Stories / Impact

How HR Can Guide Employee Wellness

Prioritizing employee well-being during COVID-19

JBF Editors

April 29, 2020


Plating in the Beard House photo Clay Williams
Photo: Clay Williams

ICYMI, this spring we're hosting daily webinars as part of our Industry Support learning series. Over the past month we've touched on deciphering government relief options, navigating the Paycheck Protection Program, tips on staying motivated for you and your team, and more. Last week Sarah Diehl, founder and principal of Empowered Hospitality, discussed the best human resources practices in the wake of COVID-19.

1. Keep in mind the goals of human resources:

  • Attract: craft a compelling employer value proposition to attract top talent.
  • Retain: cultivate a clear purpose, an inclusive culture, and competitive total rewards.
  • Support: develop customized HR tools and SOPs (standard operating procedures) that both protect your company and promote core values.
  • Enable: harness technology to automate, administer, and enable your team to focus on what matters.
  • Empower: cultivate autonomy, ownership, and leadership skills within your rising stars.

2. Due COVID-19 a number of small businesses had to shut their doors for an indefinte amount of time. In order to stay afloat, many companies had to furlough and even permanently lay off staff. Diehl laid out how companies have handled staff reductions and what it means for employees:

Reduction in pay:   

  • Partial financial disruption with continuation of benefits.
  • Employees may be eligible to claim unemployment if the reduction takes them below the unemployment threshold in their state.
  • May make employees eligible for overtime.
  • If you are going to reduce pay, check to see whether it is legally required in your state to give employees seven days’ notice.     

Temporary layoff/furlough:

  • Complete financial disruption with continuation of health benefits.
  • In terms of HR, layoff and furlough are interchangeable from a legal perspective.
  • Employees are eligible for unemployment and health benefits.
  • Employees can also retain their seniority but cannot benefit from it until reinstated. For example, furloughed employees cannot use PTO until they return.

Permanent layoff:   

  • Complete separation, no guarantee of reemployment.
  • Employees are eligible to claim unemployment.
  • If a company lays off 50 employees, the company may be subject to the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act. Varying state by state, this labor law requires employers with 100 or more employees to provide notification to the government when undergoing closings and layoffs.

3. Regardless of whether pay reductions, furloughs, or layoffs are happening within the company, HR should focus on ways to optimize employee welfare:

  • Leave an open line of communication with team members, even if you don’t have the answers.
  • Offer empathy and food/supplies to those facing hardships.
  • Ensure that relief funds are distributed fairly.
  • Allow for collaborative brainstorming sessions and employee input.
  • Provide public resources for all employees to access.

4. When the company decides it is time to open the doors, HR should have a reopening checklist ready. Here are a few points to consider when making yours:

  • Prepare a COVID-19 guidebook to help your team through updated health and safety protocols. This can include rules for wearing masks, procedures to follow in the case of exposure, and leave benefits if an employee falls ill.
  • Partner with HR to make rehiring decisions based on objective information including tenure, job role, skillset, and compensation.
  • Provide returning employees with notice and information so they can mentally and logically prepare for work.
  • Be understanding if employees are not interested in coming back.

Watch the full webinar for information on staff and compensation reductions, unemployment, and resources for employees here.

Check out what's on-deck this week for our webinar series.

Find past recordings here.

Our team would like to know what topics you would like us to cover. Please email us at with your suggestions on speakers, resources, and issues you would like us to host.