Creating a New Normal, Entering Post-Coronavirus Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic impacted every nation, every state, and every family. Part of the population was asked to stay home, and others were asked to return to the workforce earlier than expected. Regardless of your situation, you likely experienced some level of self-isolation.

Now, as states start to slowly re-open, everyone is stepping out of their homes for the first time in weeks or months. This is the beginning of a new normal. But how do we navigate this new dynamic while keeping our mental health in check? It may seem like lifting the quarantine veil will automatically eliminate any anxiety or stress, when in reality the opposite is true.

Use this checklist for yourself, family, friends, or co-workers who may need a reminder that staying mentally healthy is just as important as we enter this post-pandemic phase as it was during the quarantine.

  • Practice Gratitude. It is important to check in with yourself, friends, family, and co-workers as a reminder to be grateful for all of the goodness that is part of our every day. Acknowledge the things you can control and release the things you cannot, including questions that cannot yet be answered about the pandemic.
  • Personalize Your Boundaries. Everyone doesn’t have the same reaction about starting to re-open public gathering spaces, like restaurants, bars, pools, gyms, etc. It’s okay to not be okay jumping 100% back into “regular life.” Do what feels right for you and your family. Rejoin at your own pace.
  • Schedule Self-Care. It may seem negligible to schedule time to fixate on one’s self, but it is important to make sure self-care takes place on a regular, recurring basis. This may have been slightly easier when quarantine was in effect, but with regulations relaxing it is now more important. Be patient with your progress. Get outside. Re-read your favorite book. Take a long evening walk. All of these activities will have an amazing impact on helping create your new-normal.
  • Block the Negativity. Our minds have a way of running away with worst-case scenarios. Often these scenarios contain negative perspectives and do not actually occur. This may mean scaling back on social media activity, shutting off or limiting the daily news, and taking a break from reading headlines and stock prices. Instead, throw on your favorite movie, peruse the latest comedic additions to your favorite podcast streaming service, or start a new book. Refocus negative energy on something positive. Identifying this mindset is the first step in alleviating anxiety and stress that has built up during this time.

 

Maintaining a healthy attitude about mental health and making the decision to enter into a new normal for your day-to-day is key to managing anxiety and stress. Here are some tips for entering into this new phase of the pandemic.

Keep Your Positive Routines!
Many of us created new daily routines or schedules that helped to renew a sense of normalcy in our lives. Make sure to keep some of these new routines or schedules as you return to some of the more familiar aspects of your pre-quarantine life. Set aside time for family, meditation, meals and snacks, and exercise. If it worked in quarantine, it will likely have the same impact on your mental health post-quarantine. Conversely, if you created habits that were not so positive, now is a great time to set those aside and replace them with one of these new positive routine ideas.

Virtual Coffee Meet-Ups and Happy Hours
Let’s face it—for a good majority of us, virtual gatherings were not only a relief, but something that was missing from our lives. As busy as we all are, we sometimes forget how easy it is to connect with those who have the biggest impact on our mental and emotional happiness. This scheduled time with co-workers, friends, and family gave you a great excuse to connect regularly—so why stop now? Since we can expect physical distancing to continue, it makes sense to keep these scheduled meet-ups going. This is the best time to share self-care tips, stories from the week, or just let the organic conversation flow.

Back to Work—At Home
If you’re one of the millions of people who has gone back to work but still remains at home, you are definitely not alone. For this reason, one of the best ways to refocus on your mental health is unplugging on evenings and weekends. Working from home can substantially improve productivity as it becomes more difficult for employees to step away from their work. Taking time away from work emails, chats, and projects is essential to your mental health. Start by having a conversation with your manager about your hours, be clear about establishing a work/life balance while working from home, and shut down your computer (rather than just log off) when you are done working for the day.

Promoting Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace

Before the Coronavirus (COVID-19) took the world by surprise, mental health was already a taboo topic. Discussion of mental health in the workplace has been limited because of employees’ fear of losing their jobs and the general negative stigma of mental health issues.

