COVID-19 compliance tops HR issues for 2021

With so much in flux, it can be difficult for employers to keep up. The pandemic continues to impact businesses, and with a new administration, guidance on HR issues remains fluid. To ensure your company remains in compliance as things evolve, look to reliable sources.
“Do not rely on social media resources that could steer you in the wrong direction,” says Renee West, SHRM-SCP, PHR, senior manager and lead HR consultant at Rea & Associates. “Use networking, webinars, your local health department, the CDC and other credible sources to help you navigate the challenges as things continue to change. Call on expert advisers that can help you address your unique situation.”
Smart Business spoke with West about how to navigate HR issues facing employers in 2021.
What do business owners need to be aware of regarding COVID-19 regulations?
The new relief package as signed by the president recently has updated the regulations surrounding availability of pandemic leave, and owners need to ensure they are in compliance. Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), employers previously were mandated to provide up to 80 hours of paid sick leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. However, this has been changed as a ‘voluntary’ option for employers to offer their employees.
Employers can request a payroll tax credit for employees paid for this leave through March 31, 2021, and those wages should be specifically coded for COVID on form 941 of a business’s tax returns.
In addition, employers should update their policies regarding a remote workforce and how FFCRA leave impacts existing leave policies. How does that affect overtime and the defined work week? How are you keeping employees and customers safe? Employees are filing lawsuits accusing employers of mishandling the COVID situation, so it’s critical that you have policies in writing and consistently administer them.
Staying up-to-date and in compliance with ever-changing regulations can be overwhelming, especially for those struggling just to stay in business. There is a lot of information and continuing legislative updates. Companies should reach out to credible sources for help managing through this difficult time.
How has the employment landscape changed as a result of the pandemic?
The biggest thing is how employers are recruiting. The pandemic has changed the process of face-to-face interviews to phone and video calls. Some people are staying where they are, grateful they have a job, but others are looking for new opportunities, and employers need to think outside the box to attract them.
What benefits can you offer applicants? Can they work remotely? Is there an opportunity for different work schedules? Even in factories, can you offer so many days on, then off, with a rotation of schedules? What about job sharing? And what are you doing to attract and retain employees, to keep them safe and happy in the workplace?
In addition, when you start bringing employees back, you need to do so in a way that is in compliance with rules and regulations, following processes to recall workers in a way that is not discriminatory. But there is still a lot to be defined.
There’s also the issue of vaccines and what that will look like for employers. Can you require employees to be vaccinated? We’re expecting legislation around that, and who can and cannot enforce it is evolving.
How can outside advisers help business owners stay on top of the changing HR landscape?
Employers simply cannot keep up with everything. It has yet to be determined what kinds of regulatory changes there will be with a new administration, but there will definitely be a shift. An outside HR adviser can stay on top of the regulations, freeing up owners to focus on running the business.

An HR adviser will ask questions and determine what is happening in your workplace. What is the demographic of the county the business is in, and what does that look like from a COVID perspective? Then that person will help you frame specific action points to help ensure you are doing what you need to do to be in compliance.

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