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Susan Gross Sholinsky Quoted in “‘It’s Just Breathtaking’: How a Turbulent 2020 Is Likely to Impact HR Policies in the Long Run”

HR Dive

Susan Gross Sholinsky, Member of the Firm in the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practice, in the firm’s New York office, was quoted in HR Dive, in “‘It’s Just Breathtaking’: How a Turbulent 2020 Is Likely to Impact HR Policies in the Long Run,” by Ryan Golden.

Following is an excerpt:

The end of a year is typically a time for businesses to take stock of their successes and failures as well as the major turning points that defined them. In 2020, however, a succession of world-changing events may force those conversations sooner than usual.

The narrative, at least in the U.S., seems to have settled on a singular thread: a pandemic, an economic recession and a critical moment of protest against systemic racism and police brutality — each of which is ongoing. Employers made on-the-fly changes in the form of furloughs, layoffs, introductions of safety protocols and other operational shifts. For those that survive, how will 2020 change core HR policies moving forward? …

But as many employers have figuratively rewritten the workplace playbook, they haven’t done so literally. “Some clients are asking if they need to make a full set of comprehensive changes,” Susan Gross Sholinsky, member of the firm at Epstein Becker Green and vice chair of the firm’s national employment, labor and workforce management steering committee, said. “I think some of the items we’re training employers on right now … are not meant to be permanent.” She added that, as clients consider whether to make changes to a handbook or introduce a separate set of policies specific to current challenges, “we’re leaning toward the second.”

The ‘most significant development in HR’ …

Another reason employers might not opt to change handbooks to reflect paid-leave updates is that many have local practices sections incorporated in those handbooks, according to Sholinsky. Moreover, employers in jurisdictions like New York have had to update handbooks on a frequent basis in recent years amid a trend of paid-leave laws.

“Nowadays, if you don’t update it at least once a year, you’re almost guaranteed to be out of compliance,” Sholinsky said. She also noted that clients have opted to put clauses into their time-off policies stating that, “if time allocations under state or local law exceed what’s under this policy, employees will be entitled to all leave under applicable law.”

That said, paid time off is likely to pose challenges for employers if employees wait to use guaranteed leave later in the year; experts who previously spoke to HR said the pandemic could lead to headaches toward the end of the year as workers scramble to take accrued time off. Employers might want to encourage workers to take leave sooner than later … Sholinsky agreed, adding that employers may also opt to change PTO carry over rules to permit taking accrued leave in 2021.

Mandatory remote work adds ‘different dynamic’ …

Similarly, Sholinsky observed that before the pandemic, many policies framed remote work as a privilege with language that accompanied this view. “A lot of that is really not applicable at this time,” she said. “The context around these is changing.”

While existing policies may have provided a framework in the early months of 2020, employers will still need to pay attention to items like working off the clock, working overtime without authorization and getting home office expenses reimbursed, Sarchet said. Information confidentiality is also important to stress to employees whose jobs have never been remote before now, Sholinsky said.

Two other areas weigh heavy on remote work policies: harassment and accommodations. Sholinsky emphasized the former in the context of video conferencing tools like Zoom, and she suggested modifying harassment training to reflect the reality of working from home: “Are people dressed? Are they saying appropriate things in the background?” …

Do you need a communicable disease policy? …

Communicable disease policies may be one policy revision employers make, and some are already focusing on solutions like contact tracing to enhance safety. But it’s important to remember that COVID-19 will not present the same challenges as other diseases, Sholinsky noted. “All of these situations are different,” she said. “Employers need to be careful about including too much, especially things that are specific to this pandemic.”

Shorter-term policies can also be used to address personal and business travel restrictions as well as restrictions on workplace visitors, Sholinsky said. A long-term strategy on cross-training, however, might help employers better prepare for future disruptions, she added.