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Policies For Reopening and Remote Work Forces

The pandemic has created a lot of challenges for both employers and their workforces. Many (but not all) jurisdictions have begun reopening their offices; even more have embraced an enhanced role for a remote workforce.  To discuss what legal obligations this brings for employers, SIIA’s General Counsel, Chris Mohr, sat down (virtually) on July 1st with Karen Vladeck, a partner at Wittliff | Cutter PLLC and expert on employment law. 

Their conversation addressed three key questions:

  • Does the CARES act as extended leave, and what does that mean for my business? 
  • What are the key employer considerations around reopening safely? 
  • What legal considerations surround transitioning to a remote workforce?

Some key takeaways from their discussion:

  • Follow your local rules and advisories.
  • Have a written return to work plan.
  • Be sure that all your employees are on the same page re: expectations about being inside the
    office.
  • Pay careful attention to wage and hour requirements when people are remote—remember you
    have the burden of proof.
  • ADA accommodations apply to the remote workforce.
  • Understand CARES requirements for sick leave and family leave, and be sure than any leave
    allowances that you have are equally applied.
  • SHOW FLEXIBILITY.

Watch the full recording of their conversation here:

Speaker

Karen Vladeck
Partner, Wittliff | Cutter PLLC

Karen represents corporate, start-up and non-profit clients in the resolution of disputes pending before the EEOC, state employment agencies and state and federal court. She has extensive practice defending employers against claims involving Title VII, the ADEA, the ADA, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the FLSA and the False Claims Act. Karen also counsels clients to seamlessly accomplish the on-boarding and termination of employees, reductions in force (RIFs), the development of employee handbooks and policies, resolution of medical and disability leave issues, conducting internal investigations and compliance with state and federal wage statutes, among other issues. She also represents individual clients seeking advice on employment and severance agreements. Karen has worked with clients across an array of industries, including hospitality, fashion and luxury goods, higher education, real estate, sports, insurance, television, technology startups, trade associations and non-profits.

Back view of male employee speaking on video call with diverse colleagues on online briefing with laptop at home.

Making Virtual and Hybrid Events Pay: How To Price, How To Sell

An SIIA & PCMA Webinar

The COVID-19 pandemic saw the primary basis of interactions move online, and while many businesses were quick to adjust their plans in the short term, looking ahead is proving increasingly more difficult. The hope that live events would return in the fall is increasingly being replaced with the realization that most events in the U.S. will continue to be virtual or hybrids of online and in-person for the remainder of 2020.

As we are confronted with months of uncertainty, many SIIA members are wondering what the future of events will look like, and how companies whose business strategy has relied upon in-person convenings can survive and thrive in a world where people are interacting virtually?

To answer these questions, SIIA teamed up with PCMA, the world’s largest platform for business events strategists, to discuss how to effectively organize, execute and monetize digital events.

On June 23, Meg Fasy, an internationally recognized expert in event strategy and audience engagement and the Principal at sponsorship marketing agency FazeFWD, and PCMA’s Education Manager and event design specialist, Leslie Bailey, joined SIIA CEO Jeff Joseph for a one-hour webinar to share best practices, discuss digital event resources and answer SIIA member questions about taking events digital in light of COVID-19.

Some key lessons from this interactive discussion include:

  • Set expectations for yourself and participants – treat moving online as creating a brand new event, it will not be the exact same experience as a physical event
  • Look critically at your planned agenda through early 2021 – evaluate the content and goals of each event to identify what aspects can be delivered online
  • Transform your team – consider the roles and skillsets of your current team to identify how those fit for a digital event delivery (i.e. social media manager à chat moderator)
  • Digital analytics (banner click rates, page dwell time, etc.) are valuable information to offer sponsors that is not possible in physical event
  • Create unique and engaging opportunities for community building by offering experiential sponsorships that bridge online and offline (such as lunch delivery, gift boxes and game rooms)
  • No standard base for pricing – consider your resource expenditure and ultimate goals (revenue or audience) to adjust accordingly
Business network concept. Group of businessperson. AI (Artificial Intelligence).

