What We Learned from 2020: 5 Policies You Need to Include in Your Handbook Next Year

Employee on video call


A lot of companies learned many valuable lessons in 2020 -- unfortunately, many were learned the hard way. With no set policies in place to deal with unprecedented circumstances, a lot of HR decisions and company policies were made on the fly when the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted work and personal lives around the world.

But there was a positive outcome. Many organizations learned what meaningful changes need to be enacted to have a successful workplace under the given circumstances and going forward.

Organizations can take what they learned in 2020 and use it to add the following important policies into their employee handbooks.

  1. Work from home/remote work guidelines

While some organizations already had people working remotely part or full time at the beginning of 2020, it’s unlikely that formal policies were in place. When the coronavirus pandemic hit and organizations from almost all industries were forced to go remote, things changed.

Having a formal remote work policy will take everything your company has learned this year about working from home and package it as a set of best practices you can hold your teams accountable to. Some information to include:

  • What schedule employees are expected to work
  • What methods of communication will be used
  • How to get the equipment you need to work remotely
  • Any changes to expectations or job functions
  1. Medical, sick, and family leave

One of the most common questions employers faced this year was “what do I do if I get COVID or someone in my household gets it and I need to care for them?”

Having updated medical, sick, and family policy will help address those concerns, especially among all the changes made under executive order because of the pandemic. As of right now, the following COVID-related leave changes are still in effect:

  • Introduction of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)
    • Provides two weeks of paid leave time to employees who test positive for COVID-19 or who need to care for children who contract it
    • Gives tax incentives to companies that provide FFCRA leave
  • Updates to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
    • Expands to cover loss of income when an employee needs to miss work to provide childcare due to school or care center closures

There are also a number of leave guidelines at the state level that have been updated this year, so be sure to note the changes that apply to your state.

  1. COVID-specific procedures

If your employees are returning to the office, keeping them safe should be your top priority. Outlining the specific steps your organization is taking to keep everyone safe and prioritize their well-being will make the return to the office smoother.

For a while, organizations were adding to and changing their COVID-19 procedures often to keep up with CDC guidelines. Now that those have been solidified and we know what steps are most effective in stopping the spread, they can (and should) be included in the employee handbook. Try to cover items like:

  • Workplace capacity and limits
  • Changes to the workplace such as sanitizing stations, partitions, modified seating arrangements for social distancing, mask requirements, etc.
  • Guidelines for shared spaces and common surfaces
  • Travel restrictions, if applicable
  • In-person meeting procedures (or lack thereof)
  • Testing requirements, and steps for a positive test in your organization

Putting COVID-specific conditions in your employee handbook will give you better ability to hold everyone accountable for keeping each other safe.

  1. Disaster and pandemic contingency plans

While there’s always been a small possibility of an organization facing an emergency situation, it was experienced on a global scale this year -- and it’s a situation that continues to present itself going into next year. Having contingency plans solidified in your employee handbook can make it easier to deal with difficult situations rather than having to create a response plan in the moment. Some things to include:

  • Office logistics, such as what to do if the office must close
  • Options for assisting those in crisis, such as donating PTO
  • What determines company decisions (governmental restrictions, CDC guidance, etc.)

Make sure to include a clause that explains how these plans are subject to change based on executive order or public health guidance.

  1. Social media use

This past year has been one of the most tumultuous years in terms of politics, social issues, and personal beliefs. Most people use their social media accounts to express their opinions and discuss these topics with others, sometimes in a heated manner.

If you do not have them already, include social media use guidelines in your employee handbook to prevent undesirable behavior online from affecting the workplace. Some topics to touch on:

  • Having employees add a clause such as “My beliefs are my own” to their social media bios to prevent their personal opinions from being associated with your company
  • Setting guidelines for online conduct, including condemning online harassment
  • Use of personal social media on company Internet, devices, and premises

While you cannot hinder your employees’ right to free speech or control what they do outside the workplace, you can set an example of what it means to positively represent your company online.

Since you’re taking the time to add these policies to your handbook already, it’s a good opportunity to take a look at the existing policies as well. Priorities and processes have likely changed on an organizational level, leaving most policies in need of a refresh.

Once your employee handbook is updated, it’s important to communicate the changes to your employees as soon as they take effect. Not only will this keep your employees informed about the latest changes, but it will show them that as an employer, you are making a significant effort to incorporate the changing needs of employees into company culture and procedures.