The New Normal in the Workplace: Long-Term Trends Resulting from the Pandemic
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, there has been immense upheaval in the American workplace. Offices rapidly shifted to fully remote work, then took steps to reopen, and are now settling into a hybrid system. Other economic sectors — retail stores, hospitality sectors such as hotels and restaurants, grocery stores, and health care, for example — did not have the option of having employees work remotely and have had to adapt to erratic revenue and high employee turnover. All have had to adapt their work environment to meet new health and safety protocols.
Recently, there has been considerable analysis of the pandemic’s long-term effects on the workplace and on the relationship between employers and employees. Several themes have emerged:
- Expect continued growth of fully remote and hybrid schedules for managers, support staff and knowledge employees. The predominant hybrid model has in-office work Tuesday through Thursday and remote work on Monday and Friday.
- Employers will increasingly rely on wellness metrics to gauge employee satisfaction.
- Physical — remote working can lead to sedentary lifestyle.
- Mental — stress and burnout.
- Financial — added expenses related to childcare, parental care, etc.
- For office workers, particularly younger employees, pay scale is becoming secondary to other factors in job satisfaction. These include a better work/life balance and their employer’s level of engagement on social and cultural issues.
- Total office floor space will not decline significantly, but will be reconfigured to reduce crowding and accommodate both hybrid work schedules and COVID-19 health protocols.
- Fewer assigned cubicles or offices.
- Workstations available to any employee for Zoom calls, etc.
- More open space for socially distanced employee interaction.
- More rooms designated for meetings and videoconferences.
- Easily movable desks, partitions and area dividers.
- Expect accelerated automation of routine tasks and deployment of robots and AI, especially in industries where people work in close proximity to each other or in customer-facing situations where remote work is not feasible, including factories, warehouses, grocery stores and retail establishments. Employees will need to be reskilled to work with these technologies.
- Automation is also taking hold at the managerial level. A recent study in the Harvard Business Review predicted that up to 65% of managerial tasks may be automated by 2025, including scheduling and providing performance feedback to employees.
The expansion of remote and hybrid work is bringing opportunities and challenges. Since fully remote workers can live anywhere, employers have a broader pool of job candidates to choose from. At the same time, it may increase employee turnover. Some employers are responding to this by replacing full-time employees with contingent and gig workers. Others are offering knowledge workers greater control over their daily work schedule and a shorter workweek in place of higher pay.
Remote and hybrid work formats are raising new fairness issues. The Harvard study noted that hybrid working will require more effort to meet diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) goals. Women and people of color prefer remote work more than white men, but remote workers tend to be promoted less and are often seen as lower performing. Other issues include whether remote and on-site employees will have equal access to flexible scheduling and whether employees who relocate to a less expensive part of the country should take a pay cut.
Having a geographically dispersed workforce is also creating new IT challenges, including the need to ensure all remote employees have the same baseline technology and access to tech support. It will increase the complexity of ensuring robust cybersecurity. It is also driving greater reliance on data collection to measure employee performance — tracking remote computer use, monitoring internal communications, and collecting health and safety data.
OSHA Considering Next Step on Vaccine Standard for Employers
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) may not be done with its effort to require large employers to force workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or else submit to weekly testing.
OSHA announced last month that it has withdrawn its emergency temporary standard after it was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court; however, the safety agency said it is considering a permanent standard in place of the emergency order.
OSHA says it “is prioritizing its resources to focus on finalizing a permanent COVID-19 Healthcare Standard.” A permanent standard would require months of hearings and comment periods before taking effect. OSHA has said it believes it could have a permanent standard ready within six to eight months, although previous permanent standards have taken years to be approved.
OSHA has the authority to issue emergency rules quickly and bypass several steps required of a permanent standard. This emergency temporary standard (ETS) would have expired in six months, and OSHA had said it would use the six months to prepare a permanent standard.
