As IDI speaks with our clients around the country, it’s clear that COVID-19 has impacted different regions in different ways. Our clients in New York City have a reality that looks much different from others in Florida or Colorado.
When the coronavirus pandemic broke out, Wisconsin and Michigan (where IDI’s office is) took two very different approaches. Michigan adopted one of the country’s strictest protocols, while Wisconsin continued to work and live as normal.
This kind of scenario creates a great challenge for organizations that operate in different states. For example, the company Stormy Kromer makes iconic wool caps, winter wear, shirts, and accessories. Located on the Michigan-Wisconsin border in Ironwood, Michigan, about a third of the company lives right across the river, in Hurley, WI. The two communities are so intertwined, they’re almost one town. Yet for a time, bars stayed open in Hurley, while Michigan residents were ordered to stay at home.
COVID Challenges on Multi-state Businesses
The coronavirus situation has led to never-before-seen regulations that most people never would have expected — including taking employees’ temperatures and quarantining workers who show signs of infection.
It’s very taxing on any organization, no matter what size or how many locations. For companies that operate in multiple states, or hire workers from across state lines, the typical coronavirus complexities are exponentially greater.
Every multi-state business is navigating through uncharted territory and discovering new surprises at every turn. While every business has its own unique circumstances, there are some basic guidelines you can follow. For specific questions or interpretations, you should consult your labor attorney.
Do Your Research
There are terrific resources available to businesses. At IDI, we have relied on expertise and guidance from organizations like the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM). Most organizations’ expertise is limited to the state they operate in, so getting the help you need will mean reaching out to several organizations in the states you operate in.
Reach out to state and local offices to do your due diligence and ensure you’re compliant. Also consult a labor attorney who can help you figure out a strategy for addressing multiple state regulations in a consistent manner across your organization.
Many of the HCM partners we work with are valuable resources that can help ensure you have the right services that they provide in ever-changing labor environments.
Stay as Consistent as Possible...
In general, it’s best to maintain consistency across your organization, from site to site. When you’re dealing with multiple COVID-19 regulations, consistency becomes even more important.
For many businesses, the best policy is to adopt the strictest sets of standards across the states that you operate in. In essence, you’re rising to the highest common denominator. While it adds restrictions to your employees, it also ensures their health, minimizes your policies, and makes it easier for employees that work at multiple facilities.
...Except When You Shouldn’t
In several states, employers may check employees’ temperatures as they report to work. Under any other circumstance, this would be a violation of HIPAA, but considering the unique situation, certain states are allowing it — mandating it, in fact — to keep employees safe from the coronavirus.
But if you also operate in states that don’t mandate temperature checks, you’ll need to make an exception to the highest common denominator rule. In this case, consistency across your locations could lead to lawsuits for violation of privacy.
Good communication can’t be under emphasized, especially if you have employees that travel to different sites. Post rules and regulations on the premises, and remind employees on a regular basis of state requirements and company policies. If you aren’t overcommunicating, you probably aren’t communicating enough.
Communicate even little changes. Most people are on edge, and even small changes can raise questions or concerns. IDI’s leadership team is in constant communication with each other and with our employees.
“Stormy Kromer made announcements and talked with employees,” Stormy Kromer President, Gina Thorsen, said. “We provided lots of education to help people understand these are the rules here, and this is what we’re doing. It doesn’t matter what you can do across the border, this is what we have to do here.”
We also recommend asking for employees’ feedback. Find out what you can be doing better, and solicit suggestions to help your people feel safer. Often, the most important thing you can do is to make people feel that they’ve been heard.
Check in with Employees
Similarly, spend time checking in with employees to see how they’re doing. COVID rules can be particularly stressful for workers who work in multiple states, or if they work in a state they don’t live in. Your workers may have a hard time adjusting to the regulations, and a supportive supervisor can make a tremendous difference in your employees’ mental health (and productivity).
Consider training your managers to handle the types of workplace issues that could arise during times of stress.
Know Your Immunity Laws
Several states have passed laws that grant businesses immunity from civil liability for claims relating to the coronavirus. Other states have passed legislation that limits liability or provides varying degrees of immunity. In some states, multiple competing bills are in process. Still other states have no immunity laws whatsoever.
Even among states that have adopted immunity laws, the details vary widely from state to state — including who qualifies for immunity, what is protected, and how long the immunity lasts.
Stay Up to Date on Workers’ Compensation
Many states are introducing new laws about workers’ compensation benefits to employees who contract COVID-19. This could open the door for a wave of claims if the coronavirus enters your company.
Some states have made it easier to claim workers’ compensation by creating a legal presumption that employees with the disease have contracted it at work. Other states are considering this approach.
Stay up-to-date on developments in the states where you operate, especially as you reopen or bring more workers back on-site.
IDI Is Here for You
While we aren’t legal experts, we are here to help serve your business during the coronavirus and beyond. IDI understands the unique issues that your industry deals with on a weekly basis. We’re ready to help you get the answers you need and find the solutions that solve your biggest payroll challenges.