Transitioning Back to Workplace

From Cybersecurity to Workplace Safety: Steps for Protecting Your Employees in the Modern Age

October 22, 2021

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

However, after more than 18 months 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 we work together to prepare for the future of work in a post-pandemic environment.

Cybersecurity

The pandemic thrust small and medium-size businesses (SMBs) 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 last month, found that 87% of small business decision-makers have 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 opportunities brought by increased use of technology also can put companies and individuals at much greater risk of falling prey to devastating data breaches that can rapidly disrupt businesses and destroy lives.

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 and in 2019 there were 454 workplace homicides. Here are some practical steps you can take to help safeguard your workplace and protect your employees.

1) Employ a phased return-to-office strategy


Many employers are eager to return to a pre-pandemic normal, with employees working from the office full-time. From a workplace safety perspective this may not be the best approach given it will be challenging to maintain distancing and cleanliness standards. Also consider that employees are now accustomed to working from their home where there may be less noise, stimuli and distraction.

    For some employees, the thought of returning to the office, where they would be surrounded by coworkers for eight hours a day may be overwhelming all at once. Consider a phased return to office strategy where employees return on designated days and gradually work up to everyone being in the office full-time.

    Solicit feedback from employees about their feelings on returning to the office, engage employees on strategies to make them feel comfortable and discuss accommodations for employees who may need more time or who have disabilities 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 thorough investigation, 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.


      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, employees rarely just snap and commit a violent act out of nowhere. There are generally precipitating factors and warning signs exhibited. An open-door policy--that isn’t just written out in the employee handbook but also practiced and clearly communicated to employees--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 free, confidential access to professional counseling services 24/7. Many companies offer this amazing benefit but not all employees 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—free of charge—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 a 50 percent increase in active shooter incidents in 2020 over 2016. Employers should consider whether holding active shooter training would be beneficial in their workplace as this type of training can help employees be prepared for how to quickly respond to an unpredictable and life-threatening situation. The FBI has many resources for employers on their website and employers should review them, 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.

        This post may contain hyperlinks to websites operated by parties other than TriNet. Such hyperlinks are provided for reference only. TriNet does not control such web sites and is not responsible for their content. Inclusion of such hyperlinks on TriNet.com does not necessarily imply any endorsement of the material on such websites or association with their operators.

        By Christine Cole

        Principal Consultant, HR & Compliance Services

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