While states have started to significantly relax Coronavirus-necessitated private business restrictions, most state and federal employees continue to work remotely. This isn’t going to continue indefinitely, however. Federal agencies have already issued guidance on how to bring employees back to the office. Employees who have been on paid leave because they cannot work remotely will be among the first to return.
Of course, some public employees have been in the office throughout this crisis – those workers were considered essential to the functioning of the government or the response to COVID-19. Much like hospital employees and those that serve the nation’s food supply chain, their sacrifices were necessary for us to survive this crisis. Some other employees, such as those in the IRS, have more recently returned to prevent new problems from arising that could interfere with the country’s recovery.
At some point, employees who are not deemed essential to meeting immediate life-or-death needs and are currently working remotely will be prompted to return to the office. Unlike essential employees, however, bringing them back into the office before it is safe to do so is an unreasonable risk to their health and well-being.
With more than nine million local, state and federal employees (excluding educators) it’s only a matter of time before at least a handful of public offices across the country experience a COVID-19 outbreak. The decisions on when and how to open non-critical public offices are being handled with great care at the agency level, but it’s ultimately going to be up to managers to make individual decisions on how to implement that guidance on a day-to-day basis.
A COVID-19 outbreak doesn’t mean that anyone broke the guidelines; the virus can and does sometimes spread even if people take appropriate and recommended precautions. But when a COVID-19 outbreak does strike a public office, employees who feel they were subjected to a life-threatening illness because of bad managerial decisions are obviously going to raise the issue to HR, and possibly to the media as well. The pandemic has become a political football and headline grabber, meaning that any outbreaks could quickly draw media and legislative scrutiny.
Did a manager have reason to believe someone might be sick and fail to send them home? Did a manager look the other way while other employees broke social distancing guidelines? Was too much pressure put on employees to be in the office whenever they could?
To avoid having to answer these questions after an outbreak when they’re presented by media or oversight groups, agency HR teams will need to answer them very quickly when they’re submitted by employees before an outbreak. Doing so will do more than just spare the agency from unwelcome scrutiny; it could also save employees’ lives.
Is your HR team prepared to investigate these reports quickly? Does your process support the completion of interviews, investigations, and recommendations within days? If not, COVID-19 is a great opportunity to re-evaluate your investigation processes and redesign them to support fast resolutions in situations where it is absolutely necessary.
To learn how CMTS:HR can help your agency resolve complaints more efficiently without sacrificing accuracy, call us at 919-747-3812 or email us at Team_CMTSHR@CMTSHR.com