During this period of increased business difficulty and heightened public concern, HR has a major role to play in helping employees feel safe at the workplace, said legal and HR experts yesterday. Speaking during a webinar organized by RHTLaw Asia, Society for Human Resource Management facilitator Tham Chien Ping said that HR needs to be informative, supportive, and present for employees.
This includes providing the necessary equipment for employee protection, and being accessible to employees with concerns about the situation. “Have immediate and regular communication through whatever channels you are using for your employees,” he advised.
On the issue of providing equipment, he observed that there will always be questions about what to get, how much is needed, and how to budget for the cost. This requires HR professionals to engage with business and operational leaders to understand their needs. As an example, he cited his office receptionist, who as front-line staff is exposed to visitors coming and going all day: after discussions with the customer service head, they supplied the reception with masks and hand sanitizer.
This approach of going right down to the ground extends to being accessible to employees. Tham suggested maintaining a presence in the workplace and directly approaching employees who have concerns. “If you see any employees wearing a mask in the workplace, go and ask if they are feeling sick, or if they are feeling worried,” he said. “To be present for the employee goes a long way to providing that feeling of safety in the workplace.”
Safety also extends to job security, however. Around the region, a growing number of companies in the hard-hit hospitality, tourism, and aviation sectors are asking workers to take extended unpaid leave or even to take voluntary early retirement due to the business downturn. In such cases, there are some legal protections for workers: RHTLaw partner Jeremiah Huang said of this development, “If it's one of those unfortunate situations where your business cannot survive past this event without retrenching people or making them redundant, our usual laws will apply; you cannot just ask people to leave because of Covid-19.”
Huang further pointed out: “It's a very extreme thing to ask somebody to leave, whether you call it a voluntary retirement or a retrenchment. You need to open a conversation with them and talk it out.”
In such conversations, and in offering the human touch to workers whose health, safety, and livelihoods are affected by the coronavirus epidemic, HR’s role will be more critical than ever.
Image source- Kalinga TV