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How COVID-19 Alters PTO Policies

All businesses have felt the disastrous effects and fallout of COVID-19 on some level. More employees aren’t using their vacation time due to travel limitations, so what does this mean for employers?

Use It or Lose It Policies

While many employers have use it or lose it policies that worked well in the past, this may not be the case in 2020. Workers are likely banking large amounts of PTO, and if they’re forced to take that time off before the end of the year, you could find yourself short-staffed in December. 

Adjustments to PTO Policies

Employers should consider adjusting their PTO policies now to help prevent December from being a short-staffed month. Here are some helpful ideas.

  • Change PTO Policies – Instead of employees being faced with losing their time off, consider adjusting the policy now to allow a portion of PTO to carry over into 2021. 
  • Ask Employees to Use Time Off Now – Encourage employees to take time off instead of waiting in December to see if travel restrictions ease up. However, this can be a tricky situation, as employees might feel resentful, feeling forced to use their paid leave now. To help prevent this, convey to employees that you would like them to take leave now because many are stressed and overwhelmed by the world’s turn of events facing a pandemic. Encourage employees to embrace a “staycation” and turn off all their work – especially if they work remotely. 
  • Rethink Your PTO Policy – There is no better year than 2020 to re-examine your entire PTO policy. Some companies are abandoning the use it or lose it policy and allowing employees to have unlimited PTO (that does not pay out if they leave their job). This will enable employees to rollover any unused PTO to 2021 without worrying about everyone taking a December vacation. While many employers are cautious about unlimited PTO policies, studies show that very few employees take advantage of these policies. 

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Preventing Discrimination in the Workplace

In our previous article, we discussed what workplace discrimination is. But what can leadership and management do to help prevent workplace discrimination from occurring in companies?

Establishing a plan to help prevent workplace discrimination from happening is vital to a company’s success to help facilitate a positive culture and employee morale. 

Develop Policies

Developing a clearly-written anti-discrimination policy is essential. This information is part of the employee handbook. Every employee handbook should have a clear policy about discrimination, and upon hire, employees should receive a copy and sign an acknowledgment form. The policy should be broad, covering a range of potential discrimination types, outlining how discrimination complaints are filed, submitted, handled and resolved.

The Discrimination policy should clearly state:

  • Discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity or pregnancy) disability, age or genetic information is strictly illegal. There is a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination. Provide examples and definitions of prohibited conduct. 
  • Provide reasonable accommodations to employees or applicants that require religious or medical exemptions, as required by law.
  • Clearly state how employees can report discrimination.
  • The policy should say that employees will not be punished for reporting or participating in discrimination claims.
  • Protect the identity of employees that report discrimination, to the extent possible.
  • Provide employees with prompt, thorough and impartial complaint investigations. 
  • Describe the consequences for employees that violate the non-discrimination policy. 
  • Research all federal, state and local discrimination laws to ensure these are all covered in companies’ handbook policies.

Consistent Processes to Resolve Complaints

If complaints arise, it’s vital to resolve them quickly and effectively. Workplace discrimination can lead to legal issues and cause employees to lose trust in their employers. Consistently address and resolve issues, highlighting that the company expects everyone to receive fair and equal treatment. Establish a process that fits your company’s size, resources and overall structure to make sure that you can successfully resolve complaints.

Educate Employees

Merely giving employees copies of a handbook and going through the onboarding process doesn’t constitute educating them about discrimination. In fact, some states require that companies regularly provide anti-discrimination training programs. Whether or not you’re required to do so by law, it’s best that companies are proactive in educating employees about discrimination. Employees need to be aware of the policies and procedures in place, how to report allegations and what falls into the zero-tolerance category for discrimination. 

Companies should also conduct separate training for management and supervisory personnel to quickly identify potential discrimination claims and fight to address them immediately. 


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What is Workplace Discrimination?

You can’t turn on the news or scroll through your newsfeed without reading about discrimination and racism. This two-part article focuses on combatting workplace discrimination, but first, we wanted to explain what exactly defines workplace discrimination. 

Discrimination is when a person or group is treated less favorably due to their personal characteristics or circumstances.

Some discrimination is direct, for example, not hiring someone because of their skin color or religious beliefs. 

Then there are types of discrimination that are indirect, such as imposing requirements that discriminate against certain groups. For example, you may have a policy that requires a specific dress code or hairstyle, but ultimately this could discriminate against certain groups.

Small business owners and employers have legal responsibilities under U.S. federal employment anti-discrimination laws. However, the laws companies are subject to depend on the size of their business.

