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Running a Business in a Pandemic: 7 Human Resources Tips

Human Resources in a pandemic

Human Resources, or HR, is often not the most glamorous part of running a business. However, few topics are as critical for protecting you and your business. Do you want to learn the latest on coronavirus in the workplace? What’s changed with FFCRA and paid leave? What are the pros and cons to encouraging or requiring your employees to receive a vaccine? What do you need to know if you have “1099” or independent contractors? Read this blog post or watch our recent training with Northland SBDC HR expert Rovena Claxton from January 20, 2021 to learn more!


Human Resources in a pandemic
Tip #1: Consider offering voluntary paid sick and family leave through FFCRA, even though it’s no longer mandatory.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was passed in March 2020 and required most employers to offer up to 80 hours of paid sick leave if their employee needed to quarantine or take care of a child whose school or childcare provider closed due to COVID-19. FFCRA also offered extended leave up to 10 weeks for employees that had to leave the workforce to care for a child whose school or childcare provider closed.

The federal government offered a tax credit to pay for paid leave offered through this program. The FFCRA expired on December 31, 2020, but the tax credit for this paid leave was extended through March 31, 2020! This extended, voluntary paid leave means that employers can choose to offer paid leave under FFCRA rules, but they are not required to offer that leave to employees. Why opt into offering this paid leave? First, your company will be reimbursed for that expense as a tax credit, so you will be able to offer that assistance to your employee at no cost. Your company will also benefit through improved employee retention and company morale. In times when finding good quality employees can be tough, employee retention is increasingly important.

Paid leave is expected to be a hot topic in Congress in early 2021, so make sure you check in with your Northland SBDC consultant to stay up to date on the newest human resources requirements and tax credits available for small businesses! Paid leave requirements may become mandatory again in upcoming stimulus bills.

Tip #2: Be careful not to double dip tax credits!

With all the changes to business taxes and new tax credits in 2020, leaning on your CPA or tax professional for assistance is definitely a good idea. One thing you should know as you continue to access these COVID-19 tax credits, forgivable loans, and grant programs is that all of them require that you don’t use multiple aid programs or tax credits to cover the same expense.

FFCRA tax credits, the Employee Retention Tax Credit, the forgivable PPP loan, the EIDL advance, county grant programs for small businesses, and other aid your business may have received all typically have the same requirement. Tax credits and other aid can only be used to cover a specific expense once. In other words, make sure you aren’t double dipping when covering an employee’s paid leave or paying your mortgage and utilities for a specific month.

Tip #3: Consider the pros and cons of mandating or encouraging vaccination for your employees.

Vaccination is a hot topic in our communities as more vaccination slots become available. Can you require that your employees receive a vaccine? According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, yes, businesses can require their employees to be vaccinated when vaccines are available to the public. However, there are several protocols that businesses will need to follow related to the ADA and other equal employment opportunity laws.

Perhaps the better question is should you require or encourage your employees to get vaccinated. Business owners and managers will need to weigh the pros and cons of encouraging vaccination regarding employee morale as well as potential liability in case of side effects. A recent study by SHRM indicated that 61 percent of businesses planned to encourage, but not require COVID-19 vaccination. No matter what your decision, make sure that you consider it thoroughly, document it in a written policy distributed to all employees, and follow that policy closely.

Tip #4: You set the rules on political behavior in the workplace!

Are you tired of political discussions causing workplace drama? Have your customers complained about an employee’s politically charged apparel? Remember, a business has every right to set expectations of its employees around behavior in the workplace, and that includes behavior around politics. What can you do to combat political divisiveness at your business?

  • Have a written policy around employees’ behavior expectations in the workplace.
  • Acknowledge, don’t avoid or ignore these discussions.
  • Set an example of respect.
  • Keep political programs off TVs in the workplace.
  • Limit or ban visual displays in the office, buttons, clothing, posters, etc.
  • Steer conversations away from politics.
  • Be careful not to violate certain types of speech such as conversation about workplace conditions including salary/benefits, or discussions of unions.
Tip #5: The landscape is changing for classifying independent contractors.

It’s become increasingly common for businesses to utilize independent contractors to accomplish critical business tasks. As a result of this change in business behavior and the rise of the “gig economy,” the IRS is paying more attention to the definition of an employee versus an independent contractor. Make sure your business is properly classifying employees or you may be held liable for employment taxes for that independent contractor.

Tip #6: Having clear, written policies are key to protecting you and your business.

One clear and defining thread between most of these tips is having written policies in place. Yes, employee policy manuals are maybe not the most exciting and fun part of running a business, but they can be so valuable. Policy manuals and employee handbooks protect your business from lawsuits and help you to set clear expectations of your employees. Policy manuals exist to make your life easier as a business owner, make human resources issues easier to navigate, protect you from liability, and to help you in managing your employees.

Tip #7: You don’t have to do it all yourself! Access no-cost, expert Human Resources help from Northland SBDC.

Not sure where to start on a policy manual? Do you need help interpreting guidance about whether an employee is eligible for paid leave? Are you looking for advice on the pros and cons and the legality of a vaccination incentive plan? Maybe you could use a check-in on whether you are providing employees with all the required forms including the newer Minnesota Wage Theft requirements.

Human Resources expert Rovena Claxton of North Shore Human Resource Consulting, LLC is available to provide one-on-one consulting with small businesses impacted by COVID-19. Rovena is part of the Northland SBDC network of consultants who provide professional and confidential advice to small businesses in Northeastern Minnesota. To access human resources services at no cost to your small business, sign up for services with Northland SBDC or get in contact with your SBDC consultant.

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Post by Vicki Hagberg, Small Business Consultant, Northland SBDC

Rovena Claxton, MA, SHRM-SCP HR VP/Director/Consultant

Special thanks to our Northland SBDC HR expert, Rovena Claxton, North Shore Human Resource Consulting, LLC for providing our recent training on these topics.

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