How COVID-19 has ‘fundamentally changed employment’

With the release of its 2020 Workplace Policy Institute Labor Day Report, Littler, one of the nation’s largest employment law firms, doesn’t mince words: “The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed employment,” according to the report, released today.

Divided into five distinct sections—current job scenario, changes to work, projected litigation, government management challenges and economic outlook—the comprehensive annual report offers employers a breakdown of the key issues they face as 2021 approaches.

“Employers need no reminder that 2020 is unlike any year they have ever experienced,” says San Francisco-based Michael Lotito, a Littler shareholder, co-chair of the firm’s Workplace Policy Institute and one of the report’s nine contributors.

The report details the pandemic’s impact on employees, citing factors such as historic unemployment rates combined with the challenge of “juggling family care obligations, new safety protocols and work environments—whether remote or on site—[for those who were able to keep their jobs].” At the same time, the report notes, many employers, fighting to remain afloat, are confronting “varying shutdown orders, significant decreased demand for goods and services, new leave and accommodation requirements, stringent reopening guidelines and potential liability” stemming from coronavirus-related claims.

“Many businesses have shut their doors for good,” Lotito says. “The challenges employees and employers face this Labor Day are enormous and unprecedented.”

The report’s fifth and final section offers some factors that may provide clues about where the economy is headed. Lotito says that, while it is impossible to predict with any certainty what employers can expect in the months ahead, there are some benchmarks that may be helpful.

For instance, the report details ways in which indices and surveys—including the Consumer Confidence Index, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly Employment Situation Report, BLS Current Population Survey and U.S. Census Small Business Pulse Survey—can prove useful in gauging economic resurgence.

Other factors, such as whether claims under the CARES Act Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program rise. The number of unemployment insurance claims in the hardest-hit industries may also indicate how fast the economy is recovering, the report concludes.

Then, the results of the November elections—and therefore which federal and state lawmakers and regulators will be managing the coronavirus crisis—will certainly play a role in the country’s economic health, according to the report.

Related: How should HR handle political talk in the new workplace? 

Finally, Littler’s report also explains that, while not a panacea, a safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine will go a long way to revitalizing jobs that “require close personal contact, as well as boosting consumer confidence,” noting that encouraging everyone who can be vaccinated to do so will factor into any new vaccine’s ultimate success.

“Making predictions under normal conditions is more art than science,” Lotito says. “Making predictions during a pandemic—two months before a national election—is largely a fool’s errand. Yet, there are certain factors and variables we highlight that could influence how the economy might recover and what the new year will bring to employers and their workforces.”

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