COVID-19 Impact on Mental Health

COVID-19 has required many people to social distance and to self-quarantine causing an uptick in mental health crises. Between isolation, fear, uncertainty, and economic hardships, many people are facing psychological distress. 45% of adults report experiencing a negative effect on their mental health resulting from COVID-19.

Children, young adults, and healthcare workers are some of the most vulnerable populations whose mental health has been impacted by COVID-19. According to a Reuters article, children are becoming anxious and thus increasing cases of depression and anxiety. Domestic violence is also on the rise, as well as healthcare workers experiencing pain, anxiety, grief, irritability, insomnia, and other mental health issues stemming from the effects of COVID-19.

According to an NPR article, a mental health crisis is also on the brink resulting from “despair,” meaning that deaths resulting from substance use or suicide could increase by 75,000 due to COVID-19. It is imperative for employers to ensure their employees’ mental health wellness is taken care of while navigating the uncertainty of COVID-19.

Addressing Mental Health Issues

Addressing mental health can be a complex, delicate issue, especially in the workplace. Many companies possess a company handbook that outlines mental health policies, including discrimination, disability, sick and medical leaves, and other health-related regulations.

Outside of company handbooks and policies, many companies that were able to have shifted their workforce to remote environments. While some may enjoy work-from-home settings, working from home can present challenges. Some tips for maintaining a sane workplace from home include:

  • Take breaks. Whether you do some stretches, go for a quick walk, or make yourself a meal, stepping away from your computer or home work environment can help break up the monotony of your work.
  • Maintain communications. Social distancing can take a toll on relationships and mental health. Staying connected via tele- and videoconferencing channels are important to maintaining healthy communications with those you love, as well as your team or department at work.
  • Develop a routine. Establishing a set routine and sticking to it can assist in your remote setting where you might lack structure.
  • Incorporate physical wellness activities. During your lunch break or rest breaks, taking a short stroll through the neighborhood, park, or simply meditate can offer physical and mental wellness benefits.

 

Best Practices for Mental Health in the Workplace

One way businesses can address mental health in the workplace is through the development of company wellness and health assistance programs. Not only does employee health assistance programs benefit employees, it also benefits employers by:

  • Improving employee retention and job satisfaction
  • Increasing productivity and improved customer service
  • Reducing employee-related risks and potential liabilities
  • Reducing total medical costs
  • Lowering absenteeism
  • Enhancing company reputation

 

Taking a proactive approach to mental health in the workplace typically sees a successful support system for employees. There are four components to developing an effective mental health approach, which includes:

  • Building a positive company culture
  • Encouraging employees to communicate with managers for assistance
  • Promoting open communications through leadership, sharing personal experiences, and offering stories of success
  • Providing leadership training and resources to better assist them in starting conversations and guiding employees seeking help.

 

As May is Mental Health Awareness Month, it is the optimal time to revisit and revise your company policies regarding mental health, explore and incorporate new mental health and wellness programs, and ensure your company has access to available resources, training, and education regarding mental health. If you need assistance reviewing your employee handbook or would like to see available mental health coverage options to add to your employee health benefits plans, please contact VensureHR. We know employees play an integral role to a company’s day-to-day functions and our benefits team can ensure you have employee benefits customized to your individual company’s and employees’ needs.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or go to https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Pledge-to-Be-StigmaFree/StigmaFree-Company/Resources for additional resources.

 

 

Sources

How to Maintain Your Mental Health While Working from Home

How to Get Free Mental Health Help During the Coronavirus Pandemic

May 2020: Main Street Loan Update

On April 14, 2020, we sent out a communication regarding COVID-19 relief updates including two new loan options: Main Street New Loan Facility and Main Street Expanded Loan Facility.

Recently, the Federal Reserve Board announced it is expanding the scope and eligibility for the Main Street Lending Program. In response to the public input, the Board decided to expand the loan options available to businesses and increased the maximum size of businesses that are eligible for support under the program.

The changes include:

  • Creating a third loan option, with increased risk sharing by lenders for borrowers with greater leverage;
  • Lowering the minimum loan size for certain loans to $500,000; and
  • Expanding the pool of businesses eligible to borrow.

Read the full Federal Reserve Board press release here.

