2020 election aftermath: Looking ahead at areas of focus for HR

Woman voting in 2020 US election

Have you heard there was a presidential election in the United States, and that it was a bit contentious and remains so even today? Who am I kidding — of course you have and you're probably looking at me funny for even asking.

I open this way because think we can all use a bit of levity and humor in our lives right now, even if I'm already digressing from the true purpose of this blog, where I'll explore just a few of its potential implications on the workplace and HR teams post-election.

As if we haven’t all dealt with enough change over the past several months, we are yet again about to embark on a collective journey as a society — a journey toward a new political and common reality based on the results of the 2020 presidential election.

It's not just about who ended up as president, though.

Think about it — there were many local and statewide issues that voters considered on their ballots too, each having their own consequences for workers and employers alike. We've long been told that elections have consequences and have wide ranging impact, but what does that really mean in a practical sense as we look at our daily lives on the ground in HR departments across the country?

As much as the “HR nerd” in me would like to write about the implications of every decision coming out of this election, there isn’t enough room on this blog (nor in your attention span!) to do so. For that reason, I'll boil things down instead to two key areas of change that impact you, your people, and your organization from a human resources perspective. Let's jump in.

1. A focus on civility in the workplace

In a nation of over 300 million citizens and with over 140 million votes cast this election cycle, several states came down to just a few thousand votes between presidential candidates. The divisive nature of the election has led to some harsh rhetoric among strong supporters on both sides, and concern and tension have run rampant within our country — complicated by the reality that we're also in the midst of a global pandemic, which just adds to the stress.

Knowing this, HR can — and should — step in to make a difference within workplaces, ensuring that rhetoric between employees remains civil and respectful and all your people feel safe, supported, and treated with equal respect in the environment you've helped create. 

I know this can be a tense subject that can provoke difficult conversations all the way up to the leadership level at your organization, but don't let that stop you. The cost of doing nothing here is just too high.

With a new administration set to take office, there will be a renewed call for and focus on unity and civility within our collective discourse. Employers can promote this behavior by sending messages to employees reminding them to be kind and treat others with respect while at work. Company leaders can also model this behavior as well, being encouraging and supportive toward all people regardless of their political beliefs.

Complicated by the fact that the lines between home and work are blurred due to remote work, oftentimes harsh rhetoric seeps into the workplace, even when conversations do not set out to be contentious. Communicating messages promoting civil discourse — or if necessary even laying out specific rules around political conversations in the workplace — can serve to provide a welcoming environment for all employees.

2. Regulatory and compliance considerations

On their transition website, the incoming administration has laid out plans as to what the top four focus areas will be when they take office. These are: COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity, and climate change. Within these stated initiatives — and by considering other items of focus Joe Biden has supported in the past during his time in public office, we can find some clues as to how your workplaces and people might be affected under the new administration. 

It's clear that the path forward hinges on getting the pandemic under control in America first. Once that's accomplished, though, many other things can be prioritized. Here's a breakdown of some possible regulatory impacts HR should prepare and watch for:

Continued COVID-19 regulations and relief

While it's difficult to predict exactly what nationwide directives the new administration will place on employers regarding the coronavirus pandemic, it's almost certain that there will be some impacts. President-Elect Biden has already called for a nationwide mask wearing policy and has stated that he will follow CDC guidance as to social distancing rules and regulations. Expect an increased emphasis on scientific evidence and guidance when it comes to COVID-19. This will certainly affect the workplace and employee interactions between each other, customers, and other stakeholders.

Furthermore, according to their transition website, the incoming administration has committed to ensuring that all Americans have access to “regular, reliable, and free testing.” There will also be a personal protective equipment (PPE) supply ramp-up to ensure that there is no longer the threat of a shortage, as we experienced at the beginning of the pandemic. 

Considering there is also likely to be an increased focus on impacts of the virus from a human perspective, we may see a strengthening of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) when it comes to paid leave. Things like who is covered under the Act, the duration of leave allowed, and qualifying reasons for leave may all be expanded by the new administration. The incoming Biden-Harris administration has also committed to work towards extending COVID-19 unemployment insurance benefits for those out of work.

From an employee perspective, realities such as having a larger supply of PPE at work and assurance of income if another shutdown happens could help foster a sense of safety and security, thus improving the employee experience. Employers may also benefit from decreased absences and increased engagement, and a lessened financial burden to acquire PPE for their people. On HR's side of things, this means technology will continue to be critical in helping you create and automate sustainable safety processes reflective of any new rules that appear.

 Benefits impacts

Considering that President-Elect Biden served alongside former President Obama during the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and was a major proponent of the bill, it is likely that we will see a renewed call for strengthening the Act and its protections for those with pre-existing conditions — especially for those who suffer long-term effects from having contracted COVID-19.

Biden has pledged to “build on the Affordable Care Act by giving Americans more choice, reducing health care costs, and making our health care system less complex to navigate.” Given these clues, expect workplace healthcare benefits protections for employees to also expand moving forward, which may mean changes in employee expectations around your organization's total rewards strategy.

Employment law

It’s no secret that there are staunch differences between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to many things, but especially employment law and protections for workers and employers, and moving from a Republican to a Democratic administration will highlight those differences. It is likely that the incoming Biden-Harris administration will seek to undo many of the corporate-friendly regulations and protections that the Trump-Pence administration afforded companies.

Under the new administration, employers can also expect other protections for workers to be enhanced, expanded, and new regulations implemented. It is likely a top priority will be increasing the federal minimum wage to $15.00 an hour and abolishing the tipped minimum wage. These were a particular areas of focus during Biden’s time as Vice President.

The Biden-Harris administration will also likely focus on expanding workplace protections and work stoppage rights for union workers, ensuring gender pay equity, and increasing diversity training initiative directives in workplaces nationwide. Furthermore, expect calls for expanded protections for LBGTQ+ individuals in the workplace and beyond.

Marijuana legalization

Besides having a new president take office, other considerations on ballots across the country will affect the workplace of the future.

One issue that was widely voted on—and adopted—in several states was surrounding the legality of marijuana usage and possession. HR leaders in all states should always ensure that their policies are aligned with current local, state, and federal laws when it comes to marijuana use and their workers, but those in New Jersey, Arizona, Montana, Mississippi, and South Dakota may want to pay extra close attention.

While Mississippians voted to legalize medical marijuana, voters in the other aforementioned states voted to legalize recreational cannabis —a move that surely has implications for workplaces, and in particular on work policies. Employees should be reminded of company policies in specific terms, leaving no ambiguity as to what is and is not acceptable in your workplace. One way to send out messages is via email, but you may also consider using your HCM system’s communications capabilities to ensure that important messages are repeatedly delivered as necessary.

From a compliance standpoint, this will protect your business should corrective action need to take place.

An additional quick note as to what we might expect in the future when this issue hits ballots in other states: every marijuana legalization initiative placed on the voting docket this election cycle passed.

Conclusion: How HR can ride the wave of post-election change

Of course, a divided congress and Republican-controlled senate could upend many (or all) of the incoming administration’s efforts to change, expand, or repeal laws and regulations that effect workers and employers, but as HR and business professionals, it is wise to be prepared by exploring publicly available information that offers hints of what is to come after the swearing in of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on January 20, 2021.

So, are you ready for what might lie ahead?

I’ll reiterate that the cost of doing nothing can have dire consequences for HR and for businesses, so it’s best to begin considering implications for your workplace now. Take the prepared approach and be proactive rather than having to scramble to pivot from being reactive. And make sure you've got the right technology in place to guide you toward the right proactive steps for your organization.

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