Although the Supreme Court struck down the OSHA vaccine mandate, businesses and organizations are free to implement their own vaccine requirements if the requirements comply with EEOC guidelines. A recent poll from Mercer finds 44% of employers require employees who work on-site to be vaccinated, and another 6% of employers plan to implement vaccine requirements. Some 42% of employers say they will not implement a vaccine requirement.
DOL to Propose Changes to Overtime Rules & Joint Employment
Businesses and organizations could have the number of employees they can exempt from overtime pay reduced. The Department of Labor (DOL) will issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in April that will likely make more workers eligible for overtime pay by increasing the minimum salary level of the so-called white-collar exemption to overtime pay rules under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
The FLSA requires workers be paid 1 1/2 times their regular pay rate for all hours worked beyond 40 in a workweek, unless they fall under an exemption. To qualify for the exemption, employees must perform certain duties, be paid on a salary basis, and meet a minimum salary threshold. The current minimum salary standard is $35,568 a year, or $684 a week. It was put in place in 2020 after a federal court struck down an Obama administration attempt in 2016 to increase the minimum to $47,660, from $23,660.
Congressional Democrats have called for an increase to $82,000 by 2026. Insiders believe the DOL will increase the minimum to near the $47,660 proposed in 2016, and that it could also include a mechanism calling for automatic updates.
More than 100 business and industry groups have asked the DOL to allow them to comment on any proposed changes before the rule is announced.
Employers also are likely to see new federal regulations this year that would change the conditions under which two employers are considered joint employers. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was expected to issue a new rule in February to change its standard for determining when one company jointly employs another firm’s workers.
Under federal law, joint employment results in both companies sharing liability for unfair labor practices and responsibility for union bargaining. The current employer-friendly standard for determining joint employment was set in 2020 by a Republican-controlled NLRB under the Trump administration and is being challenged in federal court by the Service Employees International Union. With Democrats now holding a 3-2 majority of the board, most observers believe the board will institute a more employee-friendly standard.
Federal Legislation Limits Pre-Dispute Agreements for Arbitration
A bill preventing employers from enforcing pre-dispute agreements that require employees to arbitrate sexual assault or harassment claims has passed both houses of Congress with bipartisan support and is awaiting the signature of President Joe Biden, who has said he supports the legislation.
HR 4445, the “Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021,” would amend the Federal Arbitration Act to make it easier for an employee alleging sexual assault or harassment to bring suit in court, regardless of whether the employee had previously signed an agreement to arbitrate such disputes.
Some in the employment community worry the bill could be the beginning of a slippery slope, as the White House has stated that it supports the bill’s passage and looks forward to broader legislation to address “other forced arbitration matters, including arbitration of claims regarding discrimination on the basis of race, wage theft, and unfair labor practices.”
The bill’s impact is not limited to employees, as many consumer services, such as property leases, ride-sharing apps, home improvement contracts, etc., often include contract language forcing consumers to arbitrate any legal claims concerning sexual harassment or assault.
Other significant provisions include the following:
- Prospective plaintiffs, not the defendants, can choose whether to litigate their claims in court or through arbitration, even if they previously signed an agreement limiting their legal remedies to arbitration only.
- Individuals may bring suit individually or as a class (through a class-action lawsuit), even if they signed an agreement waiving their right to collective legal action.
- Any existing forced arbitration clauses or contracts are now voidable, even if signed before HR 4445 becomes law. Prior cases that have been completed through forced arbitration cannot be reopened and litigated in court.
Survey Signals Workers’ Concern with Adequate Safety Protocols
As COVID-19 variants spread, an overwhelming majority of workers (87%) surveyed say they are concerned about working in an office building. Despite the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines, the level of concern is 19 percentage points higher compared to a similar study in 2021.
The survey was conducted in January 2022 for Honeywell by Wakefield Research, which interviewed 3,000 office workers who typically work in buildings with 500 or more employees across the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, India, the Middle East and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Among its key findings: 62% of respondents said they would leave their job if their employer did not take necessary measures to create a healthier indoor environment that promotes well-being.
Respondents were also asked what poses a bigger threat to their safety, with 57% citing co-workers not following safety guidelines and 43% citing outdated ventilation systems.
