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Looking beyond the pandemic

COVID-19 could lead to permanent workplace changes

Jeffrey Calabrese

Jeffrey Calabrese

Although we haven’t yet reached the most extreme stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, it might not be too soon for businesses to start planning for what happens after the crisis.

“It is an interesting question because obviously people are focused on the now. It’s hard to envision the after,” said Jeffrey J. Calabrese, a partner at Harter Secrest & Calabrese LLP whose practice area is labor and employment law.

But Calabrese expects that, even after workers return to their jobs, if they still have them, there will continue to be an emphasis on following the Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

Many workers who can’t go to the office or other workplace because they are not considered “essential” are now working remotely and many companies who haven’t had employees working remotely before will likely learn some interesting things.

“Many employees are remote regularly, but now we’ve got many, many employees who are remote that just never had to experience that before. I think it kind of presents an opportunity for companies to kind of think about what worked and what didn’t and are there any efficiencies that we may have learned through this whole  new environment and perhaps identifying inefficiencies and things that we did we can improve upon,” Calabrese said.

Calabrese said companies should track the impact of changes such as remote workers and evaluate that information after the pandemic and even during the crisis. He even suggested that companies should get to work on a disaster plan if they don’t already have one.

“We may as well, as employers and as companies, prepare a disaster plan now while all these issues are fresh on our mind to really think through these issues and how we can improve to the extent we ever have to deal with this again,” he said.

One result of working remotely is that, even though co-workers are physically separated, they are closer in other ways.

“We’ve really had to focus on teamwork, focus on productive communications, efficient communication. And I think those are things that you can build on going forward,” Calabrese said.

Another long-term issue that can be planned for now is dealing with the new state and federal paid leave laws adopted in response to the pandemic.

“Employers and their HR teams, and the business leaders, are going to have to administer those policies make sure they have somebody in place that is familiar with them that will continue to be able to administer them and make sure the company’s policies reflect the current law, Calabrese said.

“Right now it’s a little bit of a fire drill. Everyone is under a lot of stress and there’s not a lot of time to deal with everything. But as time wears on and we get into a new routine a lot of folks need to step back and put policies in place that reflect the new current law,” he said.

In some cases, companies might decide that they will continue to have employees work remotely after the crisis has passed because of newly discovered efficiencies or cost savings. Those employers should establish policies relevant to remote working.

“It really puts a lot of pressure on supervisors of course to be able to manage the individuals’ work carefully. There’s no substitute for face to face communications really, but certainly there are some positions that are appropriate for remote work. It just puts the onus on having good supervisors and good managers that have the skills to be able to manage those workers,” Calabrese said.

If companies expect to have employees continue to work from home they should get informed about the related laws, regulations and tax implications.

“While some employees may have only occasionally used their home Wi-Fi, or their home hardware or computer equipment for work now they may be doing it on a regular basis and that may change their options under the tax code,” Calabrese said.

For business owners who feel they might not be able to survive financially, they should first investigate government programs that have just been created. Federal lawmakers are expected to pass legislation to help companies survive the crisis, but details are still being worked out.

“Every business I think should have somebody who is familiar with the processes and should be considering those options early,” Calabrese said. “I think hopefully over time the economy will come back fast and even stronger than it was before.”

BLoudon@BridgeTowerMedia.com / (585) 232-2035

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