April 2020 Connecticut HR Legal Updates

Essential Workers

What happened?
The governor signed an Executive Order effective April 20, 2020 at 8 p.m. regarding the required use of face masks in the workplace.

What are the details?
All Essential Employers

  • Employees are required to wear a mask or other cloth material that covers their mouth and nose, except when the employee needs to eat or drink. If an employee is in a segregated space, they may remove their masks. All employees must wear the masks upon entry and exit from the workplace, or if they are in any common areas.
  • Employees who have underlying health conditions that could be aggravated due to the use of a mask may choose to not wear a mask. However, medical documentation should be provided to the employer.

Retail Stores

  • Employees shall wear a mask or other cloth material which covers their mouth/nose while the store is open to customers.
  • All customers are required to wear masks while inside the retail facility (except for medical conditions, children under two years of age, or the parent is unable to place a mask safely on an older child).

What do employers need to do?
Essential employers should provide face masks to all employees. If unable to provide face masks, the employer should issue materials and directions per the CDC to create their own masks or compensate staff for money spent on materials to make their own masks.

Resources
https://portal.ct.gov/DECD/Content/Coronavirus-Business-Recovery/Safe-Workplace-Rules-for-Essential-Employers

https://www.ctemploymentlawblog.com/2020/04/articles/state-makes-masks-mandatory-in-the-workplace-including-retail-stores/

https://portal.ct.gov/-/media/Office-of-the-Governor/Executive-Orders/Lamont-Executive-Orders/Executive-Order-No-7BB.pdf?la=en

April 2020 Indiana HR Legal Updates

Employment of Minors

What happened?
Effective April 1, 2020, amendments were made to employment of minors.

What are the details?

  • Employees aged 14-15
    • May not work before 7:00 a.m. or after 7:00 p.m.
    • From June 1, 2020 through Labor Day, these employees may work as late as 9:00 p.m., except for the day which precedes a school day.
  • Employees aged 16-17
    • May not work more than nine hours a day.
    • May not work more than 40 hours in a school week, 48 hours in non-school week.
    • May not work before 6:00 a.m. and may work as late as 10:00 p.m.
    • With parental written permission, these employees may work until 11:00 p.m.
  • Minor Workers
    • All minor workers (under the age of 18) may not work after 10:00 p.m. or before 6:00 a.m. for any establishment that is open to the public unless another employee at least 18 years old is also currently working.
    • No minors may be compensated below federal minimum wage for the first 90 days of employment.

What do employers need to do?
Comply with the above listed requirements for employment of minors. In addition, if an employer has at least five individuals who are between 14-17 years of age must register with the Department of Labor.

Resources
https://www.jacksonlewis.com/publication/indiana-revises-law-employment-minors

April 2020 Colorado HR Legal Updates

Overtime and Minimum Pay Standards Order

What happened?
Colorado passed new minimum wage requirements effective March 1, 2020 and July 1, 2020 (new exempt salaries).

What are the details?

  • Minimum salary threshold to be exempt has increased to $35,568 beginning July 1, 2020.
  • “Owners” who manage a business and have 20% ownership do not need to receive a salary to be exempt.
  • The highest-ranked and highest-paid employee of a non-profit is considered exempt if the employee meets the minimum salary requirements listed above.

What do employers need to do?
Review all positions and wages to determine eligibility/coverage and adjust as necessary. Contact your HR Manager if you need further assistance.

Resources
https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdle/news/labor-department-adopts-new-colorado-overtime-and-minimum-pay-standards-rule

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Colorado Health Emergency Leave with Pay (HELP)

What happened?
On March 11, 2020, HELP was passed to provide paid leave in limited industries to staff who are suffering from flu-like symptoms who are being testing for COVID-19.

What are the details?
All employers and employees in one of the following industries or jobs are covered under this law:

  • Retail Establishments that Sell Groceries – amended on March 26, 2020
  • Leisure and Hospitality
  • Food Services
  • Child Care
  • Education (including transportation, food service, and other related work)
  • Home Health (only if working with elderly, ill, high-risk, or disabled individuals)
  • Nursing Homes
  • Community Living Facilities

Amended on April 27, 2020 to include the following:

  • Retail (other than establishments that sell groceries)
  • Real Estate and Leasing
  • Offices and Office Work
  • Personal Care Services
  • Elective Health Services

This law is effective on March 11, 2020 and will continue for at least 30 days or until expiration of emergency order from the governor, whichever is later.