The significant increase in workers’ concerns with workplace safety as a result of COVID reinforces the ongoing challenge of employers to prioritize creating safer and healthier workspaces, especially with improving indoor air quality and tracking compliance to guidelines such as social distancing and mask wearing.
Increased Security Challenges Seen in the Workplace
Although COVID-19 vaccinations and more frequent testing have allowed organizations to restore some level of normalcy, closures, more limited hours and staffing uncertainties have lingered, creating escalating security challenges.
A recent survey by security company Pro-Vigil of business operations leaders shows more than one in four leaders expects an increase in physical security incidents during 2022. Most cite ongoing supply chain issues, with reduced business hours and a shortage of security guards also frequently cited.
Key findings of the survey include:
- 28% of respondents said they saw an increase in physical security incidents in 2021, up from 20% of respondents in 2020.
- Nearly 27% said they anticipate a continued rise in incidents in 2022.
- Nearly 57% said they have not updated their security strategies in the face of these growing threats.
- Nearly 39% said supply chain issues related to the pandemic are behind the increase, as major disruptions in the supply chain — including labor and material shortages and cost surges, as well as delivery delays — have fueled a spike in asset and inventory theft, from heavy equipment, vehicles and lumber to retail items.
- Reduced business hours (23%) and a shortage of security guards (10%) were also frequently cited.
The survey was conducted between November and December 2021. The majority of the 116 respondents held manager roles within industries such as construction, dealerships (car/boat/RV), manufacturing/industrial, and retail, among others. Most of the respondents’ companies (nearly 75%) had fewer than 100 employees.
The complete survey is available here.
New and Younger Employees More Likely to Be Injured on the Job
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than one-third of work-related nonfatal on-the-job injuries occur in employees who have been on the job less than a year. These workers typically are less familiar with the workplace and its hazards and have received less safety training than long-term employees.
A worker’s age also contributes to injuries. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, employees under the age of 24 are two times more likely to be injured on the job than those over 25.
Workers’ compensation insurance carrier Travelers says there are several steps organizations can take to mitigate workplace hazards. These include:
- Integrate safety into the hiring process with a formal hiring process and clear job descriptions that help attract qualified job candidates. Job descriptions should convey your safety culture and the organization’s expectations around best practices.
- Conduct behavioral interviews and background checks to help identify candidates who are likely to fit well into the company’s safety culture. Once hired, safety training can begin on day one before an employee starts executing the tasks of their new role.
- Conduct a job safety analysis, a process that breaks down each step in a job, describes the hazards associated with each step, and defines the safe work method that minimizes or eliminates each hazard. Safety training based on those risks should be skills-based, rather than awareness-based only, to ensure employees develop a firsthand understanding of proper safety protocols.
- Continuously train employees, even experienced workers. Just because a new employee is experienced doesn’t mean they understand your safety expectations and procedures.
- Implement an accident analysis program to identify the root causes of injuries after an accident has occurred. Companies can develop corrective actions to reduce the likelihood of similar accidents and injuries.
Another State Legalizes Medical Marijuana, More Expected to Follow
Mississippi has become the latest state to legalize marijuana in some form, adopting a medical marijuana law that went into effect Feb. 2. The new law authorizes the use of medical cannabis to treat certain debilitating medical conditions, but does not contain employment protections for workers who engage in such use. In fact, the law explicitly states that employers need not facilitate, accommodate or otherwise allow for an employee’s use of medical cannabis, and cannot be sued for taking employment actions based on such use.
Some 37 states, including Texas, and four territories allow for the medical use of cannabis products. Eighteen states, two territories and the District of Columbia have approved cannabis for nonmedical use.
Lawmakers in several other states are expected to legalize either recreational or medical cannabis in 2022, with momentum building for legalized recreational cannabis in Delaware, Oklahoma, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, according to a Reuters report.
