Thursday, 10 September 2020

Beyond the movement control order: employment & HR issues

Authors: Donovan Cheah (Partner) and Zi-Han Lim (Associate) (Donovan & Ho)

With the movement control order (MCO) creating many novel workplace issues, many employers are still struggling to adjust to what it means to have “business as usual” during the MCO.
Once the MCO is lifted fully, workplaces will likely not be able to return to normal. The possibility of restrictions to promote social distancing to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus may become a necessity and thus, compulsory. The HR function will, therefore, play a pivotal role in balancing the welfare of employees, with the need to minimise interruptions to business operations.
As businesses look ahead, here are some employment and HR issues that employers need to consider:
          1. Implementing safety and sanitisation measures
Employers should re-evaluate their current safety measures to prevent the spread of the virus in the workplace. This include:
          • having hand sanitisers at every entrance of the Company’s premises
          • imposing a mandatory sanitisation policy for visitors
          • providing face masks
          • ensuring proper distancing in the seating arrangements for employees
          • putting up notices to remind employees of hygiene standards
          • imposing temperature checks on all visitors and employees prior to entry to the premises
          • imposing a stricter health policy such as prohibiting sick employees from working at the Company’s premises and requiring them to take sick leave, and
          • setting a travel policy to restrict non-essential business travel and to remind employees not to travel to high-risk locations even in their personal time.
          2. Remote working/work from home
The MCO has shown us that for some businesses, working in the comfort of your own house can still be productive. Employers are able to continue this even after the MCO has been lifted, or introduce a rotation policy where different departments can take alternate weeks off to work from home while the remaining ones can work in the office.
          3. Limit face-to-face meetings
The MCO has also demonstrated that many face-to-face meetings are non-essential, and businesses can still communicate with their customers and employees using technology. Employers can, therefore, limit the need for physical meetings by using software, such as Google Hangouts, Zoom, Whatsapp video calls or Facetime. This approach will also complement any work from home policy that is implemented.
          4. Security
If working from home will be considered the “new normal”, employers need to look into whether they have adequate infrastructure for cyber security to support remote working. There is an increased risk of a breach as employees may not be logged into your organisation’s network and may be using their own devices. As there is less need to meet people face-to-face, there will be a corresponding increase in the need for authentication and authorisation whenever employees are dealing with third parties, preventing attacks, such as phishing and malware. This is especially if the employees are dealing with sensitive or confidential information. As such, employers should re-evaluate whether there are any security gaps in their IT infrastructure that need to be addressed, as this is a worthwhile, long-term investment given that the way we work is now changing very rapidly.
          5. Cost-cutting measures
When the MCO is lifted in full and employees are allowed to go back to work, given the current economic climate, companies should still look into practical cost-cutting measures to ensure long-term sustainability of their operations. From an HR perspective, this could include eliminating or suspending non-essential fringe employee benefits, such as corporate gym memberships, company dinners and entertainment or lifestyle/clothing allowances. Discretionary bonuses or incentives can also be limited, reduced or removed.
          6. Reviewing HR guidelines
Given the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, HR guidelines and policies ought to be reviewed to ensure that they are adequate to support any measures that the Company intends to take and that they are also commensurate with the Company’s current financial standing and the overall economic climate.
As mentioned above, “nice to have” but not essential fringe benefits may have to be looked into especially if they are offered to employees in writing via company policy or in their contract of employment. Crucial policies that may impact the Company’s financial position and salary costs, such as retrenchment benefits, promotions, bonus and increment, must be re-looked at this juncture. Other policies that are worth updating would include IT policies/use of own devices policies, confidentiality policies and remote working/flexible working hours policies.
Preparation is the best defence against turbulent times, and thinking beyond the MCO may be crucial if a company intends to stay afloat.

(Note: For further information about our Asia Pacific Employment Law subscriptioncontact us at (Malaysia) or (Singapore)).

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