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Labor Law

Labor Law: Top considerations managers may need for leading the workplace during and after the pandemic

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RTD Metro Business law columnist, Karen Michael.

This pandemic has challenged mangers to readjust, be resilient and find new ways to create a meaningful experience for employees.

Here are my top four considerations that managers need in order to lead in the workplace during and after COVID-19.

1. Address those things that haven’t changed: Based on my interaction with clients over these past nine months, if a manager had a rock-star employee pre-pandemic, that employee is overcompensating at home, one who is working nonstop to get the job done, juggling multiple priorities without missing a beat.

If the manager had an underperforming employee before the pandemic, that employee is likely a general no-show most of the day, using the pandemic as an opportunity to work less while maintaining marginal-to-low performance.

Same issues — same employees — but different atmosphere.

With that backdrop, managers should reward those high-performing employees, encouraging their self-care, while also addressing any employee whose performance is not meeting standards.

The traditional methods that have always been in place — communicate concerns and address them head-on — need to be implemented now more than ever.

In addition, managers should document their conversations with these individuals, even if it is just a coaching. Remember: If it isn’t in writing, it didn’t happen.

2. Be flexible and adaptable: The telework agreements I have written in the past, now in hindsight, were generally pretty rigid and inflexible.

Under those agreements in the past, the employee had to be available between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. The person could not have any children younger than 14 without child care. And the worker needed to provide a list of accomplishments each day.

Things have changed.

Notably, customers and co-workers are more open-minded to hearing a baby crying, dog barking or doorbell ringing. I was talking to someone at a national customer call center recently and I could hear the baby cooing. It made my day.

Managers need to determine what is important, and set those expectations, but otherwise be flexible in when and how work gets done.

They should reassess the methods used, the demands made on employees, and processes to determine what is working and what isn’t.

Managers should ask their employees whether there are current processes or operational controls that are unnecessary and might be getting in the way of production.

Just because it has always been done this way doesn’t mean it still needs to be done this way. Change it up and see what works for the employee and the company.

If an employee asks to adjust a schedule and it does not negatively affect customers or the company, then consider how you can accommodate the worker.

For instance, an employee might need to work in the afternoon and evening because the person needs to spend most mornings helping a child with schoolwork. If an employee can only come into work in the mornings but has to work from home in the afternoon, try to make that happen. If an employee needs to take off Friday but plans to work the weekend and it won’t negatively affect the job, then let it happen.

3. Be empathetic: During a video call recently, a client’s 3-year-old daughter came bursting in and climbed up on the client’s lap. The client was mortified. Her boss, who was also in the call, joked that she might have to put the daughter on the payroll, causing everyone to laugh. That’s empathy.

Empathy doesn’t come natural to some people, especially those on the “doer” or “task” end of the spectrum.

Ask questions to see how your employees are doing. Offer support. Recognize their specific situation. Don’t judge.

Acknowledge what they are going through, and show appreciation for how well they have adapted to the changing times.

4. Worry about the Fair Labor Standards Act: For exempt employees, evaluate current job duties and make sure they are still within the duties for whatever exemption the company determined that justified an exemption from the FLSA’s overtime requirements.

The employee is only exempt if the person is currently performing a job that falls within the exemption.

For non-exempt employees, while you are being flexible and adaptable, employees must keep accurate record of all time worked, whatever time of day or day of the week they are working.

They should only reduce time for a meal period if it is an uninterrupted period of at least 20 minutes (ideally 30 minutes).

Be mindful of the law and the overtime rules, as I sense the next wave of litigation will center on violations to the FLSA.

Karen Michael is an attorney with Richmond-based KarenMichael PLC. She can be reached at kmichael@karenmichaelconsulting.com.

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