Nearly half of the U.S. population lives in states where adult-use cannabis is legal, and a November 2021 Gallup poll found two in three Americans support legalizing cannabis. The movement to legalize cannabis gained strength in January when business giant Amazon announced it will lobby for federal cannabis reform. Amazon dropped marijuana from its pre-employment drug screening in 2021 for unregulated programs, saying that the increasing number of states adopting some level of cannabis legalization makes it difficult to implement an equitable, consistent and national pre-employment marijuana testing program.
Can You Become Infected by Omicron Twice? COVID-19 Experts Examine the Possibility
As Omicron continues to be the dominant force of COVID-19 spread across the globe — with new iterations of this particular variant already in play — more evidence suggests that getting impacted twice by SARS-CoV-2 is likelier than many originally believed. Click here for full article.
MIT Technology Review
What Researchers Learned From Deliberately Giving People Covid
The news: People who’ve caught covid become infectious far more quickly than previously believed, according to the world’s first “human challenge” study in which healthy young volunteers were deliberately infected with the virus. The study, carried out by a team led by researchers at Imperial College London, is the first to watch what happens from the moment someone is infected with SARS-CoV-2. Click here for full article.
The Ivermectin Battle Isn’t Over: COVID-19 Doctors Are Prescribing The Drug In Plain Sight
A week before Christmas, I got the dreaded call from my physician: “Your COVID-19 test came back positive.” It was my second time with the disease, so I thought I knew what came next. The physician recited the standard protocol for isolation. I asked if there were any medications I could take to help my sore throat, chills, and nasal congestion. Suddenly, the physician veered off script. Click here for full article.
Heart-disease Risk Soars After COVID – Even With A Mild Case
Even a mild case of COVID-19 can increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular problems for at least a year after diagnosis, a new study shows. Researchers found that rates of many conditions, such as heart failure and stroke, were substantially higher in people who had recovered from COVID-19 than in similar people who hadn’t had the disease. Click here for full article.
N95 Respirator Reprocessing Can Extend Supplies During Future Pandemics: Study
Common types of N95 respirators – widely used by health care professionals providing direct care to patients with COVID-19 – can be safely reprocessed up to 25 times to help augment supplies during future pandemics, results of a recent study by Boston researchers suggest. Click here for full article.
COVID-19: Study Explores Which Facemask Combinations, Modifications Work Best
Adding a brace or wearing a cloth facemask over a medical mask increases protection against aerosols carrying viruses – including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, results of a recent NIOSH study suggest. Click here for full article.
Closing ‘Anchor Businesses’ Early in the Pandemic Helped Slow COVID-19 Transmission: Study
The spread of COVID-19 slowed in small to medium-sized communities in which large local manufacturing plants and distribution centers closed during the early months of the pandemic, results of a recent study led by researchers from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine suggest. Click here for full article.
COVID-19: Over 57.4 Million Vaccines Have Been Distributed To Texas. This Is How Many The State Has Actually Given Out
It has now been 60 weeks since the first shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine were sent out to states, kicking off the largest vaccination campaign in human history. As of February 10, 674,675,725 doses of the vaccine have been sent out across the country — equivalent to 205.5% of the U.S. population. Click here for full article.
Covid Booster Effectiveness Wanes After 4 Months, but Still Provides Protection Against Hospitalization, CDC Study Shows
An early look at the performance of Covid-19 booster shots during the recent omicron wave in the U.S. showed a decline in effectiveness against severe cases, though the shots still offered strong protection. Click here for full article.
The New York Times
‘I Had Never Felt Worse’: Long Covid Sufferers Are Struggling With Exercise
When Natalie Hollabaugh tested positive for COVID-19 in March 2020, her recovery felt extremely slow. Eighteen months later, she was still suffering from a litany of symptoms, including fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches and joint pain. Click here for full article.
Time Running out for Workers who Caught COVID on the Job
New York workers who may have caught COVID on the job in early 2020 are running out of time to file workers’ compensation cases as the two-year statute of limitations approaches. Click here for full article.
Minnesota Legislature Extends COVID-19 Presumption for Workers’ Compensation
Minnesota’s divided government struck its first deal of the 2022 legislative session, extending workers’ compensation for public safety and health care staff who are at highest risk of contracting COVID-19 on the job. Click here for full article.