  • 1 or more employees – Employers must provide equal pay for equal work to both male and female employees. 
  • 15 or more employees – You must comply with the aforementioned equal pay rule based on gender and race, color, religion, sex, national origin, genetic information, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • 20 or more employees – You must follow all the laws above, but you are also subject to not discriminating based on age. The age factor depends on each state, but with most states, it is 40 and over. 

It’s also important to note that companies may have specific state and local employment discrimination laws they are required to follow. 

Stay tuned for the second part of this article, where we’ll discuss workplace discrimination prevention techniques. 


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Employment Law Liabilities Employers Face Post-Pandemic

COVID-19 has exposed employers and companies to an onslaught of legal litigation. Here are the top employment law liabilities employers face post-pandemic.

Wage and Hour Claims

With more employees working at home, many employers have abandoned their traditional time tracking methods. Employers should set clear expectations about regular check-ins and employee breaks to help prevent any issues. Employers may also be required to reimburse employees for some expenses related to telework, such as high-speed internet, cell phone or equipment costs.

Sick and Vacation Leave

Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), imposing a federal paid sick time mandate. Employers with fewer than 500 employees must provide their employees with a specific amount of time off for reasons associated with COVID-19, such as they become ill, have to care for a child when their school has closed, etc. Many employers have already been reported for denying leave, requesting improper documentation, miscalculating employees’ pay and retaliating against them for taking leave. 

Workplace Safety

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and OSHA show that COVID-19 is a recordable illness, which means that employers face risks for failing to comply with reporting and recording requirements. Employers will face workers’ compensation claims if employees contract COVID-19 on the job. If state workers’ compensation does not cover claims, employers could be liable if they were negligent in enacting safety measures to mitigate employees’ exposure.

Discrimination Claims

As employers have employees begin returning to work, those with employees suffering from pre-existing conditions may be reluctant to return. Employers may be subject to discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if they unfairly deny an employee to work remotely with reasonable accommodation. If employees have been working remotely during the pandemic, this may make it even more difficult for employers to deny specific requests. 


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Incorporating Transparency in Leadership

More people are looking for transparency in leadership in all walks of life, whether in politics or the workplace. Employees want to know who, what, when, where and why, primarily when decisions affect them. They want to trust that those making decisions are looking at the big picture and taking their interests into account. 

While the push for more transparency may cause leaders to feel stressed, they don’t need to vet or check every decision, as that is virtually impossible. 

Some decisions can be made with relatively little to no input, while other more important decisions may require extensive research, analysis, discussion and consideration. It’s also the areas in between that can draw even more criticism and create problems, so leaders should practice transparency to help maintain employees’ trust.

Leadership Transparency: Quick Case Study

With COVID-19, a lot of businesses are reducing hours or closing their doors. If executive leadership in a company determines the best financial course of action is to reduce employee work hours, this needs transparent implementation. 

What Happens with Top-Down Decisions That Lack Transparency

No matter how executives communicate their decision, it will be unpopular with employees. One person in a leadership position usually clearly communicates the decision to all employees, fending any questions that may arise, such as:

  • What was the decision involved in reducing hours?
  • How did leadership come to this decision?
  • Who was involved in deciding to reduce hours?

Do not blindside managers with public announcements. It damages the respect between managers and their employees. In turn, managers resent leadership for making quick decisions without receiving any input from them. It makes managers feel set up to fail because their teams stop having faith in them and lose all trust. All too soon, employee morale tanks and leadership is left wondering why. It’s simple: because the decision blindsided everyone.

Implementing Transparency

There’s a better way to deliver bad news to managers and employees to avoid these issues. A strong, positive culture that revolves around leadership and having effective communication is a necessary foundation for growing and maintaining a company. 

Here are the top two ways to successfully implement transparency at work.

  1. Frequent Sharing – The right frequency of sharing sensitive information to ensure that employees are aware of any ongoing issues and any emerging issues. It doesn’t mean notifying employees about every single decision, but it’s best to avoid blindsiding them with major decisions that they didn’t foresee possibly coming. Keeping people in the loop can make a huge difference in how employees react to the news.
  2. Feedback – Simply sharing a one-way street, also doesn’t make employees feel better about decisions, so it’s vital to collect and listen to employees to gain more clarity and understanding. Constructive feedback and discussion can often highlight new perspectives or even reveal alternative options that might work better for the company in the short and long-term. Few things in the workplace destroy employee morale more than not considering their feedback. 

Having a good company culture that revolves around transparency can help benefit companies in our current COVID-19 world and post-pandemic. Use this opportunity to create a healthy workplace culture where employees feel valued.


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