For Williford, Positive Feedback and More Traffic Lighten Heavy Workload

June 09, 2020 by Ronn Levine

“Every day is hard. Often, there’s very little or nothing they can do. [In addition to patients,] they see their own colleagues pass away… It’s very stressful. Plus their hours might be getting cut. Many of them have had their budgets frozen because many hospitals and emergency departments are really suffering right now. They’re not getting business from elective surgeries and overall volume in EDs [emergency departments] is actually down.”
 
This was different.
 
“They have to deal with all of this. And then we have to assess that and figure out how to respond.” If that wasn’t enough, a couple days later Williford sent me a story from Buzzfeed News titled An ER Doctor’s Diary of Three Brutal Weeks Fighting COVID-19.
 
“This gets at the heart of what our audience is seeing and dealing with every day,” she wrote.  
 
As an information provider but also a business, how do you respond? For Williford, the humanity came first. She spoke last Tuesday as part of the excellent two-day SIPA 2020 and repeated something she told me: That EB Medicine forgot to initially ask for email addresses on the free COVID-19 resources they posted on their site. Given the 340,000 and counting views for one primary article, it probably cost them a lot of leads.
 
But I think they can be excused for forgetting that.  
 
“We were initially going to keep our [COVID-19] content behind the paywall, but we immediately got pushback on that,” Williford said Tuesday. “When we did put it in front, we got really positive response.” That 340,000-views article might typically get 10,000 views. “So traffic has gone through the roof. Every week we’re adding more content. We’re doing more regular podcasts, more social media. International organizations are asking if they can link to us, and if they can translate the content—Japanese, Spanish, Italian.
 
“We’re still mixing in our regular content. It’s not all COVID all the time, but we are pushing people towards the free content. We’ve seen pretty good results so far, with a couple hundred new email signups. Subscriptions have increased 9% we think due to the increased engagement. It’s definitely been a challenge and an increased workload—the COVID content plus everything else we do—but the customers appreciate having the information.”
 
As for the economic woes—some of their audience have had salaries cut in half—Williford said that she tries to be understanding and flexible. “We’ve kind of gone outside our wheelhouse [and become] a little more touchy feely. We’ve created a wellness resources section on our website. That’s something we’ve never had before. We’ve done blogposts about mindfulness, show them we care. Plus things llike, ‘Here’s where you can get discounted shoes, airbnb’s [it’s not always safe for them to go home] and free yoga classes.'”
 
And not every contact they make with customers is a sales pitch. Sometimes now, Williford said, they will just check in. “‘How are you doing? How can we help?’ We’ll remind them of the free resources we have available. We’ve actually had a lot of positive feedback from that. ‘Thanks for asking. I’m doing well. It’s been a struggle but I appreciate what you guys are providing.'”
 
Williford has also stopped any telemarketing. “They’re just so stressed; we thought adding a phone call is not going to help them. For our larger accounts, we’re doing virtual lunches—just casual conversation, again trying to pay attention to what their needs are.”
 
Still, the business continues. EB Medicine continues to invest in different areas right now, reallocating in-person event money to online sponsorships and exhibits. They’ve also expanded their retargeting and remarketing efforts with Google Ad Words; eliminated a step from their checkout process; added a pop-up if a visitor is on their website for longer than 30 seconds; and started doing live webinars. Williford just never thought their audience wanted that. Plus it’s a very competitive space.
 
But the world has changed.
 
“Our customers are really in the thick of it,” she said. “Fortunately, we have an editorial board for each product, and they really drive those product decisions. They’re able to tell us from the ground what [our customers] need. A hospital might not be able to develop their own protocol, for example.
 
From the humanity end, one line seems to guide Williford right now:  You can’t take care of your patients unless you take care of yourself.
 
“Our main focus is on the practical application—what can you do with us? Here’s what you need to do. Luckily we have a very connected editorial board.”
 

As for her own staff of 14, Williford has reached out to all of them during this time to see how they’re doing. But she believes more is needed. “We don’t have a regular company-wide meeting every week. But we’re getting ready to re-implement that again. I’m feeling disconnected and that we need that.”

If they’re seeing what she’s seeing, it probably makes sense.

