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HRM's New Roles in Reducing COVID-19 Transmission & Co-Worker Conflict

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

Digitalizing employee resource management (ERM) helps human resources optimize processes and employee recruitment, engagement, and retention. However, while ERM tools accelerate these disciplines, they cannot digitize all workplace challenges, processes, and protocols, especially those related to COVID-19.

HR and corporate leaders must unite to re-strategize the talent battle, injecting more compensation and empathy.

Re-Strategizing ERM

Let's neither mask the impact of COVID-19 on our thoughts, actions, communications, and decision-making nor distance ourselves from its role in human resource management. Organizations planning to attract, engage and retain talent during this pandemic require a clear plan, knowledge about their competitors', vendors' and suppliers' COVID-19 protocols, and the COVID-19 prevention preferences of their current employees and candidates.

ERM & Interpersonal COVID-19 Conflicts

Today leaders face steep challenges because every point of contact is risky. On the one hand, a group of people believe in COVID-19 vaccines and masks; on the other, there is a group that does not. Bringing these groups together under one roof as a workforce will happen, but it presents a risk of interpersonal conflict and, worse, the transmission of COVID-19.

Whether remote or in-office, employee dissension and frustration teem, Google employees are angry with the 'two tier' remote work plan. Apple employees are disgruntled with the company's hybrid work model – fueling a wave of resignation.

Companies that have reopened are experiencing co-worker infighting. Some employees refuse to wear their masks properly or lower them after the boss leaves the vicinity. In some instances, employees have engaged in heated battles, arguing and yelling at each other about COVID-19 vaccines and masks. Other employees place 'Do not enter' signs on their cubicles to avoid confrontation.

Ultimately, employers who force employees to return to the office at this moment can expect co-worker confrontations, lower engagement and team cohesiveness, and higher rates of absenteeism, presenteeism, turnover, illness, short- and long-term disability, and healthcare costs.

ERM can mitigate these tense situations by implementing hall monitoring and providing training so that managers know how to reinforce workplace COVID-19 protocols and resolve conflicts of politically charged employees safely and effectively.

Corporate Social Responsibility

While some employers need workers on site because of their industry, all have a corporate and legal responsibility to provide a safe environment for employees and the greater community. This is not a small task, given the considerable opposition to vaccinating adults under 35.

The Cost of Vaccination Fears

The demographics of those hesitant or unwilling to vaccinate include Millenials, who now comprise 75 percent of the workforce, Gen Zs, who are entering the job market, and men.

Corporate efforts to increase diversity and inclusion may nose dive, too, due to anti-vaxxers. Research shows Hispanic and Black Americans are the least willing to get vaccinated, a distrust born of racist medical experimentation from more than 50 years ago and continually referenced by anti-vax proponents.

Whether it's fear, mistrust, or opinion, anti-vax proponents have the right to decide about COVID-19 vaccination and its effect. Still, others believe the choice not to vaccinate infringes on their right to have maximum protection from the contagion. While flouting science, the anti-vaxxers imperil their health and their budget. As the Delta variant infects the non-vaccinated, these victims face mounting expenses in hospitalization, job security, and even their lives. Employers may face costs for offering special accommodations, such as a workplace-based clinic and weekly COVID-19 testing and reporting.

The Show Goes on for Health, Water, Energy, and Transport Workers

The government mandates vaccines for all federal employees and essential workers to meet the public's basic living needs and minimize the spread of COVID-19 and its highly transmissible Delta and mu variants while maintaining civil services.

Private companies are jumping on the vaccine mandate wagon, too. AT&T, Bank of America, Cisco, CVS, Deloitte, Facebook, Ford Motor, Google, Johnson & Johnson, Lyft, Microsoft, Netflix, TD Bank, Walt Disney, and many other companies require vaccines, masks, and other COVID-preventative protocols for employees and vendors. Each industry has different nuances and landscapes, but each can adopt COVID-19 protocols and heed the recommended precautions to protect their employees and communities.

COVID-19 Awareness & Education

Regardless of industry, all corporate leaders can take the first step to create a policy and a COVID-19 task force to inform their workforce about COVID-19 and embrace their obligation to protect employees by providing a safe and infectious-free workplace.

Leaders should encourage COVID-19 vaccinations and mandate masks because science shows they are the most effective ways to reduce exposure to this deadly virus.

Developing evidence-based training materials and implementing a zero-tolerance COVID-19 policy that follows (and evolves with) the CDC, government, state, and local guidelines can facilitate workplace education, alerting employees to the risks of COVID-19. Some organizations develop disciplinary procedures for those who refuse to follow the rules and do so for good reasons.

The nation has been witnessing the severity and extent of COVID-19 for nearly 20 months. And still, new CDC research shows that even fully immunized people can carry tremendous amounts of the virus in the nose and throat" and infect others. Vaccinated or not, employees who refuse to wear their masks properly or reject vaccination will likely face termination, at least at companies that are serious about protecting human lives and minimizing their liability.

Consider checking the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which defines sixteen critical infrastructure sectors essential to American workers' health, safety, and welfare. It's a foundation for building policy and a task force. If your organization falls outside those areas, the CDC and the Department of Labor OSHA provide industry-specific guidelines, best practices, and strategies for organizations and their unique characteristics to plan, prepare, and respond to the pandemic effectively.

COVID-19 Task Force

Employee resource management should be at the core of the COVID-19 task force. Their new roles involve creating a living COVID-19 policy, educating managers and employees about the policy, procedures, and repercussions, and integrating COVID-19 policy into all selection, hiring, and onboarding processes.

A company-wide COVID-19 plan established by a task force and an enforcement policy will help alleviate employee fears about returning to work and reduce candidate apprehension about accepting a job at your organization.

Universal indoor masking will likely be a requirement for vaccinated and unvaccinated employees, at least for the foreseeable future. However, leaders can put personnel at ease by acting transparently, understanding COVID-19 risks, taking precautions in their unique workplaces, and streamlining HR processes.

COVID-19 Workplace Resources

For more information about COVID-19 prevention and workplace measures to minimize risk, such as setting up a mobile company-sponsored clinic, click Working With COVID: 3 Steps to Limit Presenteeism.

Here is a comprehensive list of worker protections for the state of Pennsylvania.

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