What do employers need to do?
Offer up to two weeks of paid sick leave at two-thirds of their regular pay to staff who have symptoms and are being tested for COVID-19. This also includes, per March 26, 2020, those under instructions from a healthcare provider to quarantine or isolate due to a risk of having COVID-19, regardless if the individual is seeking testing. If a negative result is received prior to two weeks, paid leave will end.

Additional paid days are not typically required if at least two weeks are provided to staff. However, if the employee currently has less than two weeks available as of the date of notice to employer of needing leave, an additional two weeks of paid leave must be provided.

During this time, an employer may request documentation from employees to show the need for leave and employees are required to give notice as soon as possible of their need for leave unless they are too ill to communicate. The employee must also notify the employer within 24 hours of being tested for COVID-19 and provide documentation as required by the employer either the end of their illness, or their return to work, whichever is sooner. Per the April 27, 2020 amendment, the employee must (1) receive a negative test, (2) be fever-free for 72 hours, and (3) other symptoms must be resolved.

In addition, the employee cannot return to work until they have been off for at least seven calendar days (10 if healthcare worker). 

The employer may require the following, but this documentation is not required to take HELP:

  1. Doctor’s note (name, contact information, type of healthcare provider) with a prescription for COVID-19 test OR related documents as available, with a written note from the employee explaining the doctor’s note is not available. The employee does not need to provide why the document is not available, only an outline of which documents are unavailable.
  2. Documentation from the COVID-19 test provider (name, contact information, type of provider) to show the test was performed OR related documents as available with a written note from the employee explaining the provider’s note is not available. The employee does not need to provide why the document is not available, only an outline of which documents are unavailable.

https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdle/colorado-health-emergency-leave-pay-%E2%80%9Ccolorado-help%E2%80%9D-rules

https://www.littler.com/publication-press/publication/colorado-expands-coverage-and-amount-leave-under-health-emergency

April 2020 New York HR Legal Updates

Essential Workers

What happened?
Effective April 15, 2020 at 8:00 p.m., all essential employers must provide masks for their employees to wear.

What are the details?
Employees must wear face masks when in contact with customers or members of the public.

What do employers need to do?
If you are essential employer, provide masks to all employees.

Resources
https://www.seyfarth.com/news-insights/new-york-issues-executive-order-requiring-employers-to-provide-essential-workers-with-face-masks.html

April 2020 Pennsylvania HR Legal Updates

Safety Measures for COVID-19

What happened?
All non-healthcare businesses who are authorized to be open must make the changes listed below.

What are the details?

  1. Ensure workspaces are cleaned regularly in compliance with CDC guidelines;
  2. Provide soap and hand sanitizer;
  3. Provide masks to all employees to wear while on the worksite;
  4. Stagger arrivals, departures, and breaks;
  5. Provide sufficient space for employees to have breaks or meals at least six feet apart;
  6. Limit in-person meetings to no more than 10 people;
  7. Do not have too many staff in the workplace to conflict with the social distancing guidelines;
  8. Non-essential visitors should be prohibited from entering the workplace; and
  9. Employees must be informed of these requirements orally or in writing.

All Businesses with Probable or Confirmed COVID-19 Case

  1. Close off the areas visited by the person, open doors and turn on fans, and then clean after 24 hours or as long as practicable;
  2. Identify all employees who were in close contact with the diagnosed individual (within six feet for at least 10 minutes) within the previous 48 hours;
    1. Asymptomatic – Adhere to CDC guidelines
    2. Symptomatic – Send home immediately
  3. Promptly notify other employees determined to be in close contact;
  4. Implement temperature screening and send employees home who have a temperature of at least 100.4 degrees;
  5. Sick employees should stay home if they have any symptoms related to COVID-19; and
  6. Ensure the business has enough staff to comply with these directives effectively and timely.

