As we begin the third month of dealing with COVID-19 we set out below some practical tips for employers to consider.
1. Keep up to date with accurate information
It is difficult for an employer to make proper decisions based on rumours, assumptions and fake news (and there is a lot of this going around). Therefore, it is important for an employer to stay up to date with accurate information. Employers should monitor official sources, including government advisories and the WHO website, and check that the information they receive is factually correct.
Some useful links include:
- Centre for Health Protection – Coronavirus News: https://www.coronavirus.gov.hk/eng/index.html
- Centre for Health Protection – Emergency Preparedness and Response for COVID-19 – focusing on business continuity arrangement: https://www.chp.gov.hk/files/pdf/formulating_business_continuity_plan.pdf
- Centre for Health Protection – Latest Local Situation of COVID-19 in Hong Kong: https://chp-dashboard.geodata.gov.hk/covid-19/en.html
- HKSAR Government Press Releases: https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/today.htm
- World Health Organization (WHO) – COVID-19 outbreak: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
2. Know where your employees are and where they have been
An employer cannot keep its employees out of harm's way if it does not know where they are and where they have been. If an employee is required to "work from home", and home is in Shenzhen then does this create a tax issue for the employee or for the employer?
As outbreaks of COVID-19 occur in various parts of the world, keep track of which of your employees could be at risk.
3. Maintain communication with your employees
Employers should give employees a safe platform where they can raise concerns on all aspects related to work, from mental health to the risk of having contracted COVID-19. This is not just good employee relations but early detection and doing something about it can help to reduce the spread of the virus. It is one thing to have an employee assistance plan and ask employees to report issues, but if those who report are stigmatised or treated with contempt, employees may be deterred from reporting.
There may be nervousness and anxiety in the workplace, and possibly even conflicts, given concerns about the virus. Employees should be given avenues to communicate such anxiety to their employer, so that such concerns are addressed earlier and do not balloon into bigger issues.
An employer should keep its employees posted on the latest developments and what it is doing. It should not assume that all employees will educate themselves or have access to the same source of reliable information. Putting everyone on the same page will help the employer and its employees move together as a business.
4. If you can be flexible, then be flexible
Understand that this is a time of stress for all parties, including your employees. Recognise that employees will have different needs depending on their circumstances (e.g. those with school age children may need more time off as school classes are suspended).
This time of uncertainty will pass but employees will remember how their employer treated them long after the threat of the virus has disappeared. A disgruntled employee may try to make it known to the world how badly their employer treated them. This may affect the employer's brand and ability to attract and retain talent. The employer may then have to wait for another crisis or challenging time to get the opportunity to prove itself as a good employer.