April 9, 2020
Mass. Nonprofits Are Adopting, Considering New HR Practices

March 24, 2020 — A stay-at-home advisory issued by Gov. Charlie Baker yesterday combined with strict social distancing guidelines to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in Massachusetts has led many nonprofit employees across the state to work from home, while others are losing their jobs or seeing their pay slashed.

Patricia Sinacole, chief executive officer of First Beacon Group, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton, said her company in recent days has discussed a range of actions with its nonprofit clients. They include hiring freezes, working reduced hours (four days instead of five), salary cuts starting at most senior levels, cutting contractors, eliminating overtime, and instituting furloughs and work sharing.

She advised nonprofits to avoid quick decisions: "Ensure that these will be sound decisions months and even years from now."

The Cotuit Center for the Arts in Cotuit, a nonprofit that serves as a hub for Cape Cod’s artists, performers, students, and audiences, laid off all 11 of its employees on March 20, many of whom have been with the organization 10 years or longer. In addition, Executive Director David Kuehn, who just completed 10 years with the center, cut his salary in half. All programming and educational offerings have been cancelled indefinitely.

"While we have taken steps to cease all non-essential expenditures, there are still fixed costs that we cannot cover when our programming revenue streams come to a halt and when anticipated donations have understandably been delayed or jeopardized due to the drop in the stock market," he said.

Experts in several fields recommend the following employee management practices that Massachusetts nonprofits may want to consider in response to the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by a coronavirus.

Luzdy Rivera, director of human resources at TSNE MissionWorks:
  • Create and share a quick guide for supervisors and employees. It should focus on best practices for working remotely, and address efforts to encourage health and well-being, work engagement, boundaries, and the rhythm and pace of remote work. Make sure you set up a live meeting to share these practices.

  • Avoid bias, discrimination, and exclusion. Xenophobia, Islamophobia, and racism are spreading even more quickly than the virus itself, and HR must be attentive and continue to build leadership, respect, and equity. Ensure that your organizations talks about this and supports an environment free from micro-aggressions within your workplace and beyond.

  • Communicate how to report possible cases of COVID-19 exposure or diagnoses.. Reinforce there will be no retaliation for disclosing this information and that employee confidentiality will be treated with the upmost respect. Share with staff the status of identified cases (keeping confidentiality), how the organization is addressing it, and the organization’s next steps.

  • Create a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document. Make it easily accessible. Keep it up-to-date and notify staff of changes to the document.
Greg Tumolo, senior counsel with Duffy & Sweeney:
  • Maintain a written home/remote work policy. All employees with the ability to work remotely should be encouraged to do so pursuant to a written work from home/remote work policy. Employees classified as “non-exempt” for the purposes of state and federal wage and hour laws should be reminded of policies regarding timekeeping, working “off the clock,” and prior approval for overtime.

  • Administer sick leave and paid time off policies flexibly. They should allow sick employees who have exhausted their protected sick leave or paid time off to remain at home without adverse consequences. Employers should remove any incentive for an employee who is ill or who is caring for a family member who is ill to return to work prematurely.

  • Be mindful of your anti-discrimination policy. Decisions about whether to direct an employee to remain at home or to send an employee home from work must be based on legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons and not the employee’s race or national origin.
Nanette Fridman, founder of Fridman Strategies:
  • Support your employees. Employees need to feel supported and have what they need to work productively from home in terms of technology equipment, files, materials, supplies. If your health care provider has sent updated information about health or mental health benefits during COVID-19 such as tele-therapy, make sure employees are aware.

  • Nurture your team. Take time for team members to share energy, emotional, and personal updates at the top of calls and for having some "fun" by sharing recipes, TV shows, movies, books, and podcast recommendations. It is also wise to be extra generous with praise, appreciation, and thanks.

  • Increase check-ins. Some people will have a harder time transitioning to working in isolation at home. Other people's jobs may have changed and need more substantive support. Schedule more check-ins to track progress and provide time for your employees to ask clarifying questions or for help. Err on the side of more touch points during a crisis.
Eric Cormier, manager of HR services with Insperity:
  • Keep employees informed. During a crisis, it is vital to keep team members up-to-date on the latest developments and organizational response plans. Sharing information may help prevent panic among employees and project a calm presence. By sharing updates from government officials and CDC recommendations, managers can help combat misinformation among their teams and ensure everyone is on the same page.

  • Prioritize team engagement. In any situation, managing remote team members can be difficult, but this may be especially true during a crisis when attentions are spread thin and breaking news feels constant. To ensure deadlines are met and work is completed, managers should set expectations with teams from the outset and maintain regular communication through check-in calls, chats, and emails whenever possible.
Annette Rubin, founder of Coaching to Potential:
  • Be kind and supportive. The absence of personal interaction brings stress, making this crisis especially difficult. Creating and sustaining community from a distance takes extra effort, but is especially important. Compassion is essential, as is personal and emotional support.

  • Create clear and achievable expectations for work. Take into consideration the challenges of childcare, illness, and emotional trauma.

  • Avoid layoffs, but if needed, be humane.For people whose job may be less critical given the change to remote work, create other tasks as much as possible to avoid lay-offs – research, planning, projects you’ve always wanted to do. If lay-offs are necessary, conduct them in the most humane way possible, with severance if your budget allows and providing information about unemployment, as well as offering emotional support.
Christine Pearson, human resources director at Insource Services:
  • Create an emergency preparedness policy for all staff.If they have not yet done so, nonprofits should create an emergency preparedness policy, which spells out specific responsibilities for ensuring operational continuity, who will issue public statements, information technology back-up procedures, how to get into the organization's physical sites, and how staff without computer or Internet access will communicate. Organizations that don't have a formal human relations director should designate one person to handle staff queries on benefits.

  • Make sure all staff have key information. That includes phone numbers for all staff, a "phone tree" to enable quick communication, and information on newly implemented operating practices. All staff should be given appropriate identification indicating that they are essential if they need to travel in the event of being ordered to stay at home.

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