Risk & Insurance
Here’s How Policymakers See the Workers’ Comp and COVID-19 Connection
A recent paper from RAND, “Workers’ Compensation During COVID-19” examines how and why policymakers have extended workers’ compensation benefits to employees who are required to work outside the home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here for full article.
TAMACC Reminds Texans That a Safe Workplace is Sound Business
Prevention is the daughter of intelligence. So intelligent business leaders know that preventing workplace accidents is smart. And we all know that smart means money. Click here for full article.
The Kansas City Star
KS Workers Compensation Law Among Worst in Nation, Critics Say, but Change is Unlikely
Jennifer Young was a radiology technician, making about $80,000 a year in 2017, when she was savagely attacked by a patient midway through an X-ray. Her head injuries required brain surgery. Click here for full article.
Optum Rx to Pay $5.8 Million for Alleged Failure to Follow Workers’ Compensation Prescription Pricing Procedures
Pharmacy benefits manager, Optum Rx, Inc., has agreed to pay $5.8 million after allegedly failing to follow workers’ compensation prescription pricing procedures. These procedures are in place to keep costs down and prevent overcharges in the workers’ compensation insurance system, Attorney General Maura Healey announced today. Click here for full article.
Pennsylvania Adopts Exception to Ban on an Insurer Subrogating Against an Insured
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has sided with an insurer seeking subrogation for payments it made to an injured worker before it was determined the insurer was not obligated to make the payments. Click here for full article.
HS Daily Advisor
Guns at Work: Keeping Employees Safe in Troubling Times
Every year, nearly two million American workers report being workplace violence victims, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In fact, homicide is the fifth-leading cause of workplace fatalities in the United States, accounting for eight percent of all fatal on-the-job injuries. Click here for full article.
Risk & Insurance
5 Pressing Issues Workers’ Comp Execs Are Focused on in 2022
COVID-19 isn’t going away. The talent gap will pose major problems for workers’ comp and many of the industries it protects. More and more, companies need to ensure they are using the proper technology to keep up with competitors. Click here for full article.
Risk & Insurance
Claims Adjusters Are the Future Leaders of Workers’ Comp: How Can We Nurture Their Success?
It is undisputed that the claims adjuster sits in the hot seat of the workers’ compensation claims process. Click here for full article.
Lawmakers Urge the Labor Dept. to Expedite Workers Compensation Claims from Federal Firefighters
A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Monday urged the Labor Department to do more to ensure that federal firefighters’ workers compensation claims are processed quickly. Click here for full article.
OSHA Asks Healthcare Employers to Reduce Worker Injuries
During the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. healthcare workers experienced a whopping 249% increase in injury and illness rates in 2020 while serving patients. In fact, workers in the healthcare and social-assistance industries combined suffered more injuries and illnesses than workers in any industry in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Click here for full article.
United States Supreme Court Seeks Opinion of the Government in Dispute Over Whether Workers’ Compensation Should Pay for an Injured Worker’s Medical Marijuana
On Tuesday, February 22, 2022, the United States Supreme Court requested the Solicitor General submit an amicus brief on the issue of whether a workers’ compensation carrier paying for the cost of an injured workers’ medical marijuana is a violation of federal law under the Controlled Substance Act (C.S.A). Click here for full article.
U.S. Supreme Court Asks Feds To Weigh In On Medical Marijuana Workers Compensation Cases
Does federal law protect employers who choose not to cover medical marijuana costs for workers injured on the job, even in states the seek to require it? State courts have reached different conclusions on the question, and now the U.S. Supreme Court is asking the top Justice Department lawyer to weigh in. Click here for full article.
Workers Compensation System Is Healthy and Resilient with a Dash of Uncertainty
The focus of maintaining a healthy workers compensation system for injured workers and employers has been a theme in my professional life for more than three decades. Workers compensation is a critical economic engine with $42 billion in premium annually. Click here for full article.