HR CHALLENGES AT WORK RESULTING FROM COVID-19

In context of the current global health crisis, Covid-19, many companies and specifically HR departments are faced with numerous challenges

which involve the dual task of ensuring operations continuity and efficiency of all staff, as well as ensuring the health and safety of workers.
In this article, we aim to identify some of these challenges and suggest preventive measures that could help you define your strategy for dealing with coronavirus.

I. STRATEGIC CHALLENGES

One of the main challenges that human resources will face during this period of Covid-19 is “Strategic”. The ability of an organization to cope with or overcome COVID-19 will depend on the strategy put in place. Two key points should be noted at this level: establishing an effective BUSINESS CONTINUITY PLAN and ensuring effective communication within and without the organization.

1. Risk analysis : establishment of a BUSINESS CONTINUITY PLAN 

The current crisis will force several companies to shut down or face an abnormally high rate of absenteeism since workers may fear they will be exposed to the infection.
To avoid corporate paralysis, companies must develop an emergency business continuity plan (BUSINESS CONTINUITY PLAN) or update the current one if it already exists.
Human resources must therefore define an action plan and align it with the objectives of the business continuity plan. This will make it possible to determine critical operations of the company, vital and important personnel, the state of the material resources available and those to be acquired, and all other measures that can ensure and simplify performance without greatly affecting operations in case of work-from-home is adopted.
Follow the link below for more information on the BUSINESS CONTINUITY PLAN : 
https://www.ready.gov/business-continuity-plan

2. Communication

The Human Resources (HR) Department is responsible for setting up a communication team to manage the day-to-day communication with employees and other external stakeholders on issues related to employment and benefits administration. This will entail coordinating communication with management, supervisors, employees and families. Also, close coordination between management, company spokesperson, public agencies and HR is needed when managing and communicating sensitive information related to an incident or health related concern involving the death or serious injury of a worker.

II. OPERATIONAL CHALLENGES OPERATIONAL S

On an operational level, human resources could be faced with two major challenges; the management of work schedule and the health & safety at work.

  1. The management of work schedule (available Leave plan, flexible working schedules)

With the current pandemic, human resources have the responsibility to coordinate resources and avoid (within the maximum possibility) a stop in company operations due to absenteeism (quarantined employees or employees who refuse to report to work for fear of being contaminated). The reorganization of the working schedules will therefore be an utmost necessity during this crisis.

The following should therefore be taken into account: 
- Office reorganization;       
- The number of employees to be physically present at the worksite (at any given time) with minimum exposure to contamination;
- The possibility (material resources and computer system) and effectiveness of working from home.         

This planning should be progressive, while observing and re-evaluating the level of health emergency and the measures prescribed by the competent public authorities. Human Resources will therefore begin by workforce rotation plan and managing employees working from home as the case may apply.

2. Health and security at work

The protection of workers' health and safety is the responsibility of the employer under the joint supervision of human resources and QHSE.
During this period of Covid-19 pandemic, management will have the responsibility of implementing an effective prevention plan which involves sensitizing and providing personal protective equipment to its staff.

Staff Sensitization    

Newly discovered in humans, the Covid-19 still retains an element of mystery which is gradually being revealed. Any communication on the subject must therefore be authentic and come from official sources.
For this purpose, you can consult the links below:

World Health Organization

On this site, the WHO provides information about the COVID-19 outbreak worldwide, and health advice. Updates are daily.
https://www.who.int/home
https://www.who.int/fr

Ministry of Public Health, Cameroon.

You will find here all the updated information relating to the evolution of the coronavirus in Cameroon.
https://www.minsante.cm/
It is also important to remind employees of their responsibilities when respecting the prevention measures that are communicated and to inform them of the sanctions that will result from any breach.

  The provision of prevention material to employees      

This is to ensure that, from the entrance of the office premises, all safety measures are taken to limit risk (to the lowest possible level) of COVID-19 contamination. This involves the provision of alcoholic gel or water and soap at every entrance, constant cleaning of free surfaces, wearing of surgical masks and access control (eye/finger control system) etc.
The establishment of an emergency procedure in the event of suspicion or confirmation of a case of covid 19.      

This procedure provides in detail the mesures and steps of putting suspected cases on quarantine, how to disinfect the premises, identifying, isolating and following-up people who have been in contact with Covid-19 suspects or confirmed cases and finally the persons and institutions to contact for further advise.

  3. The question of working from home (working remotely)

The decision to work from home will as a result of the existence of a high level of exposure to being contaminated, which the standard prescribed preventive measures have been evaluated to be less effective.
However, Human Resources must carry out an inventory of the possibility of and effectiveness of working from home.

  III. LEGAL CHALLENGES

1. Identity disclosure of an employee infected by Covid-19
While it is also essential that employers take all necessary measures to protect the health and safety as well as the physical well-being of their workers, it is equally essential that they comply with all applicable laws regarding the confidentiality protection and human rights.
Thus, subject to health and safety laws, employers should avoid revealing the identity of employees who are infected or suspected of being infected. However, if an emergency is declared, which is currently the case, public safety takes precedence over the protection of privacy.
NB : It is important to note that employers who do not report people/staff who are exposed to COVID-19 may fall under article 260 of the penal code below :  

ARTICLE 260: Contagious diseases (1) Anyone who, by his conduct, facilitates the communication of a contagious and dangerous disease is punished by imprisonment for three (03) months to three (03) years. 

2. Persistence of the crisis : Force majeure and layoff 

Force majeure refers to an event of war, disaster or threatening disaster such as fire, flood, severe violent epidemic or epizootic diseases, invasion by animals, insects or plant pests, and in general, any occurrence that would endanger or threaten and endanger the existence or the well-being of all or part of a population from performing their obligations under a contract.

In order to be prepared for different scenarios as the situation continues to unfold, we recommend Human Resources to follow the steps below:
Review your contract to determine whether the contract includes a force majeure provision and, if so, carefully review the definition of force majeure in that contract to determine whether there is any express event incorporating events such as COVID-19 and, if not, whether the general language is sufficient to include COVID-19 and its consequences. If in doubt, it may be helpful to seek legal advice early in the process.      
  Consider those aspects of the relevant contract that you are not able to perform and satisfy yourself that the inability to perform is due to the consequences (direct or indirect) of COVID-19 and not a different reason.  
    Consider and review what steps you are taking as a business to avoid or at least reduce as much as possible the effects of COVID-19 upon your work force and your ability to continue to perform contractual obligations. It will be important to be able to show that you have taken all reasonable measures and followed all official guidance. Remote working and other steps such as adopting a “clean” team structure may be helpful in this regard.      
  Determine whether insurance, such as business interruption insurance or force majeure insurance, may cover any of the expected losses.      

For more details, read the following article

“COVID-19 CRISIS: FORCE MAJEURE AND IMPACT ON EMPLOYMENT CONTRACTS FROM CAMEROONIAN LAW PERSPECTIVE”