No one could have predicted in January 2020 that COVID-19 would consume our world, or that the economy would be turned upside down by its impact. With ever-changing health guidelines and mandatory quarantine rules, employers need to continue to be nimble and adapt to the evolving work, regulatory, and economic environments we take part in. The sudden transition of entire workforces being remote, along with evolving CDC and state health guidelines and new employment regulations as a result of the pandemic, employers and their human resources personnel found themselves dealing with a host of unexpected HR challenges. Some of these challenges continue to plague employers in 2021.
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“While 2021 brings new optimism that business and life are slowly returning to normal, we are not there yet,” cautioned Andrew W. Singer, Managing Partner and Chair of Tannenbaum Helpern’s Employment Law Practice. Until the coronavirus is under control and enough of the population is vaccinated, employers will continue to deal with the lingering effects of the pandemic on HR and employment. “At the same time,” added Stacey Usiak, Partner in the law firm’s Employment Law Practice, “employers must look to a future where the value of diversity, inclusion, and pay equity are increasingly recognized and will impact employment in 2021 and beyond.”
Workforce issues: Remote workforce issues will continue to persist in 2021. Accurately capturing overtime and breaks is difficult over distance, and staying compliant with employment laws such as mandatory anti-harassment training and paid leave regulations is similarly tricky in a remote environment. To stay on top of all these obligations, employers should focus on setting clear policies and get in the habit of reviewing, revising, and updating them regularly.
The availability of a COVID-19 vaccine and absence of a related governmental mandate, means employers will now need to decide whether to require vaccinations for employees who do not qualify for a religious or disability based accommodation. Employers will then also have to deal with the issue of unvaccinated employees and the degree to which the presence of unvaccinated employees may render a workplace unsafe under OSHA. Employers should monitor the news of the vaccine rollout as the situation develops.
Diversity and Inclusion: Diversity and inclusion is no longer simply an agenda item. Many companies are hiring diversity leaders and/or expanding this function internally. More companies are embracing hiring and internal promotion practices that encourage diversity and inclusion. Importantly, clients and customers are increasingly leaning toward service providers that reflect the diverse demographic makeup of our communities and our nation. It is not surprising to see that a standard “Request For Proposal” includes questions on a vendor’s diversity and inclusion commitment and achievement. The Black Lives Matter movement has accelerated the pace of strides taken towards workplace diversity and inclusion and highlighted the importance of diversity and inclusion for building and managing a sustainable and successful business.
Pay Equity: Although the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963 to eliminate pay disparities between men and women, such disparities persist today. To address this issue, states such as New York ban employers from inquiring about a candidate’s or employee’s salary history. For those employers interested in remedying issues of pay equity a meaningful first step is to conduct an internal compensation audit to reveal any existing disparities among compensation packages for the same or similar roles. In addition to simply making a company a more equitable place to work, proactive measures such as a pay audit followed by remedial measures to eliminate any apparent disparities can also protect a company by preventing pay equity claims.