During the COVID-19 pandemic employers continue to be faced with unprecedented demands.
But according to John Sarno, president of the Employers Association of New Jersey, employers should be anticipating even more acute challenges ahead during the post-pandemic recovery.
“The recovery is likely to be slow and arduous. Some businesses have survived the immediate crisis by shedding workers now, but they face long-term costs, too: the loss of trained and experienced workers, the uncertainties of hiring new ones” he says.
At some point, the schools will be reopened and tens of thousands of working parents will be looking to go back to their former jobs.
Return to work decisions will be difficult. Individuals in certain categories, older or with medical conditions may be advised to stay out of work for longer periods. Cross training workers will be key. At the same time, decisions about who to displace when workers with the right to reinstatement return will need to be made.
Ever more complex legal standards will be part of the new normal, says Sarno, specifically, medical privacy.
Many workers who may be older or who have pre-existing medical conditions will have a legal right to return to their jobs. “What kind of medical documentation will be required? Some believe that some kind of ‘immunity passport’ is all but inevitable. That, of course, is a slippery slope to unlawful job discrimination” says Sarno
And there is the liability employers could face if employees were to get sick after returning to work. Workers who feel that they were brought back too soon or were not placed in an adequately safe environment could have substantial legal remedies.
Physical health and safety, so closely tied to productivity and morale will forever be part of the work environment, both on and off site.
“The underlying challenges that existed before the pandemic have not gone away. In fact, they are becoming more acute.” says Sarno.
It has been pointed out that working from home is a privilege for those higher paid employees who can perform work remotely while “essential workers” such as production workers, administrative clerks and others who make less money bear the costs of commuting.
How these inherent inequities are harmonized will be important in setting the overall business culture and whether some employees feel less valued than others.
And similar to the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks which greatly affected thousands of people with stress-related illnesses, it is not unexpected that prolonged shelter in place will impact many thousands of us, particularly those of us who were unemployed at the time. Before the pandemic, the World Health Organization reported that high levels of stress at work were causing unprecedented occupational illnesses. One in three employees stated that they had left a job because of mental health-related issues and 89 percent believed that the work culture should support employee mental health.
Returning workers may also have depleted their savings or increased their debt burden, which we know has a negative impact on productivity and wellbeing. Several studies have reported that one in five workers lost substantial hours worked because of poor financial planning and limited savings. Many employers were beginning to incorporate financial planning and debt counseling within their wellness programs.
“The pandemic has laid bare so many inadequacies and short cuts that businesses simply tolerated. But in the months and years ahead, it seems to me that employers will need to step up their game. Because the underlying challenges that existed before the pandemic have not gone away.” Sarno adds.
EANJ’s Membership Meeting, May 7th COVID-19 and Beyond