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Civil Unrest Preparedness for Employers

Earlier this year, communities experienced civil unrest in response to social justice issues, and some employers in those communities found it necessary to address subsequent workplace disruption. U.S. employers now face a unique workplace challenge of an upcoming presidential election, and the potential for civil unrest and employment disputes over politics may be greater due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the heightened focus on social justice issues.

Transparency, clear communication, and genuine concern are the kind of trust-building practices that are seeing employers through the pandemic. With elections less than two weeks away, employers would do well to continue building trust with employees and consider additional practices to see them safely through possible civil unrest post-election. Consider preparedness in three areas: employee well-being, safety, and business continuity.

Employee Well-Being

  • Start with direct communication to employees; have the CEO address all staff (virtual if necessary) about preparation, response, and available resources in case of civil unrest impacting the workplace. Be direct and do not leave things up to employee interpretation, advising employees what action they must take and what they can expect from leadership.
  • Prepare Human Resources to address requested time off for mental health or medical issues caused by civil unrest. Employees may also be eligible for protected leave under state or local paid sick leave laws, FMLA, or ADA, but an employer may also want to extend time off options.
  • If EAP benefits are available, make sure to promote it to employees and ensure they know exactly what is available and how to access it.
  • Review EEO, DEI, harassment and retaliation policies with all employees, reminding them these and all employer conduct policies apply to remote work as well as on-site work.
  • Remind employees to keep conversations respectful in light of laws around free speech, concerted activities, and the right to engage in off-duty political activities. NOTE: Most private employees do not have constitutional rights to free speech for comments made in the workplace, but public employees may have additional protections under federal and state law. For more information, read our blog article, Political Speech and Activity in the Workplace. And eligible Archbright members can access our KeyNote on Politics in the Workplace for more information regarding these protections.
  • Train managers to be hyper-aware of employee concerns and proactively address concerns the same way are trained to respond to employee complaints concerning harassment or workplace safety complaints.

Safety

  • Verify that your workplace adheres to OSHA and/or state safety guidelines. For example, employers should ensure they have an emergency action plan and dedicate key personnel to lead the plan.
  • OSHA specifically suggests that an emergency action plan should include an evacuation policy and procedure.
  • Work with the landlord, if applicable, testing burglar and fire protection systems, and review notification procedures with alarm companies, brief security personnel on the situation and plan their response.
  • Whether employees are working from home or the office, urge them to avoid city centers and districts where protests or riots may occur and promote virtual meetings where possible to avoid travel to these areas.
  • Ask employees to confirm or update their contact information and ensure appropriate management has access to it.
  • Assess windows, doors, and other entry points, and provide additional security, such as boarding up windows, if needed. Remove combustible materials from the exterior of the building and secure vacant business premises
  • There may be impacts on transportation that limit your workforce’s ability to get safely to and from work. Is parking safe and available? Is the area safe to walk from train or bus stops to the job location? Consider adjusting shift times so that employees are not trying to come and go during protests and offer work from home in scenarios where that is an option.
  • Sometimes the safest option for your employees may be to close the business early to avoid it being open during protests or times of civil disobedience. For the benefit of all, it is essential to make closing decisions as soon as possible so that employees can both avoid coming into work and get out of a potentially dangerous situation quickly.

Business Continuity

  • Employers should prepare for IT continuity. Ensure all backup procedures for offsite storage and recovery are in place and practiced in the event workplaces are inhabitable for any length of time.
  • Identify critical equipment and the cost of disruption if it were stolen or broken. Imagine worst-case scenarios and work backward.
  • Identify critical supplies and plan for an interruption in delivery.
  • Create a customer communication team to address service delays, modifications, and customer morale.
  • Consult insurance broker on critical action items needed to protect coverage on the policy.

Every organization is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. However, with careful preparation and thoughtful communication, employers can diffuse tensions before they become a problem, provide much-needed support for employees, and protect business continuity during these challenging times. Eligible Archbright members are encouraged to contact the HR or Safety Hotline or legal team with specific questions or seek clarification.

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Kellis Borek

Kellis Borek is the Vice President of Labor & Employment Services and General Counsel for Archbright. She oversees the legal work of Archbright’s team of attorneys who provide advice and counsel regarding all aspects of employment and labor law to employers in Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. Kellis serves on the Leadership Team at Archbright supporting corporate strategy and compliance. Kellis is an expert in labor and collective bargaining and has a history of providing labor and employment advice to Archbright members. When the opportunity arises, Kellis still provides legal support to Archbright members. Kellis is a thought leader for Archbright; she speaks at events and leads a team that creates all educational and compliance content for Archbright. Kellis has practiced employment and labor law for over 25 years. She is licensed to practice in Washington and Idaho. Kellis earned her B.A. from Washington State University and her J.D. from Seattle University. When not working, she spends time with family, friends, cooking, and traveling.