A- A+

Human Resources Playbook

An organization’s workforce is its most valuable asset. Human resource professionals are playing a disproportionally large role in helping employees and employers rapidly pivot to new realities that were unthinkable at the start of 2020. The challenges to these professionals are considerable due to the fluid nature of COVID-19 and its enduring ramifications. During this time of uncertainty, it is important for organizations to administer changes to plans, policies and procedures in a consistent, equitable and non-discriminatory manner. As organizations experience rapid change — for instance, many people adjusting to working at home — it is an appropriate time to refresh management practices and policies.

& Safety


& Threats


Health and Safety

Returning to the Workplace

All employers with a physical place of employment will likely need to adjust their workspaces to inhibit the transmission of COVID-19. The Operations Playbook that accompanies this one has information on sanitation and physical layout. Other specific tactics and considerations include:

  • Communicate with employees, prior to their return, what the company is doing to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and what the expectations are of the employees.
  • Review the Rehire and/or Reinstate provisions for your benefit policies (e.g. eligibility/waiting periods) to identify benefit provisions or gaps.
  • Distribute new health and safety policies and procedures to all employees, in all languages spoken/read by employees (provide translation and interpretation services) and, if necessary, hold mandatory training sessions on new health and safety procedures.
  • When planning the return, consider employee access to adequate child care, respite care and transportation which may not be fully available during the region’s recovery.
  • Post the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) poster.

Screening of Employees

Many employers of essential workers, high-risk workers and workers that assist at-risk populations (e.g. elderly, persons with compromised immune systems) have implemented daily screening procedures, typically including measuring temperature and inquiring about other symptoms. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has stated that employers can take employees’ temperature in an effort to prevent community spread.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)/Face Masks

Employers may require employees to wear face masks and employees can be sent home for non-compliance. If an organization does require the use of PPE, these policies need to be clearly communicated, and employers should provide materials whenever possible.

Workplace Infections

Employees who have symptoms when they arrive at work or become sick during the day should immediately be separated from other employees, customers and visitors and sent home. Employees who develop symptoms outside of work should notify their supervisor and stay home. Sick employees should follow CDC-recommended steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Employees should not return to work until they have met the CDC criteria to discontinue home isolation and have consulted with a healthcare provider.

Employers should not require sick employees to provide a COVID-19 test result or healthcare provider’s note to validate their illness, qualify for sick leave, or return to work. Healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely manner.

If an employee is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19, in most cases, you do not need to shut down your facility, but do close off any areas used for prolonged periods of time by the sick person. Wait 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting to minimize potential for other employees being exposed to respiratory droplets. If waiting 24 hours is not feasible, wait as long as possible.

If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Employers may need to work with local health department officials to determine which employees may have had close contact with the employee with COVID-19 and who may need to take additional precautions, including exclusion from work and remaining at home.

Stress & Mental Health

COVID-19 is adding considerable stress to nearly everyone’s lives. Although individuals cope with stress differently, it’s critical that leaders recognize its potential impacts in the workplace. Recently, a survey found that 65% of employers found maintaining employee morale challenging. Managers who detect potential stress-related symptoms should encourage employees to talk with others they trust and/or consult with a mental health professional.

Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

Employers with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) are recommended to remind employees of mental health benefits. Many mental health clinicians have adopted telehealth making it easier for patients to get help. HR professionals should consider identifying the providers covered and available under their plan and making this information available to employees.


Telemedicine is appropriate and preferred for the delivery of clinical services for many, but not all, conditions. Telehealth particularly shines for chronic and mental health conditions and has obvious advantages for rural patients. For employers, telehealth can improve the well-being of employees and reduce downtime related to illness or medical visits. Consider offering such services to your staff should the pandemic continue into the coming months.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provides businesses a dollar-for-dollar tax credit to pay employees for qualified sick leave due to conditions associated with COVID-19 or caring for sick family members. The benefit includes time off for quarantines if the employee is unable to work. Employers are required to post or email notification of the FFCRA to employees.

