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Q&A: Should we have a COVID section in our employee handbook?

While COVID will continue to affect our workplaces for some time, we generally recommend not adding COVID policies directly to your handbook. Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to evolve, and federal and state laws related to the pandemic will continue to change as well. And as we’ve seen with OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standard, courts can put employer obligations on hold (or resume their effective date) unexpectedly.

Instead of making changes directly to your employee handbook, we recommend incorporating COVID-related policy updates into a separate handbook addendum, or just a packet of policies and documents that each employee will receive. This is likely to be administratively easier to maintain and should also cut down on how much time employees spend looking for COVID-related policies when they need them. Keeping these policies separate also underscores that they are temporary and will be removed at the appropriate time.

Policies in a COVID addendum or policy kit may include a work from home policy, face-covering policy, workplace safety rules, vaccination policy, workplace sanitation procedures, and internal policy changes related to the pandemic (e.g., travel, paid time off, call-in procedure).

If you want to have a general policy related to illness that details when to stay home, whom to notify of an illness, etc., you could include that directly in the employee handbook. Just make sure that the policies there align with whatever you have included in your COVID addendum, if you have one.

Answer from Marisa, SPHR:
Marisa has experience working in a wide variety of HR areas, including payroll, staffing, and training. Having supported HR functions in various industries, Marisa is able to apply her knowledge to each client’s particular situation. Marisa earned her B.S. in Business Administration and Communications from the University of Oregon. She loves movies, trying new restaurants, traveling, volunteering, and spending time with her three dogs.

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