Additional Rules

  1. Businesses should operate by appointment only, or limit occupancy to no more than 50% of limit;
  2. Adjust hours to ensure cleaning and restocking is completed;
  3. Schedule hourly breaks for staff to wash hands;
  4. All customers must wear masks, unless under the age of two or cannot wear a mask due to health reasons;
  5. Social distancing must be maintained;
  6. Signs should be placed informing public of social distancing rules;
  7. Install shields or other barriers;
  8. Companies with registers may only use every other register;
  9. Carts are required to be cleaned;
  10. Online ordering should be encouraged; and
  11. Elderly/high risk shopping time must be provided at least once a week.

What do employers need to do?
Comply with the above stipulations.

Resources
https://www.littler.com/publication-press/publication/significant-new-covid-19-health-and-safety-requirements-imposed

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Philadelphia Fair Workweek Law

What happened?
On April 21, 2020, the Mayor’s Office of Labor issued a post restating the key provisions of the city of Philadelphia’s new Fair Workweek law, which took effect on April 1 despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The Fair Workweek law in Philadelphia requires covered employers to provide service, retail, and hospitality workers with a predictable work schedule. It also requires employers to provide good faith estimates and 10-day advance notice of work schedules, along with other worker protections.

What are the details?
Covered employers include retail, hospitality, and food services establishments with 250 of more employees (including full-time, part-time, seasonal, and temporary workers) and 30 or more locations worldwide, including chain establishments and franchises. While many such employers are currently not operating as a result of COVID-19, the new law presents an issue for them as they restart operations.

The new ordinance requires covered employers to:

  • Post and provide 10-day advance notice of work schedules;
  • Provide new employees with a written, good faith estimate of the employee’s work schedule and revise the good faith estimate when there is a significant change to the employee’s work schedule due to changes in the employee’s availability or to the employer’s business needs (employers have until July 1, 2020, to provide existing employees with a written good faith estimate of average work hours);
  • Obtain employee consent when requesting to add hours to the employee’s posted work schedule;
  • Obtain employee consent in writing, and compensate the employee $40, in the event it wants the employee to work any hours scheduled less than nine hours after the end of the previous day’s shift;
  • Offer existing employees the right to additional work shifts before hiring new employees;
  • Notify each employee of its policy for offering and distributing work shifts under this law, at the time of hire and within 24 hours of any change in the policy; and
  • Award predictability pay, a premium pay given to employees when there is an employer initiated change to the 10-day advance notice of work schedule (the city has confirmed that this predictability pay requirement will not by enforced until further notice due to COVID-19 and associated impacts on business activity).

As mentioned above, the city will not be enforcing the predictability pay requirement until further notice. Aside from that, employers are expected to comply with all other provisions of the law at the present time.

What do employers need to do?
The Fair Workweek law is complex and requires employers to adjust their practices relating to scheduling of employees and assignment of work. To the extent employers are not already in compliance with the law, they should begin by taking the following first steps in order to meet the challenges of fulfilling their obligations: (1) Begin averaging hours for existing employees in order to meet the good faith estimate deadline of July 1, 2020; (2) Change scheduling practices to account for the 10-day advance notice of work schedules; and (3) Develop a written policy that complies with the law. Employers must prove compliance with the law if an employee files a complaint, and employers are in the best position do so when they have specific policies and procedures in place that have been developed or modified to conform with the law, such as the following: policy for call-outs; procedure for documenting shift swaps; procedure for how time stamped schedules will be recorded and kept; procedure for monitoring good faith estimates; and policy on how new work hours will be distributed to existing employees. Because the law provides that its provisions may be waived in a collective bargaining agreement, covered employers with collective bargaining agreements should consider seeking a waiver of the law’s requirements.

Resources
https://www.phila.gov/2020-04-21-fair-workweek-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/

April 2020 Virginia HR Legal Updates

Restrictions on Non-Essential Businesses

What happened?
The governor signed an order with restrictions on non-essential businesses.

What are the details?
Any retail establishment that is a non-essential business must limit all in-person shopping to no more than 10 patrons per establishment.

