Valuing HR During the Pandemic

Reflecting on a most difficult year, my team and I came up with one silver lining.  We have been very fortunate to work in a field that is needed by employers and employees alike. With the closing of businesses, the NY phases, testing mandates, cleaning protocols, remote workers, dire communications, and employees filled with fear and anxiety, businesses have relied on HR more than ever.   

 In fact, the sales team uses a phrase all the time.  It goes, “Everyone needs us.  They may not know it yet, but they all need us.”   

Many people commented on how the pandemic made us slow down.  It gave us an opportunity to appreciate each other and it allowed us to spend more time with family.   

For business, there was a heighten awareness of how important people were to their organizations.  Businesses began to turn to HR as the guiding source of pandemic-related information.  They relied on HR to: 

  • Explain and implement furloughs versus layoffs 

  • Prepare associated termination paperwork to employees 

  • Process final pays and unemployment paperwork 

  • Communicate stop the spread and testing protocols 

  • Train managers to manage a remote workforce 

  • Map out the determination of exempt versus non-exempt status 

  • Implement performance measures to determine telework outcomes 

  • Process and administer employee on and off of benefit plans 

  • Determine who are essential workers 

  • Know how to perform an impartial, fact-finding internal investigation during a pandemic 

  • Process, certify, and determine a qualified reason for leave 

  • Understand and implement new federal and state employment laws 

  • Communicate all the various new forms of leave to employees 

  • Deal with employee conflicts and mediation during a pandemic 

  • Answer employees questions and concerns regarding COVID 

  • Mediate political and racial differences 

  • Supply ways for employees to deal with stress and anxiety 

  • Process and prepare employees returning to work 

  • Build and administer a system to approve or deny reasonable accommodations 

  • Administer mandates such as sexual harassment training in a pandemic 

  • Know when to place an employee on a performance improvement plan versus discipline 

  • Keep up with multi-state laws because remote workers may now work in difference states 

  • Measure engagement and alignment with culture 

  • Determine external and internal compensation benchmarks 

All of this has supported our argument that good HR cannot be performed effectively and efficiently by non-HR professionals.  The depth, breadth, and scope of what we do is overwhelming to most.   

Would you have your payroll provider call an employee about their sick family member?  Would you ask your insurance broker to train a manager on how to ensure employees are actually working?  Would you ask your Controller to mediate conflicts between two departments?  Would your Office Manager know how to make accommodation determination?  Do any of these individuals have a grasp of the various employment laws that impact employers with employees who now live in various States? 

If these individuals convince senior management they can perform HR in addition to their day jobs, it should be a red flag what their day job is.   Perhaps they aren’t doing well in their day jobs?   

What I know is the time, energy and dedication it takes to be an HR professional.   I have always been very respectful of other professions.  I pride myself in knowing when to call a CPA, an attorney or an insurance broker to leverage their expertise.   

That is why my team asks for the same level of respect.  For many years, HR has been marginalized and minimized as a support function that can be given or taken.  Contrary to these opinions, this year was a shining example of the value of a solid, qualified HR delivery system.  We are very proud of how we have responded to 2020’s challenges and how HR has earned the respect of many in the business community.