By Audra Hedberg, PHR, PHRca, SHRM-CP, Senior Compliance Consultant at Trüpp

The workplace, as we know it, has changed. Already deep into a global pandemic that has upended nearly every aspect of how we do business, we now face demonstrations and riots in protest of the horrific death of George Floyd, injustice, and racism. As employers and employees alike process these layers of stress, anxiety, and pent-up energies, it has profoundly impacted the workplace and cannot be ignored. Many employers are struggling with what to do, how to communicate best, and what resources to provide employees who are dealing with these circumstances in a broad spectrum of ways. Consider the following steps employers can take to offer support to their employees during a time of crisis.

1. Acknowledge what’s happening and communicate with your employees

Simply acknowledging what’s happening across this country is extremely important and shows employees that the company is not ignoring the elephant in the room. Communicating to your employees that you understand they may be going through a variety of emotions, thoughts, or feelings releases them to focus on their work without having the additional stress of maintaining a façade of grit or acting like nothing is happening.

It is also essential to keep your managers and line supervisors in the loop. They are the face of your organization to your employees and are also struggling with how to respond to the impacts on the workplace and employee performance. Providing clear guidelines to your managers during this time will ensure a unified response and prevent inconsistencies or conflict. Encourage them to check in with employees one-on-one to make them aware of the resources your organization is providing and to see how they are coping.

Finally, consider other avenues of support for your employees, such as reaching out to Human Resources, other managers, or employee benefits program offerings.

2. Offer up resources to your employees

Providing valuable resources to your employees shows compassion and thoughtfulness while improving employee retention and building morale. Consider these options to provide a robust support offering for your team.

Employee assistance programs/telehealth

If you have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), this is a perfect time to remind employees of this valuable resource. These programs are designed to assist employees with personal challenges that can impact their work life. Confidential services may include individual counseling, financial counseling, basic legal advice, substance abuse programs, and eldercare services. Telehealth services are becoming increasingly popular and offer convenience as well as confidentiality for employees faced with grief, anxiety, depression, or other conditions Check with your benefits broker about EAP and telehealth programs available to implement in your organization.

Education and training

This is an excellent time to provide training and education to increase the workforce’s awareness and knowledge of diversity, cultural competence, and inclusion. There are many methods available for employers to further educate their employees, including supplying employees with a book reading list, videos, or online training on topics such as racism and social justice, harassment, wellness, diversity and inclusion, and civility.

Review EEO, diversity & inclusion, and discrimination, harassment, & retaliation policies 

If your organization does not have an employee handbook, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) policy, diversity and inclusion policy, or anti-harassment policy, now may be the time to get them implemented. Not only do they set expectations for workplace behavior, but they also act as a reference for managers and employees when having difficult conversations and mitigate employer risk.

Equal opportunity laws require an employer to treat all employees and applicants equally. Having an EEO policy outlines the company’s commitment to providing equal employment opportunities to all aspects of employment without regard to a person’s protected class, including job assignment, compensation, discipline, and access to benefits and training. Discrimination, harassment, and retaliation policies are required in many states and help to ensure you are following anti-discrimination laws. Implementing a diversity and inclusion policy may not be required under the law, but several federal, state, and local laws do encourage them. A diversity and inclusion policy promotes awareness and a more integrated and respectful work environment.

Implementing these kinds of policies in the workplace gives employees assurance that your organization is committed to a work environment that is safe for all employees and may lead to better employee retention, higher productivity, minimal employee complaints, and reduced or no employment claims, resulting in reduced costs for employers.

Consider organizational donations 

Apple announced it will be making donations to a variety of groups. Target has been forced to close many stores and is now providing essential items such as medicine and bottled water to employees who have been impacted by recent demonstrations. Many employers are considering donating to reputable charitable organizations who are supporting plans for a positive solution. Depending on your organization’s policies, employers may consider a program to match employee contributions to these non-profit groups.

3. Evaluate time-off policies and address employee concerns

As many parts of the country are starting to open up, some may be forced to close again if faced with violent riots or looting. Businesses may have to lay employees off or review time-off policies for employees who may be stricken with possible disabilities such as anxiety or depression. Employers should be vigilant and address any concerns employees bring forward to comply with various federal laws such as the Family Medical and Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

4. Remind employees to keep conversations respectful

Organizations should be very mindful of the differing views and opinions that exist in their workforce. Not everyone processes information in the same way nor shares the same views. Therefore, it’s imperative to remind employees to be cautious with their words and to keep their conversations with coworkers to topics that are politically and socially neutral.

Contentious conversations may lead to coworker bullying and harassment. Your existing policies that address bullying, employee conduct, or harassment may apply. However, employers should avoid potential violations of an employee’s rights concerning activities outside the workplace; some states specifically allow employees to engage in off-duty political activities. Most private employees do not have constitutional rights to free speech for comments made in the workplace, but public employees may have additional protections under federal and state law.

Every organization is different. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. However, with careful preparation and thoughtful communication, you can diffuse tensions before they become a problem, provide much-needed support for your employees, and protect business continuity during this challenging time. If you find you are overwhelmed or don’t know where to begin, Trüpp is here to help! Reach out to one of our HR specialists to get help with training initiatives, policies, or any other HR needs.

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