What do employers need to do?
Comply with the requirements above and ensure staff are trained on proper protocols.

Resources
https://www.littler.com/publication-press/publication/virginia-extends-restrictions-nonessential-businesses

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Anti-Discrimination

What happened?
The Virginia Values Act was signed into law and is effective on July 1, 2020.

What are the details?
The current non-discrimination protections in employment extend to individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. This generally applies to all employers with 15 or more employees, but additional employers are covered under the following circumstances:

  1. More than five employees – Discharge based on race, color, religion, national origin, status as a veteran, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions (including lactation).
  2. More than five, less than 20 employees – Discharge based on age.

What do employers need to do?
Ensure no employment decisions are made based on protected classes as outlined above.

Resources
https://www.littler.com/publication-press/publication/virginia-enacts-new-legislation-offering-additional-protection-workers

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Non-Compete Agreements

What happened?
On July 1, 2020, it will be illegal in Virginia to require low-wage workers to sign non-compete agreements.

What are the details?
Low-Wage Worker: Employee whose average weekly earnings are less than average weekly wage of the Commonwealth. This will be $1,137 per week come July 1, 2020. To calculate the weekly wage, the employer will need to take the weekly average over the previous 52 weeks (or entire length of employment if employed for less than 52 weeks).

Low-wage workers also include interns, students, apprentices, or trainees who make less than the weekly average of the Commonwealth. This law also includes contractors who are paid less than the median hourly wage of the Commonwealth. 

What do employers need to do?
Ensure low-wage workers do not sign non-compete agreements after July 1, 2020. Each violation will be fined as a civil penalty of $10,000.

Post a copy of the law as of July 1, 2020.

Resources
https://www.littler.com/publication-press/publication/virginia-enacts-new-legislation-offering-additional-protection-workers

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Workers Misclassification

What happened?
On April 11, 2020, additional protections were put in place governing worker misclassifications.

What are the details?
Effective January 1, 2021, Virginia will use the IRS guidelines to determine if an individual is an independent contractor or an employee. Violations of this law will be subject to $1,000 civil penalties per misclassified individual.

Effective July 1, 2020, misclassified individuals may bring individual civil suits against an employer. If the court finds in favor of the misclassified individual, the employer may be responsible to pay for all back wages, attorney fees, and benefits.

What do employers need to do?
Ensure staff are classified properly as independent contractors or employees.

Resources
https://www.littler.com/publication-press/publication/virginia-enacts-new-legislation-offering-additional-protection-workers

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Wage Theft

What happened?
The Virginia Wage Payment Act amendment was signed into law in April 2020.

What are the details?
Effective July 1, 2020, an employee will have the right to sue an employer who has not paid all wages due. This covers all employees and employers.

What do employers need to do?
Ensure all employees are fairly compensated for all work completed in compliance with the Virginia Wage Payment Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Resources
https://www.natlawreview.com/article/virginia-wage-payment-act-now-provides-meaningful-remedies-to-wage-theft-victims

April 2020 Washington HR Legal Updates

“High Risk” Employees

What happened?
On April 15, 2020, the governor issued a proclamation extending additional protections for “high-risk” employees. This proclamation will remain in effect until at least June 12, 2020.

What are the details?
The following individuals are protected:

  1. Any individual 65 or older;
  2. Anyone living in a nursing home or long-term care facility; and
  3. Anyone with certain chronic underlying health conditions.

If any of the above employees ask for alternative work assignments, the employer must exhaust all possible options, including telework. If unable to accommodate, the employer must provide all paid leave options. The employee may choose whether to use accrued leave or file for unemployment. If paid time off is exhausted, the employee’s benefits must continue until the employee is cleared to return to work. Retaliation is prohibited.

If the employer needs to make a reduction in force, these protected individuals can be terminated, if the employment decision does not adversely impact their ability to obtain unemployment benefits.

What do employers need to do?
Comply with the above requirements for high-risk employees.

Resources
https://www.jacksonlewis.com/publication/washington-proclamation-extending-job-protections-high-risk-employees-during-covid-19-crisis