COVID-19 cases are surging in the United States again and the reality of the extended remote work environment seems to have set in for many employers.
The “Littler Employer Pulse Survey Report” of 1,100 companies found that most employers that have maintained a largely remote workforce during the pandemic are continuing remote work arrangements at least through the end of the year (57%) or gradually bringing employees back on a voluntary basis (25%). Only 18 percent are reopening and requiring more employees to return.
In this prolonged remote work environment, maintaining company culture and keeping employees content emerged as key areas of concern for employers. A strong majority (81%) report being at least somewhat concerned about the pandemic’s impact on employee mental health and well-being – and just 2% said they are not concerned at all.
“Addressing issues stemming from continued remote work – via technology tools, more flexible policies or otherwise – is a real opportunity for employers to better engage their employees and prioritize their health,” said Alka Ramchandani-Raj, a leader of Littler’s COVID-19 Task Force. “At the same time, they must be prepared to navigate new compliance risks, whether they connect to policies that may give rise to discrimination claims, wage and hour issues or any number of other areas.”
Employers report taking a range of actions to address employee well-being during the pandemic, including offering more flexible work schedules (73%) and providing mental health services and Employee Assistance Programs (68%).
The 2020 Election
While the survey was conducted just prior to the Nov. 3 election, the results suggest employers were already anticipating significant changes to workplace policy under a Biden administration.
Half of the employers surveyed expect an uptick in enforcement actions by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and its state counterparts regarding compliance with COVID-19 safety rules. Outside of the new presidential administration’s COVID-19 response, respondents predict employment law-related changes in such areas as: paid sick and family leave requirements (74%), health-care policy (71%), immigration (66%) and measures to address income inequality (64%).
“A Biden presidency will undoubtedly bring regulatory changes that impact the workplace,” said Michael Lotito, co-chair of Littler's Workplace Policy Institute. “How those initiatives move forward will depend on a number of factors that remain to be seen, but that doesn’t mean employers should wait to act. They would do well to start preparing for potential regulatory changes and to ensure the voice of the employment community is heard as the new administration confronts the numerous challenges that lie ahead.”
Additional Key Findings
Other findings discussed in the report include:
- More than half of employers surveyed (56%) said they are struggling to navigate the various laws that apply to time off, scheduling and accommodation requests from employees with children whose education and care are affected by COVID-19.
- Amid renewed calls for racial justice and equality, supporting employees and addressing racism in the workplace emerged as an area of concern. That concern was especially pronounced among companies with over 10,000 employees as 43% said they are extremely or moderately concerned about this issue (compared to 27% of all respondents).
- With COVID-19 accelerating technology’s already prominent role in how companies operate, many employers report using technology or digital tools to manage their workforces during the pandemic. For instance, 55% of all respondents (and 70% of those whose companies have over 10,000 employees) are now using technology-driven recruiting and hiring tools.