HR Management & Compliance

Looking Ahead to 2021 After Volatile Election Season

The employment law landscape has undergone massive shifts in 2020. Here are some thoughts on the big picture and what employers may be able to learn from the embattled year of COVID-19, economic stress, racial divisions, and a volatile election.

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A Message from the Coronavirus Quarantine

Our law firm has been working remotely since March 16. In the past 8 months, I visited my downtown Charlotte office only 3 times. On each occasion, I was there for only a few hours, not the full day.

Fortunately, I’ve had the luxury of working and serving clients from my home, and it has gone well. We’ve been able to talk and strategize the same way we would if I had been downtown on the 37th floor of a high rise. In other words, despite occasional interruptions from my spouse working her own job, business has carried on as usual.

Many of you, however, don’t have the same opportunity. Your business needs employees to be on-site and not working remotely. For companies like yours, this has been a true challenge. In addition to making your workplaces safer, you’ve had to deal with:

  • Employees who fear coming back into the facility; and
  • Others who engage in high-risk behavior and represent a potential danger to coworkers.

At the same time the pandemic has been progressing, the cry for social justice has never been louder.

Steps You Can Take

We don’t pretend to have all the answers, but with this environment, here are some thoughts to consider as we move through the next months together:

  • Let’s be gracious to each other. During a volatile election season, we’ve had different views and beliefs, but we need to be respectful of our opposing opinions.
  • Be tolerant of employees who feel the need to express opinions about social issues. That doesn’t mean you need to allow aggressive, violent, or profane communications, but there are some discussions you can acknowledge and engage with in a positive way.
  • If employees raise issues of unlawful workplace discrimination and harassment, make sure you investigate promptly and thoroughly and take appropriate corrective action.
  • Remember you have duties. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the religious discrimination prohibition of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, you have the duty to reasonably accommodate disabilities and religious beliefs.
  • This is an unprecedented environment. Consistency is always desired, but at the same time you may be working on case-by-case situations. What you might have done 2 years ago may not be the best thing to do this year.

Bottom Line

We are all going through different times. What might have been the correct employment law answer in 2018 isn’t necessarily the solution in 2020 or early 2021. Consider the circumstances, consult with counsel, and assess the best approach.

Richard Rainey is an attorney with Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP in Charlotte, North Carolina. You can reach him at richard.rainey@wbd-us.com.