effective Teleworking Program

One of the first tasks for those who plan to manage teleworkers is deciding who on staff may be eligible for telework. Once that's decided, managers should keep in mind the following best practices.

SHRM's Remote Work Resource Center

These resources can help employers set up flexible work arrangements. They include a sample telecommuting application form and telecommuting policy and information about whether telecommuters are covered under workers' compensation.

Considering a Remote Work Policy? Consider This

Have you checked whether your workers' compensation policy covers remote employees? Do you have technology that lets you see your remote workers during meetings? Do you micromanage a remote worker more than the people who sit beside you, simply because you can't see what the remote worker is doing? Those are questions that HR departments should address to create a telecommuting program.

Technology to Support Remote Workers Evolves

In addition to videoconferencing programs, file-sharing platforms, and project management and time-tracking tools, new adaptive analytics and secure data-access technologies are helping employees who work from home or other locations outside the office.

Building and Leading High-Performing Remote Teams

Overseeing a team of remote employees doesn't come naturally to many managers. Some even question how they can know if people working away from the office are really working. But the guiding principles of leadership are the same regardless of whether the team is located under one roof or geographically dispersed.

Helping Remote Workers Avoid Loneliness and Burnout

Remote work forces structural and systemic change to accommodate different ways of working and different ways of being "available" and productive. Remote and flex work also present new challenges for managers.  In particular, burnout and loneliness.

SOURCE: Wilkie, D. (06 March 2020) "As Coronavirus Spreads, Managers Ask How to Handle Telecommuting" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/people-managers/Pages/coronavirus-remote-work-.aspx


In Case of: Effective Responses to Workplace Emergencies

Original post business.com

Within sixty seconds of its launch on November 14, 1969, the Apollo 12 spacecraft was struck twice by lightning, which caused critical navigation systems and fuel cells to shut down.

A N.A.S.A. engineer who remembered his training for a similar scenario immediately recommended a fix, which saved the entire mission and quite possibly the lives of the Apollo 12 astronauts.

Four months later, those same engineers faced and successfully responded to challenges that they never anticipated with the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission.

Emergencies can and do happen in every workplace, but it does not take a rocket scientist to plan for them or to fashion an intelligent response when they do happen.

Emergencies and Violence: The Stats

Workplace emergencies are not limited to high-tech or high-risk operations light rocket launches. Statistics compiled by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reveal more than 23,000 employee were injured in 2013 solely from workplace assaults.

The latest data available from the BLS show that the annual rate of workplace violence has held steady for more than twenty years, and violence continues to be the second leading cause of employee fatalities after transportation accidents.

This does not even account for injuries or fatalities that result from other workplace emergencies, including fires, natural disasters, chemical spills and contamination, or civil disturbances or terrorism. In 2010, more than three million workers suffered injuries following workplace emergencies. How a business responds to emergencies is typically a function of the nature of the emergency itself.

What Is Categorized as an Emergency? 

OSHA defines a workplace emergency as an “unforeseen situation that threatens your employees, customers, or the public; disrupts or shuts down your operations; or causes physical or environmental damage”.

Most individuals might limit their concept of a workplace emergency to newsworthy, large-scale evacuations caused by natural or man-made causes, but lesser-scale emergencies are far more common. One employee might suffer an injury or a sudden medical event.

A small fire might be easily contained by sprinkler systems, but that fire will be no less disruptive of business operations than a larger conflagration. A single disgruntled individual can start an emergency situation that shuts a business down for days. If that individual is armed, the emergency becomes a national tragedy.

OSHA has issued Emergency Action Plan standards for workplace emergencies that are codified in the Federal Regulations. Those standards define, for example, when and where businesses need to have fire extinguishers, building evacuation plans, and medical emergency response protocols.

The New Focus: Armed Shooter Scenarios

Because of high-profile publicity and responses, businesses are also becoming more attuned to armed shooter scenarios. Although not without objection or controversy, some workplaces are training employees in a run/hide/fight protocol that was popularized by a video produced by the City of Houston.

The gist of that protocol is to train employees first to run from an armed assailant. If running is not possible, the employees should hide, and if hiding is impossible, only then should employees attempt to fight the assailant.

Technology can be a boon during a workplace emergency if it is used as a tool and not a solution. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) places a high priority in communication technology in emergencies. Excessive reliance on technology can be a downfall, however, if an emergency removes the option to use technology. Businesses should consider deeper contingency plans in the event that the emergency takes down their communication networks.

A Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) is a notification that is sent to mobile devices in cases of tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis and other serious emergencies. These emergency alerts are complimentary public safety service provided by participating wireless service providers. But, if employees have trouble with cellphone reception inside their workplace, they may or may not receive these alerts.

If workplaces were able to plan for all possible workplace emergencies, then to the extent that they were anticipated those events would not be emergencies. The responses by the NASA engineers in the Apollo program are more instructive in developing an effective workplace emergency response plan.

The Apollo 12 lightning strike shows the efficacy of contingency planning for potential emergencies and trusting an employee to implement his or her training when the emergency happens.

The engineer who recommended the solution after the lightning strike was in his early twenties, but his co-workers and the ship’s crew had developed enough of a cohesive relationship and a sense of trust among themselves that they did not hesitate to implement his solution.

During the Apollo 13 mission, the entire workforce again worked cohesively toward a common purpose to develop an effective response that, almost fifty years later, remains one of NASA’s finest efforts.

