Do you have a rapid response plan? Is your business on hiatus? Are your employees at risk?
With so many businesses closed due to the novel coronavirus, or Covid-19 pandemic, alongside uncertainty about when it will end and how quickly recovery will begin, there are steps business owners can take to protect their workforce, customers, and to be better prepared for whatever the future may hold.
“One of the ways you protect your business is by protecting your employees and your patrons,” said Jonathan A. Segal, attorney, partner and managing principal at Duane Morris LLP, a law firm in Philadelphia.
Segal joined the first PA Chamber webinar held March 19th to address the pandemic and offer tips surrounding legal issues, employment law and employer’s responsibilities.
He said employees who feel valued are also those who likely would remain loyal after the pandemic and restriction tide turns, helping businesses return to normal operations.
“Things are changing as we speak. As employers we need to have a rapid response team [RRT] which is critical to the key functioning of a business during this time,” Segal said.
The critical function of an RRT is to respond to reports or disclosures such as a Covid-19 diagnosis, keep a communication pipeline open, and provide employees with resources. A company human resources manager or HR key employee, as well as a health care employee should be part of the RRT, Segal said.
He said policies should be as simple and general as possible, to make employees feel comfortable in coming forward to report issues.
“If an employee reports having a diagnosis or close contact or suspected contact it is important to have that RRT in place,” Segal said.
He said avoid using language that might not be accurate or worse, cause legal problems later.
Unless the business is completely shutting down, don’t use phrases like “an abundance of caution,” he explained. “Avoid absolutes and be prepared to make exceptions to circumstances,” Segal said.
He recommended following up conversations, in person or over the phone, with email to provide a written document trail, just in case one would be needed later.
If employers are allowing work from home or remote situations, hourly worker’s pay and reporting need to be handled differently from those who are exempt or salaried employees. It’s important to follow state employment wage and hour rules, too.
He said some areas meant to protect workers and their income, such as worker’s compensation and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 expansion are new territories. The FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered companies to take unpaid leave to care for family members. A Forbes.com article reported The Responsibility for Workers and Family Act was still in the U.S. legislature, and aims to provide relief during the current pandemic. It addresses debt collection, and small business loans, unemployment, Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance, housing and student loans among other key factors of daily life.
In the end, Segal stressed the importance of remaining in touch with employees and providing them support, especially regarding mental health. “How are people doing? How are we keeping a sense of normalcy? People want to talk about things other than Covid-19,” Segal said.
“This is not a one-size-fits-all situation. At the end of the day, we are all human beings,” he said.
UBCC is committed to providing support to our members and future members by sharing resources and establishing new initiatives with the Upper Bucks community. Each week we will share articles and information to assist our businesses navigating these unpredictable times.
Now more than ever, UBCC is here to be your voice, represent our businesses, sustain business and be a part of the robust plan for recovery.
PA Chamber of Business and Industry in Harrisburg plans to host weekly online webinars to address the volatile conditions caused by the Covid-19 and offer viewers practical, expertly curated steps to weather the current public health crisis. Upper Bucks Chamber members may participate free of charge. Registration is required. Visit https://www.pachamber.org/ for more information.
“Monumental” change to career and technical education could tip the scales for workforce development
Pennsylvania’s officials and educators hope Act 76-2019, a radical overhaul of the commonwealth’s career and technical education laws will reinvent how young people prepare for the workforce.
The new legislation signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf in October 2019, promises equal access to manufacturing and industry employers at high school college and career events and will provide a centralized database for resources, jobs, training, industry trends, and income predictions anticipated to roll out in June.
“This [includes] the most significant law changes in over 30 years,” said Rep. Craig Staats (R-Bucks). Staats sponsored the new legislation in an effort to “…address the mounting college debt crisis.”
He serves Pennsylvania’s 145th Legislative District, which covers Upper Bucks County.
For years the single biggest problem in manufacturing has been talent, according to Jack Pfunder, a retired manufacturing professional and founder of Pfunder Consulting Group, LLC. He said because schools and employers aren’t accustomed to having direct relationships, organizations like the Upper Bucks Chamber of Commerce are in a unique position to bridge the gap. “Somebody needs to be in the middle,” he said.
According to a Forbes report, American young adults shouldered a crushing $1.5 trillion in student loan debt in 2019, the highest student debt number ever recorded, ranking second behind home mortgage debt in the U.S. (https://www.forbes.com/sites/zackfriedman/2019/02/25/student-loan-debt-statistics-2019/#7e60362c133f)
“Companies are desperate for good employees and they want to get into the high schools and the middle schools to help educate [youngsters] about what jobs look like,” Pfunder explained.
Pfunder conceded lingering, and negative images still surround career and technical education and trade jobs, known in previous decades as vocational school or vo-tech.
But high tech manufacturing, including precision medical device machining, CNC technology, and tool-making, aim to dispel the “old-school perception” of dirty shop floors and dull daily work.
New jobs and emerging industries demand STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills.
Qualified employees are rewarded with great pay and career advancement, often without college degree requirements.
“Companies will hire right out of high school, [whereas] ten years ago they wouldn’t,” Pfunder said.
Pfunder said chambers of commerce are a natural fit to bridge the gap between industry, government and educators.
Established relationships between chambers of commerce, educators and business members can help facilitate critical connections in making necessary introductions.
“The chamber can easily be that conduit,” Pfunder said.
Students at Upper Bucks County Technical School (UBCTS) know first-hand the importance of building industry relationships.
From nationwide competitions to daily hands-on training in agriculture, health care and hospitality sectors, students have opportunities to meet employers and see what the future looks like.
Thane Goetz, a UBCTS sophomore studying CNC machining from Quakertown, said his robust involvement with SkillsUSA has been eye-opening.
“We do fundraising, learn professional skills [like] job interviewing, and [participate in] charity events,” Goetz explained.
UBCTS serves students in Palisades, Pennridge and Quakertown.
Goetz said UBCTS models its process to “replicate” SkillsUSA district competition formats so students are immediately prepared to compete against their peers in district, region and all state competitions, with the goal of going to nationals.
SkillsUSA is a non-profit organization serving roughly 395,000 students in career and technical education across the United States.
“We’re the only school that follows the SkillsUSA model” to prepare for competition, Goetz said.
The Upper Bucks Chamber celebrated this monumental legislation at the Upper Bucks County Technical School with Rep. Craig Staats for a ceremonial signing of his Act 76-2019 legislation. UBCC continues to be the conduit and bridge for education and industry, ensuring opportunities for our future workforce, and answering the call of our employers for a prepared workforce. If your business is interested in joining the UBCC workforce initiative, please contact Danielle Bodnar 215-536-3211.
Upper Bucks Chamber of Commerce
An economic development agency for Upper Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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