Communication during a Crisis


Communications regarding a crisis, such as a pandemic, will help maintain order in the workplace and reduce employee concerns. During an outbreak of a communicable disease, such as COVID-19, employers may be uncertain about whether to tell employees that there has been a reported case in the workplace. Generally, employers do not need to reveal the identity of a particular employee or an employee’s family member (and in most cases can not reveal) with a contagious illness or disease in order to achieve the objective of maintaining a healthy workplace. Employers can notify employees and other relevant parties that contagious illnesses may be present in any workplace and list precautionary steps suggested by medical professionals, such as the CDC or the Department of Health and Human Services. Depending on the particular facts involved, information regarding illness of an employee or family member may be protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) (chapter 12), the ADA, or both. Even when not specifically required by law, it is important for business effectiveness to maintain the privacy of individuals with a contagious illness. Further, these matters are best handled delicately to prevent unnecessary panic in the workplace. In some instances, healthy employees may unreasonably refuse to come to work due to fear of contracting a disease. In these situations, the employer should make attempts to address employees’ fears and answer questions. If healthy employees continue to refuse to come to work despite communication attempts to address fears and misconceptions, these employees may need to be informed that there is little from a legal standpoint that protects them in this situation. The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) generally does give employees the right to refuse to come to work under certain circumstances when the employees reasonably believe that coming to work would put them in serious and immediate danger. In addition, the National Labor Relations Act, while often considered a union law, also describes certain protected concerted activities that apply to both nonunionized and unionized workers, when two or more employees address the employer about improving their working conditions. However, both of these statutes create narrow exceptions, and an employee who is concerned about coming to work due to a flu outbreak or an employer preparing to discipline and employee in these circumstances should consult with legal counsel before relying on either of these statutes as a reason for work absences. *** After organizations establish an approach for handling workplace absences during an epidemic, the next step in dealing with a flu outbreak or other epidemic is to determine how to keep the business running smoothly despite high rates of unplanned absences. HR professionals and top management should prepare written guidance for managers instructing them how to handle these situations. Organizations must adapt quickly during an epidemic or other environmental emergency. Managers should provide constant communication to employees and upper management on staffing considerations. In turn, senior management should educate and empower frontline managers to make quick decisions affecting business operations and staffing. It is important to think creatively during such crises and to use temporary measures that may not have been appropriate before the crisis arose. Some staffing strategies that managers may want to consider during the crisis: *Increasing telecommuting arrangements or relaxing requirements to come into the office. *Implementing staggered shifts or other alternative work schedules so that fewer employees are in the office together at the same time. * Employing social distancing measures among employees and customers. Employers should also look their IT departments for technology strategies that could help businesses function despite employees’ inability to work together in the same room. For employees scheduled to travel to high-risk areas, alternatives to face-to-face meetings must be developed PROJECT ASSIGNMENT You are in charge of Human Resources at an essential  business. Your employees have many concerns about their health and safety during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Create a DETAILED plan to:      *Develop alternative, temporary staffing measures. AND      *To communicate to employees to help alleviate their concerns. (Be sure to include: what you are doing to maintain safety for employees and customers; what you can do/can’t do if employees do not want to work under the current conditions; what kinds of social distancing measures you can take to help alleviate concerns & possible contagion; etc…) >I expect DETAILS, SPECIFICS. This is meant to be a comprehensive exercise in dealing with what HR professionals around the country (if not the world) are having to do right now. If you plan on simply writing a brief Discussion-type post, or even a brief Business Research Summary type post, you WILL NOT do well. Put some thought into this, as you may very well have to do this at some point in your career. I will be grading based on your creative thinking, your details, as well as your grammar, punctuation, etc…

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