The HR Strategist: BONUS ISSUE – December 2020
In this issue:
- Mental Health in 2021
- Employee’s are Doing This in the Age of COVID
- Upcoming Coronavirus Relief in 2021
Continuing the Conversation on Mental Health & DEIB in 2021
It’s hard to believe 2021 is right around the corner. Yes… 2021’s March is closer than 2020’s.
In addition to facing the extreme impact of the coronavirus pandemic on individuals and organizations, we have faced the civil and interpersonal unrest caused by the acknowledgement of and fight against systemic racism. We also saw a significant increase in mental health disorders including depression, anxiety, addiction, and abuse; brought on by the isolation of remote work, quarantining, stay at home orders and grief from loss of employment, housing, and loved ones.
Yes; 2020 has been quite the year.
Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) Considerations for 2021
As we approach the end of this year and the beginning of a new one, we must ask ourselves “what happens now?” More to the point, how do we maintain, or reignite, the DEIB momentum from earlier this year? How do we continue to support employee mental health, particularly while working remotely? In general, how do we move forward?
It’s critical to remember that DEIB practices within an organization cannot be viewed in a vacuum or as a “special initiative.” They must be ingrained into every aspect of business operation with intention. The only way this works is for us to remain vigilant in holding employers accountable for their words and deeds. This includes calling out employment practices and work environments that are not diverse or inclusive, and tracking promised actions.
Employee Well-being in the New Year
Unfortunately, early 2021 does not promise to be much better than 2020 in terms of the coronavirus pandemic and cases of COVID-19. As such, it is likely that organizations that have pivoted to working remotely will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Though many of us have been working remotely for several months now, that doesn’t necessarily translate to it being any less of a challenge or having any less impact on employee mental health. These challenges may include having no separation between work and home, Zoom fatigue, being consistently alone or consistently around family/housemates and trying to manage online school for children while working. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the additional strains of illness and loss.
It is imperative to have resources in place to support employee mental health, regardless of whether you are in the workplace. In addition to providing access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), it’s important to have regular check-in conversations with your team to ask how they are doing. It’s also important to practice empathy and be flexible when it comes to work hours, deadlines, etc.
Asking how employees are doing is not enough. Employers and managers must be prepared to act accordingly when they hear their employees are experiencing challenges. Contacting the EAP, taking some time off, reducing their workload, or changing deadlines are all explorable options. Make it clear year-round that your organization is mental health friendly and that there is no shame in experiencing a mental health challenge.
2020 has given us the opportunity to hold up a mirror to ourselves and our employers as it relates to how we deal with people, crisis, challenge, unrest, and uncomfortable conversations. If we didn’t like what we saw in the mirror in 2020, 2021 is the year to make a change.
3 Things Employees Are Doing in The Age of COVID
When a company is in a state of uncertainty, it is estimated that employees lose as much as 2 additional hours per day in productivity. The anxiety associated with change or even the possibility of change puts people into a distracted state beyond the norm.
It’s safe to say that a global pandemic going into month number nine would qualify as a state of uncertainty. And now it appears that 2021 may offer little in the way of answers. As a result, people have begun modifying behaviors and activities accordingly… including employees.
Looking for Their Next Job
The fear of a layoffs or business disruption is real. In times of uncertainty, you have two groups of employees who are actively considering the next move in their profession.
- The first group includes your poor performers and disengaged employees who are survivalists by nature. Usually smart enough to have an exit strategy looking for that next opportunity, they are prepared to hang around if things are “business as usual.” This is not that situation. And while it may not hurt to lose poor performers, it does.
- However, the second group is your high-performing employees. But, why would they be looking? The strongest swimmers are the first to jump overboard… it’s critical they have engaged managers who can keep them motivated, appreciated and secure. The ironic part of this is that it may be invisible – many of your top performers are those who, in most cases, are leading by example. When times are good, all is well, but should things be shaky… keep your ears open, don’t solely rely on what you can see with your eyes.
Cementing New Habits
New work habits, new personal hygiene habits and new lifestyle habits. Did you create a remote work option during the pandemic? Remember how that was going to be for a month, then we could get everyone back to the office? The new work routine for many employees now entails sweatpants, ZOOM, and a lack of physical supervision. You may even make an unexpected discovery – the performance of your employees can take a drastic turn, either for the better OR for the worse.
- For some people, working from home is a blessing in disguise and offers a new lease on life.