A workplace will not always have the luxury of implementing thorough contingency training to prepare for an emergency. A business’s ability to survive a workplace emergency is on a par with the conduct of its regular business operations. As with other aspects of those operations, the most effective emergency response requires mutual employee trust and cohesiveness.


Don’t Miss the February 1st Deadline for Posting Your OSHA Injury/Illness Summary Form

Originally posted on January 28, 2015 by Laura Kerekes on www.thinkhr.com

It’s that time of year to look back on your workplace illnesses and injuries for 2014, ensure that you have recorded the correct information in your OSHA logs, and post the information in your workplace starting February 1, 2015. Do you need to comply with this posting requirement, even if you’ve had no injuries or illnesses this past year? You probably will need to comply — most employers do.

Employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace for their employees. The role of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is to assure the safety and health of workers by setting and enforcing standards; providing training, outreach, and education; establishing partnerships; and encouraging continual improvement in workplace safety and health. Employers are required to have a Workplace Injury and Illness Prevention Program in place, with active monitoring of results. The intent of the OSHA log reporting is to summarize the year end results and focus both employers’ and employees’ attention on workplace safety so that everyone can make safety a top company priority.

Do you need to comply with the February 1st deadline?

If you had 10 or more employees at all times during 2014, you will need to comply, unless your company’s Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) Code is included in the industry list of exclusions available at https://www.osha.gov/oshstats/naics-manual.html.

What You Should Do

Assuming that your business does not fall under the exclusions of OSHA reporting, you’ll need to ensure that two OSHA forms are completed fully, the Form 300 (log) and the Form 300A. Both forms and the instructions can be accessed here.

Form 300: This form is used to record all injuries and illnesses, except those that required first aid only. This form is not posted due to privacy considerations. There are certain injuries and illnesses where you do not include the employee’s name for privacy (sexual assaults, HIV infection, etc.), and an employee may request that his or her name not be entered on this log.

Form 301 (do NOT post): This form allows you to record more data about how the injury or illness occurred. As with Form 300, this form is not posted due to privacy considerations. Employee representatives, however, may have access to this form but only the portion that contains no personal information.

Form 300A: This is the form that must be completed and posted beginning February 1st through April 30th. It contains a summary of the total number of job-related injuries and illnesses that occurred during the previous year that were logged onto the Form 300. Information about the annual average number of employees and total hours worked during the calendar year is required for calculating incidence rates. Companies with no recordable injuries or illnesses in the previous year must post the summary with zeros on the “total” line. A company executive must certify all establishment summaries. Employers are required only to post the summary Form 300A, not the Form 300 log.

Form 300A must be displayed in a common area where notices to employees usually are posted. Employers must make a copy of the summary available to employees who move from worksite to worksite, such as construction workers, and employees who do not report to any one office on a regular basis.

More information regarding OSHA’s recordkeeping rule can be found in the OSHA Fact Sheet.

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Worker Fatalities Show Importance of Safety Training

Originally posted May 28, 2014 by Paul Lawton on http://safetydailyadvisor.blr.com.

Today’s Advisor reports on several workplace fatalities that may have been prevented with more effective safety training.

Case studies provide real-life examples of why it is important for learners to complete safety training and apply that knowledge back on the job.

In the month of June 2013 alone, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued statements regarding citations to five companies where training might have helped save a worker’s life.

1. OSHA proposed fines of $157,000 against a plumbing company as a result of a January 16 incident in which a worker died from injuries sustained when a trench collapsed at a job site in Hastings, Nebraska. The company was cited for failing to train workers on trenching hazards and four other safety violations.

“This tragedy might have been prevented with the use of protective shoring that the company planned to bring to the job site that afternoon. All too often, compromising safety procedures has tragic consequences, and hazards like these cause numerous deaths and injuries every year,” said Bonita Winingham, OSHA’s area director in Omaha. “No job should cost a worker’s life because an employer failed to properly protect and train them.”

2. OSHA also cited waste treatment facility for 22 safety and health violations and proposed $325,710 in fines as a result of a December 28 fire and explosion at the Cincinnati waste treatment facility in which a worker was fatally burned. The violations include failure to provide new training to employees assigned to handle waste materials, to train workers on the selection and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) for protection from various materials that are part of their routine assignments, and to provide training and PPE to employees assigned to work on energized circuits.

3. Penalties totaling $116,200 were proposed against a lumber company in Timpson, Texas, stemming from a December incident in which a worker was killed after being struck by a broken band saw blade. The 17 alleged safety violations include failure to provide easily understood lockout/tagout training for energy control and to certify that energy control training was completed and current.

4. Among other things, OSHA cited a trucking company in Ross, North Dakota, for failing to train workers on chemical hazards and precautions after a worker was fatally injured on March 27 while cleaning the inside of a crude oil tanker that exploded.

5. OSHA also cited tool manufacturer for 17 safety violations, including lack of training, after a maintenance worker was electrocuted on March 6 in Fenton, Missouri.

Each company had 15 days to comply with the citations, request a conference, or contest the citations and penalties.

Learn from the failures of these companies to protect their employees, and make any needed changes in your own safety training programs to ensure such tragedies don’t happen in your workplace.

Why It Matters

  • Safety on the job is a top priority for employees and employers alike.
  • Safety training is a key component of every safety program.
  • Keep your employees safe—and avoid expensive citations—by continually evaluating your safety program and its training component.