Besides logistical and health and safety challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic has also brought about legal issues for employers. From battles over vaccine requirements to mask mandates and more, it’s been a time like no other. In the year ahead, as the pandemic seemingly winds down, what can Texas employers expect in terms of legal concerns?
Here’s a look at a few of the top areas to be aware of:
Dealing with COVID-19 in the Workplace.
The numbers rise and fall, again and again. Yet, despite these fluctuations, for employers, COVID-19 has been a concern for a wide range of reasons, one of which is legal.
For instance, earlier in the pandemic some companies considered implementing a vaccine requirement or a requirement for regular testing. This led to a wide range of unforeseen legal questions and challenges.
Then, in September 2021, the Biden administration issued a directive for vaccine mandates for large employers, with over 100 people. This, however, was in direct conflict with Texas Gov. Abbott’s executive rule, prohibiting employers from requiring the vaccine.
In essence, this put companies in a legal conundrum and crosshairs when it came to which law to comply with. In January 2022, this issue was put to rest when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal mandate except in issues of healthcare workers.
When it comes to testing requirements, legal issues have also come up, including who is responsible for paying for them if a company does require them. As of February 2022, according to OSHA regulations, large employers must test unvaccinated employees weekly.
Clearly, there’s been a lot of volatility around this issue in the workplace and no shortage of opinions. The best approach in the year ahead is therefore one of caution. Regardless of your company size, it’s best to implement strategies that help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, while keeping your eye on what’s going on with state and federal laws to ensure your company remains in compliance.
Making Sexual Harassment Prevention a Priority.
Texas currently has one of the toughest laws when it comes to prohibiting sexual harassment. Every employer – even those with just one or two employees – must comply with this new sexual harassment law. For the first time, it also allows employees who have been harassed in the workplace to directly sue a supervisor or manager individually, as well as the company at large.
To protect your company, it’s critical to offer regular training programs that cover sexual harassment. It should discuss areas like what constitutes sexual harassment, how to prevent it, and where to report it. Even though the new Texas law does not require this training, you will be protecting your company by mandating it should a lawsuit come your way.
In addition to training, there should also be a clear written policy in your employee handbook and every report of harassment needs to be documented and investigated.
Focusing on Increasing Pay.
With rising inflation and a worker shortage, it makes sense to give your employees a raise if you want to retain them. In fact, many national companies are bumping up starting salaries for workers significantly.
In addition, the EEOC and the OFCCP continue to focus on pay equity as a major legal priority. As a result, the best defense against a pay equity lawsuit is take steps now, performing an analysis, so you can find out any gaps or issues in your pay structure.
Not only does increasing pay make sense from a legal standpoint, but from a business one too. During the COVID-19 pandemic and the shutdowns that came with it, many workers realized how dissatisfied they were on the job – leading to what some have called the “Great Resignation.”
According to estimates, there are around 4.3 million workers no longer working when compared to pre-pandemic numbers. If you’d like to resignation-proof your business and retain top talent, then increasing wages is a top consideration. Making your compensation competitive is key; boosting it beyond that will help you to attract the best people.
Handling Social & Political Speech Issues.
Over the past two years, issues have become heated and the culture is becoming more and more divided. This can enter the workplace and create the kind of environment where employees want to express themselves, but do so in a way that can impact morale and the health of the culture. As a result, many companies are considering rules or policies surrounding what “speech” is allowed and not allowed in the workplace.
It’s important to be cautious in these cases. There is no clear law regarding speech in the workplace and some courts have issued opinions that reject broad-based legal rights of employees advocating for certain causes. However, many cases are still in the pipeline and other opinions have recognized certain protection for speech in the workplace.
Beyond looking at this issue from a legal perspective, though, it’s also important to consider if banning any speech is right for morale and public relations. It’s a tricky issue to deal with and best to get advice from your legal counsel.
Beyond Legal Concerns, Do You Have Staffing Issues?
At Murray Resources, we can help. We’ve been one of Houston’s leading staffing agencies for over three decades. Our job is to connect companies like yours with talented candidates, help you onboard and train them, as well as retain them. We can make hiring easier, so you can build a healthy, hard-working team. Simply contact us today to get started.