Transitioning Back to Workplace | HR Essentials

From Cybersecurity to Workplace Safety: Tips to Help Protect Your Employees—and Business

October 24, 2022 · 7 min read

Lead HR Compliance Consultant, HR & Compliance Services, TriNet

As employees continue returning to the workplace, many employers have been hyper-focused on workplace safety, particularly around cleanliness, physical distancing, ventilation and mask-wearing.

However, after more than two years spent working from home and a lot of major shifts in the world, many things have changed that can affect workplace safety. Here are some things employers should consider as they transition to working in a post-pandemic environment.

Cybersecurity

The pandemic thrust small and medium-size businesses (SMBs) into the position of having to accelerate their technology adoption at record-setting speed. According to a study by McKinsey, technology adoption by business is years ahead of where it would be if the pandemic hadn’t happened. Likewise, The People Report, which was created by TriNet in conjunction with The New York Times’ T Brand Studio and released at TriNet PeopleForce 2021, found that 87% of small business decision-makers adopted, purchased or upgraded one or more pieces of digital technology since the pandemic began.

While technology is absolutely the way to go in an increasingly remote business landscape, the increased reliance on technology can also put companies and individuals at much greater risk of falling prey to devastating data breaches and other forms of cyber-attacks that can rapidly disrupt businesses and impact lives. For instance, although the increased prevalence of phishing emails has been well publicized, cloud collaboration platforms that are used by many businesses every day, can also pose security risks. Just like with phishing emails, users of these platforms should be very cautious when clicking on links in collaboration chats, especially if there are participants from outside their organization.

October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month and a great opportunity to take the following steps to further protect your business online:

  • Create long & unique passphrases for all your accounts.
  • Enable multi-factor authentication wherever possible.
  • Purchase and utilize password management software.
  • Disable “autofill” and “save passwords” in browsers.
  • Keep backup copies of your data.
  • Test restoring your data on a regular basis.
  • Update software as soon as updates are available.
  • Use a virtual private network for employees working offsite.
  • Invest in training your employees to be cyber smart!

Workplace Safety

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines workplace violence as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the worksite.” According to OSHA, two million employees report being victims of workplace violence every year. Here are some practical steps you can take to help safeguard your workplace and protect your employees.

1) Consider a hybrid workplace strategy

Many employers have already begun returning to a pre-pandemic workplace environment, bringing employees back to the office full-time. For some, the thought of returning to the office, where they would be once again surrounded by coworkers for eight hours a day, may be overwhelming or create stress that could negatively impact their emotional well-being or mental health. A hybrid workplace could help lessen the sudden added stress and prevent it from escalating to an unsafe level. Also consider that employees might be accustomed to working from their homes where they have less noise, stimuli and distraction.

Implementing a hybrid workplace strategy could be a more flexible and accommodating alternative, where employees return on designated days and are otherwise allowed to continue working remotely the remainder of the work week. Solicit feedback from employees about their feelings on returning to the office, engage employees on strategies to make them feel comfortable and discuss and provide accommodations for employees who may need alternatives or who have disabilities or medical conditions preventing them from going back to the way things were.

Working with your team to make them feel comfortable can go a long way to creating a more hospitable and comfortable work environment for all.

2) Implement a zero-tolerance policy against workplace violence

There are a few main reasons for having a zero-tolerance policy against workplace violence:

  • It sends a clear message to employees that you will not tolerate any acts of violence in the workplace.
  • It outlines the process for how employees can report workplace violence incidents or concerns for potential violence.
  • It gives employees the assurance that reporting an incident or concern of violence or potential violence will result in a timely and thorough investigation, and potentially meaningful disciplinary action or termination of the at-fault party in accordance with the findings of the investigation.
  • It protects the reporting employee, in writing, from retaliation for making a report, along with anyone who participates in the investigation process.

As part of implementation of the policy, people managers should receive training on the warning signs for workplace violence, how to recognize these signs in employees and what to do when they have concerns.

3) Adopt (and communicate) an open-door policy

An open-door policy allows, and even encourages, any employee to come to any level of management, at any time, with any concern. To be effective, this open-door policy has to make employees feel comfortable speaking to leadership about sensitive topics without fear of retaliation, and they need to know that what they share will be taken seriously.

When it comes to workplace violence, there can often be precipitating factors and warning signs exhibited. An open-door policy--that isn’t just written out in the employee handbook but also regularly practiced--may help facilitate employees feeling comfortable reporting concerns about coworker behavior or conduct that can allow leadership to address concerns before they escalate.

4) Promote your employee assistance program

An employee assistance program (EAP) is a cost-effective employer-provided benefit that provides employees confidential access to professional counseling services 24/7. Many companies offer this benefit but not all their employees may realize it.

If your company has an EAP, regularly promoting it to employees during all-hands meetings, emails, mailers, on your intranet and during open enrollment can serve as a good reminder that they have a place they can turn to when they are overwhelmed with anxiety, stress, personal problems or other pressures. Right now, with so many things in the world that can challenge anyone’s mental wellness, this benefit could be vital to creating an inclusive, healthy and violence-free workplace.

5) Consider active shooter-response training

According to the FBI, there was nearly a 97 percent increase in active shooter incidents in 2021 from 2017. Small and medium-size businesses, particularly those with in-person employees, may consider whether offering active shooter training would be beneficial in their workplace, similar to other types of emergency preparedness. The FBI has many resources for employers on their website that can be reviewed, in accordance with their HR services provider, to determine the best approach for their organization.

Mitigating violence in the workplace is absolutely something employers have control over. It’s critical that employers evaluate what steps they are taking now to create a safe workplace for their employees, learn from other employers’ experiences and continually assess what more they can be doing to prevent violence in their workplace.

This communication is for informational purposes only; it is not legal, tax or accounting advice; and is not an offer to sell, buy or procure insurance.

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By Christine Cole

Lead HR Compliance Consultant, HR & Compliance Services, TriNet