Imagine this scenario: You run a boutique marketing firm. One of your team members has just requested six months’ full-time paid sick leave because her children’s school has moved to remote learning. Your colleagues love her, and you want to maintain morale, but this would be a financial hardship. You’d have to pay her for time not worked and hire a temp. So what should you do? What is the best leadership tactic?
These questions have become commonplace during the pandemic. They make one of the biggest challenges of entrepreneurship—hiring and keeping top talent—even tougher. That’s because with COVID-19, you are truly navigating uncharted waters. The laws that could guide you don’t exactly fit this new normal and have to be carefully applied.
Indeed, with each decision, there is more than the law at stake; your business’ growth and reputation are also on the line. Your team will be looking for ethical, empathetic and inspiring leadership to carry them forward, and evaluating your actions against those guideposts.
These are the people who will get you through the grueling pandemic—and if you keep them close, they will strengthen your business for the longer term. To do this, you will need to prioritize their happiness while also giving weight to your financials and the law—and avoid any appearance of discrimination, too.
In the scenario above, for example, the law provides only a partial answer.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires many smaller businesses to provide up to 80 hours of sick leave to parents when schools are closed, at two-thirds of their rate of pay. If the employees have been with you for at least 30 days, they’re entitled to an extension of that pay for up to 10 more weeks. (For more information, please see dol.gov.)
If you only relied on this yardstick, your answer might be “no” because your employee’s request is over and above what’s required.
But your colleagues are friends too, and they may welcome the chance to absorb this mother’s clients so that you wouldn’t need to hire anyone else. That would make it easier for you to say yes.
Problem solved—differently! It’s this more flexible thinking that will vault you forward. Following are some other ways to incorporate it.
Lay the Foundation
If your physical office or building has reopened:
- Be vigilant about both state and federal regulations to maximize safety during COVID-19: Show everyone that that your first priority is their health, and exceed minimum guidelines if you think they are too lax.
- Particularly in the North, before everyone is forced inside, consider a free OSHA on-site consultation to ensure that you are free of workplace hazards. (For more info, please see osha.gov/consultation.)
Layer on Some Creativity in Your Leadership
Encourage open, two-way communication and collaboration when sticky problems arise:
- Be thoughtful about whether you need to resume in-office work or whether your employees can continue to work from home in order to help balance new personal obligations such as remote learning for kids.
- Are people nervous about going back to hot desking? Think together about the best solutions—such as giving high-risk colleagues dedicated offices.
- Are older colleagues worried about the hazards of onsite work? Brainstorm about workarounds such as a shift to night and weekend hours when the office will be empty.
Trust, Appreciate and Pamper Your Team
- Encourage team members to rise to new challenges. Watch for hidden qualities like resilience and calm in the middle of turbulence. You’re likely to discover untapped potential in the people you’ve known for years.
- If your employees are working from home, avoid the natural tendency to micromanage them. Installing software to track productivity, while legal, could become counterproductive. Certainly, you’ll need to document performance issues, but checking in too often could worsen the situation.
- However, do put device usage policies in place that address privacy, security, and other relevant concerns. If you’re in the medical field, also provide training in HIPAA compliance.
- Make sure your remote staff is keeping all client information confidential – provide them with locked storage if need be.
Now imagine your business a year from now. Your whole team is still with you, and you’ve hired three more people. Your reputation is excellent, and everyone wants to work at your firm. And you’re consulting a lawyer—not because of safety or staff complaints—but because you’re developing new client contracts. In short, despite COVID-19, your flexibility in balancing legal, financial and team considerations has propelled you forward.
I’m wishing all my fellow small business leaders the opportunity to emerge stronger in the months ahead.
Amanda Shuman is a small business and family law attorney at DangerLaw, LLC, Newton, Mass., whose diverse clientele ranges from woman-owned businesses to the LGBTQIA+ community. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-340-3231, extension 4, or see dangerlaw.com and facebook.com/dangerlawllc.