- For others, the home office offers distractions and a lack of structure they so desperately need to function.
However, the biggest challenge for many companies will be maintaining productivity and culture with an employee base that is no longer in the line of sight.
The first test for companies was the response to COVID. Successfully navigating that crisis bought you a lot of goodwill with your employees. Done correctly, that goodwill could last for an extended amount of time and manifest itself in terms of retention and employee satisfaction. Did your company commit to the new work environment for as long as it takes, or are you signaling your intent to get people “back to the office” sooner rather than later? It’s important to note that people are legitimately scared to come back to an office without a convincing assurance of safety.
Remember when people are scared they make self-serving decisions that can be contrary to common sense. So, if/when you call people back to an office environment, the appeal has to be one that addresses the emotional uncertainty of your employees.
HR must balance what is best for the company with what is best for the employee. Stress on the bottom line of the company can result in the C-suite de-emphasizing the human aspect in order to keep the company healthy. However, HR will be asked to continue to represent the interests of the employees and to stand strong when asked to make decisions on “what we can do (legally)” and “what we should do (morally)”.
Upcoming Coronavirus Relief in 2021
Here’s what we know so far…
The omnibus spending bill – which is almost 5,600 pages long – contained many tax provisions. Randy Hardock and Courtney Zinter of Davis & Harman (NAPEO’s outside tax counsel) have prepared this document which contains the details of these provisions.
Specific tax provisions of interest include:
Paid Sick and Family Leave Credits
- Extends the paid sick and family leave credits against employment taxes from the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) for three additional months to March 31, 2021.
- The bill does not extend the FFCRA’s mandate to provide paid sick leave or paid family and medical leave beyond December 31, 2020.
Changes to the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC)
- Repeals the provision denying the ERTC to employers receiving a PPP loan. Instead, mechanisms would be created to prevent the same wages from being used for both PPP loan forgiveness and the ERTC.
- Extends the ERTC to apply to wages paid before July 1, 2021 (instead of January 1, 2021).
- Increases the credit percentage from 50 percent to 70 percent of applicable wages.
- Increases the per-employee limitation on applicable wages from $10,000 total to $10,000 per calendar quarter. In combination with the increased credit percentage, this would increase the maximum credit per employee from $5,000 to $7,000 per quarter (up to $14,000 for the first two quarters in 2021).
- Makes the ERTC available if the business experienced a decline of at least 20 percent in gross receipts (instead of a 50 percent decline) as compared to the same calendar quarter in the prior year.
- Modifies the small employer definition of qualified wages to apply to employers that have 500 or fewer employees (instead of 100 of fewer employees).
Creates a temporary employee retention credit of 40 percent of qualified wages up to $6,000 (maximum credit of $2,400 per eligible employee) for eligible employers affected by certain qualified disasters.
- This credit is retroactive and does not apply to COVID-related disasters.
The bill also extends the Work Opportunity Tax Credit for five years.
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Other Small Business Assistance
In addition to the tax provisions, the COVID-19 relief portion of this legislation contains additional assistance for small businesses. Specifically, it contains the following provisions designed to assist small businesses:
- Creates a second loan from the Paycheck Protection Program, called a “PPP second draw” loan for smaller and harder-hit businesses, with a maximum amount of $2 million.
- Creates a simplified application process for loans under $150,000.
- Expands the expenses that can be covered by a PPP loan.
- Makes 501(c)6 organizations that do not lobby eligible for PPP loans.
- Makes the expenses covered by PPP loans tax deductible.
The COVID-19 relief provisions also make the following changes to unemployment insurance:
- Unemployed individuals get an additional $300 per week from December 26, 2020 to March 14, 2021.
- Extends and phases out Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), a temporary federal program covering self-employed and gig workers, to March 14, 2021 and extends benefits from 39 to 50 weeks with all benefits ending April 5, 2021.
- Lengthens and phases out Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) which provides additional weeks when state unemployment runs out, to March 14, 2021 (after which no new applications) through April 5, 2021.
- Broadens provisions to March 14, 2021, including interest-free loans to the states.
No federal money was provided to shore up the short falls in state unemployment funds.
HRi will be participating in multiple webinars to learn what all this means the week of January 5th. We will provide an update later that week; as with 5,600 pages… there will sure be more to come. In the meantime, a recap of the policies and information on COVID-19 developed this year can be found on our Resources Page!