That was from a conversation I had with Stephanie Williford, CEO of EB Medicine and a new SIPA executive board member, a few weeks ago. She was describing many of her customers who are ED personnel and ER doctors. I had interviewed people on the frontlines of COVID-19 before, but more in loans and banks and people hurting that way

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How To Create A Reentry Plan

Jeff Joseph, President, SIIA

As governments across the nation begin lifting shelter-in-place orders and related restrictions implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses are preparing to reopen and welcome back employees to the “new normal.”

Reentry plans will need to be tailored to address the conditions of a specific workplace and should follow the guidance of local officials to focus on the safety and well-being of employees and customers. Plans also should provide flexibility to allow for the home-life needs of individual employees and adjustable for changing circumstances.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention (CDC) released guidance to assist employers in making decisions regarding resuming business operations. The guidance includes the following recommendations:

  • Protecting employees at higher risk of infection.
  • Creating action and communications plans for a re-emergence of infection.
  • Restricting use of shared space and items.
  • Communicating with local health and relevant government officials.
  • Intensifying cleaning and disinfection throughout the work space.
  • Establishing a system of regular health checks.

In addition to the CDC guidance, several agencies have issued useful guidelines and checklists to help companies develop their own reentry plan.

Additional resources:

CDC Checklist for Assisting Workplaces in Making Reopening Decisions

CDC Guidance for Disinfecting Workplaces and Public Spaces

OSHA Guidelines for Measures for protecting workers from exposure to, and infection 

Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Guidance for Securing Video Conferencing

Commercial Real Estate Services provider JLL – Webinar on Strategies for re-activating workspaces

OSHA Guidance for employers who must train workers on how to use PPE 

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World Economic Outlook 2020-2021: The Great Lockdown

By Matt Kinsman Originally posted June 10, 2020 on Connectiv

The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt the U.S and world economies a series of often unprecedented shocks—the “Great Lockdown” as economists refer to it, basically closed a wide range of sectors including travel, tourism and entertainment and many more, resulting in unemployment rates in the U.S. of more than 20 percent as of June 2020 and drastic revisions of worldwide economic growth for 2020 and 2021.

In a Connectiv/SIIA webinar on June 3, Chris Walker, Deputy Division Chief of the International Monetary Fund, offered an overview of how government and financial institutions are attempting to combat the crisis as well as economic forecasts for the U.S. and other advanced and emerging economies based on IMF research that can be found here.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the IMF had predicted the U.S. economy would grow at a rate of 2.3 percent in 2020—basically the same rate of growth for the last 10 years. Now, however, the IMF has dramatically revised its forecast, suggesting a drop of 5.9 percent for the U.S. and 7.5 percent for the Euro area this year.

“Anticipated drop per person worldwide is considered to be much sharper than during the 2009 financial crisis, which at the time was consider the gravest financial crisis since the Great Depression,” said Walker. “That highlights the scale of what we are dealing with.”

Governments and financial institutions have also taken actions not seen since 2009 (and in many cases, exceeding those measures) in an effort to preserve economies, including paycheck protection, loans for small business and individual rebates, as well as the Federal Reserve cutting interest rates to nearly zero.

“If you consider the three packages passed by Congress, that’s an increase in spending of about $3 trillion or 3% of the total GDP,” said Walker. “The Fed has provided a huge amount of credit support to the corporate sector and even extended lending to municipalities. Interest on a 10-year bond is now well below 1%, something no one anticipated the U.S. would ever reach.”

A recovery path depends on several factors, most notably a resurgence of COVID-19 in the second half of 2020 and 2021. “Our initial estimate is that we will not have a V-shape recovery for advanced economies–it’s actually shaped more like a check-mark with a sharp drop followed by a more gradual recovery over time,” said Walker. “Most risks are to the downside, with the first downside scenario being the outbreak lasts longer than originally anticipated. That means that at the toughest point, growth will be 2% or 3% worse than what we forecast. For example, the forecast for the U.S. is minus 5.9% for 2020 but that could end up being a loss of 8%.”

On the bright side, neither the U.S. government nor world economic institutions have exhausted their means of support. “We can’t borrow indefinitely even at these rates and not expect to see repercussions,” said Walker. “However, we are far from limit of support that the government can provide. If you can issue debt at less than zero percent and it can be used to support economic activity, that is an opportunity.”