Travel Clearance, Vendor Risk, FMLA, and Other Unique Pandemic Challenges

As the pandemic continues in 70+ countries, businesses continue to face a variety of unique challenges which have led to the need for creative solutions. These unprecedented times have seen many industries and sectors affected in a multi-faceted manner. As we enter the fourth month of the pandemic, there are some main areas that businesses have had to look at: travel clearance, supply chain disruption, FMLA management, PPE procurement, and the onboarding of new employees with the work from home model. Each of these pose challenges, but when managed effectively can actually lead to an increase in productivity. Let’s take a look at how these challenges can be effectively managed as the pandemic continues and the world awaits the second wave of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

Travel Clearance and Restrictions

While many airlines have grounded the majority of their fleets, there are still cargo flights flying regularly, and a few passenger flights to select destinations taking off each day. On top of this, cargo ships and trucking companies continue to traverse the seas and the continents. Within North America, there are a variety of travel restrictions that have been put in place, such as the need to quarantine for 14 days if one travels back from another country, and within Canada even if one travels to and from a territory or province. For example, Nunavut Territory has reported zero cases of COVID-19, which means residents of Nunavut or other provinces must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in the territory, and for 14 days when arriving in a new province.

These restrictions are essential to “flatten the curve”, and as countries begin to ease restrictions and reopen their economies, it is time to examine travel both within a worker’s community, and possibly even travel abroad for work or recreation. Therefore, businesses should consider using technology to provide updated travel restrictions and travel clearance for employees to follow during this time.

For workers who are considered essential, or those working on the frontlines, it is necessary for travel clearance mechanisms to be put in place. Gone are the days of booking a cheap flight to a new city for a weekend getaway. Businesses must actively track where their employees are if they are expected to come into the office or hospital after their days off. For those that work from home, the restrictions and clearance would obviously be much more lenient, as their ability to work would only be impeded should they contract COVID-19.

Supply Chain Disruption

One of the reasons that travel clearance will become an even hotter topic than it is already is because of the fear of supply chain disruption. Any business that depends on suppliers and vendors to continue with the production of their products unimpeded must make third party vendor risk management plans. An outbreak could occur at any time within a factory or other workplace, which means that the production line could be interrupted. The same can be said for vendors and suppliers, who may or may not be subsidiaries of a business, but will nevertheless need to be included in contingency planning.

While it is challenging to find new vendors and suppliers during this time, most businesses will have a list of back-up vendors and suppliers from which they can draw on should an outbreak at one of their facilities occur, which may halt production. The supply chain cannot afford to be disrupted both from an economic standpoint, but also because many industries produce products that are much needed during this time.

We have seen outbreaks occur within the agriculture industry, which has led to entire facilities being forced to close down until the workers could be cleared for work duty again. Businesses must analyze the risks associated with their vendors and suppliers. It may even be necessary to review their own risk management plans, to ensure that standards are maintained, and that they are providing the same level of due diligence as your own business. This is a time to be collaborative, rather than isolationist.

FMLA Considerations

The Family and Medical Leave Act may appear to be a simple document, but as it pertains to COVID-19 things may not be so clear cut. Employees in the US are legally allowed to have a certain amount of unpaid time off, but each case is unique and needs to be documented with the proper paperwork. As most people are currently working from home, getting the right paperwork and filing it may be challenging.

Most businesses have gone digital when it comes to reporting sick leave whether paid or unpaid to human resources, and for those that haven’t, now is most definitely the time to start. People who have children, and are working from home are able to provide childcare, but for those on the frontlines and in essential services, they may be unable to find reliable childcare which could result in the need for leave.

In order to manage all of the leave notices, human resources will need the assistance of reliable software to help in the filing, tracking, and approval processes. Each business is different when it comes to paid and unpaid leave, but all employees who fall under the FMLA have legal rights that must be abided by, and documented should any issues arise if leave should be denied.

Procurement

While travel restrictions may be in place for some employees who need to avoid community transmission to continue working, such as frontline health care workers, there is one challenge that every business is facing: PPE procurement. Health and safety regulations in every country have called for the use of personal protective equipment in a variety of settings, whether on public transport, in the workplace, or even simply walking on the street. This has led to shortages worldwide, and the need for businesses to find alternative suppliers to ensure that their employees are kept as safe as possible, and fit for work.

Some of the challenges associated with procurement of PPE have been met by businesses such as textile production factories manufacturing cloth masks, and distillers brewing up sanitizer. Even the luxury brand Louis Vuitton has transition from making perfume to making hand sanitizer! The key to procurement during this time may involve looking for small businesses who have begun to manufacture goods, such as cloth masks, and supporting them by purchasing their products. Like vendors and suppliers, back-up PPE suppliers must now be added to the pandemic management plan that businesses have had to put in place. If productivity is to continue, then the proper PPE must be provided. Employees cannot be expected to work under unsafe conditions, and every health and safety regulation must be met and complied with during this time.

Onboarding New Employees

It is undeniable that many industries have been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and millions of workers have found themselves unemployed. However, now that restrictions have eased there have been new jobs added to each economy. Hiring for these positions does not look the same as it once did. Most potential employees now have to go through a virtual hiring process, in which their panel interviews are conducted via Zoom of Skype. Once they have successfully passed this, and had their references checked it is time for the onboarding process. That is where difficulties begin to occur. The new employee can no longer meet face-to-face with their managers, or the person in charge of their training; it must be done virtually.

It is necessary to rely on technology during this process, as most new employees will now need to learn about the policies of their new company virtually. Software can aid in this as training modules can quickly be created or updated to reflect any changes with regards to health and safety. For those who will be working from home, they can easily learn what programs and procedures they are expected to use and follow.

There is still a demonstrated need for frontline workers, and that means that their training will be more hands-on than those who enter industries more geared towards remote work such as marketing and communications. In order for their training to progress in a safe manner, all social distancing measures must be met, along with an explanation of the proper PPE usage and where new PPE can be found.

Onboarding will continue, but how it looks for many industries will be vastly different and training plans will need to be constantly amended to reflect this.

Moving Forward

The world is changing on a daily basis as a treatment or vaccine for COVID-19 continues to elude researchers. However, life must continue and as these new challenges are met and health and safety managers create solutions for them, a sense of normalcy is beginning to occur. It is no longer odd to see a worker wearing PPE, or for workers to maintain a two-meter distance from one another when the industry allows it. Businesses have shown that they can adapt, and they will continue to do so.

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