Business Practices

Employee Communications

Leaders must strive for clarity and maintain their trustworthiness to avoid communication deficits during the crisis. Specific tactics include:

  • Develop a coherent communication plan that is not only easy to interpret but also hard to misinterpret eliminating potentially costly risks from misunderstandings. 
  • Company-wide updates from executive leadership to set the overarching plan, reinforcing company values and releasing of critical information.
  • Provide accurate and honest information to maintain credibility. Avoid delaying responses to prevent misinformation such which can lead to rumors. If there are areas of uncertainty, these should be exposed.  
  • Stress flexibility and resilience to accommodate changing and shifting realities.

Managing a Remote Workforce

A national survey found 71% of employers are struggling to adapt to remote work and 35% are experiencing changes in employee productivity. Address this challenge through:

  • Frequent communication between remote workers and managers, especially with workers new to remote working. 
  • Schedule one-on-one meetings with employees to surface and resolve issues, reduce anxiety, set priorities and establish a routine. 
  • Set mutual boundaries and expectations around work vs. personal time recognizing there’s likely not a one-size-fits-all solution.  
  • Written communications procedures and tools should be formalized as needed, particularly for sensitive information. The use of multiple channels (e.g. messaging, emails, Slack, Teams, etc.) can result in important gaps or mishandlings.
  • Interrupt unconscious biases by intentionally questioning assumptions and decisions, such as assuming people with children at home are not working as hard as those without.

Opportunities and Threats

Company Culture in the Remote Workforce

It is becoming clear that the ‘new normal’ may include a largely, if not fully, remote workforce for many organizations. Remote work offers some clear advantages in terms of health, safety, working from anywhere, increased flexibility and, not to mention, eliminating the dreaded commute.

Company culture and employee engagement may take hits with a remote workforce. Since a company’s culture is cited as a primary reason an employee chooses one organization over another, it is important to benchmark and manage organizational culture and employee engagement. The assessment below from Work & People Analytics, located in Des Moines, can help start this process.

Now more than ever, it is critical to reinforce commitments to diversity hiring and workplace inclusion. Remind everyone of requirements for respectful communication and creating belongingness for others, especially during a crisis. Continue to be intolerant of “excluding behaviors” (disrespect, bullying, racial/gender slurs, harassment, discrimination, inequity, etc.). Because some version of working from home will be a facet of life for the foreseeable future, leaders need to adapt their diversity and inclusion plans for the digital working world.

Policies and Benefits

Organizations should take a fresh look at their current policies. The community will applaud progressive leaders who use this pandemic as a reason to institute updated guidelines around issues like flexibility, working remotely, paid leave, equity and inclusivity and mental health/self-care.


With the shift to remote work and flexibility, organizations should take advantage of a much more diverse talent pool. The benefits of remote work and flexible working schedules can especially be career changing for workers with disabilities, caretakers (who are often women), new or expecting parents and individuals from geographically isolated areas.

Cultural Intelligence

The backlash faced by Asian individuals, communities and businesses in response to COVID-19 highlights the need for increased cultural intelligence. Organizations should build cultural intelligence by focusing on short- and long-term solutions through trainings and workforce experiences that heighten cultural sensitivity and encourage allyship. Company leaders should make explicit statements to reinforce that racial slurs, xenophobia and harassment will not be tolerated, and have a specific policy for consequences to address instances. See the full list or recommendations on the CDC’s Reducing Stigma page.


Additional Resources

Legal Disclaimer

The Greater Des Moines Partnership's DSM Forward playbook is not intended to constitute legal advice or provide specific direction. The preparation of a business continuity or preparations plan should be undertaken with the advice and direction of appropriate specialists and personnel, in consideration of the unique circumstances impacting each business. Third-party websites or material linked to or referenced in DSM Forward are for informational purposes only and do not constitute a recommendation of The Partnership of that material or its authors.

Last updated: 5/8/2020