Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, general counsels and members of human resources departments have had to advise business owners on how to mitigate the damage of the pandemic. These professionals have had to do this without public health expertise and without jeopardizing the well-being of employees or their business’ bottom line. That seems a tall order indeed!
From handling real estate assets to addressing a global health crisis, GCs work diligently to provide valuable insight into what businesses must do to survive. As more businesses begin to reopen, general counsels will also need to be cognizant of public health concepts as they continue to offer business, regulatory, and legal guidance. The pandemic has offered numerous lessons on the future of business, and the importance of public health is a critical one for general counsels to consider.
Seeking Outside Expertise
Unless the general counsel is also a doctor, the GC may lack the necessary knowledge and skills to effectively manage a post-pandemic return-to-work on their own. In fact, GCs will likely find that the areas they need to address are diverse, vast, and cover a variety of public health issues. Therefore, they’ll do well to consult experts in various fields to inform their insight and guide business owners in the right direction.
Because the post-pandemic business world features new technology, heightened health concerns, and the complex navigation of specialized contracts (formed during the pandemic and often with unique terms – who knew that those force majeure clauses we always thought were overkill would someday be completely relevant?!), it is important that general counsels seek outside expertise, especially from law firms and public health experts, to ensure the business and its employees can thrive in the wake of the pandemic’s widespread impact.
Checking Regulatory Guidance
GCs may be unaccustomed to checking regulatory guidance from public health sources like the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and local health departments. Becoming familiar with these sources and their communication styles will help savvy GCs and HR professionals manage office reopenings and hybrid workplaces effectively. It may also help avoid a frustrating “see-saw” effect of constantly changing plans at the last minute.
Understanding guidance from a business’s own regulators can be key to advising on an effective business reopening. For instance, if the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) suggests regulated businesses resume in-person work as soon as possible for compliance reasons, a financial services GC might take an aggressive approach to returning to the office.
Prioritizing Public Health in Business
To promote business success, general counsels must consider and implement key public health ideas when it comes to reopening and maintaining a business. A critical lesson learned from the pandemic is the direct relationship between community health and business continuity: a healthy community makes for a healthy business.
Prioritizing public health is therefore productive and profitable, so general counsels who advise business executives in a way that promotes public health will help guide the workforce towards a healthier, stronger future. What these initiatives look like may vary depending on the business and its resources. Taking a vested interest in community health, meaning not only the health of employees at work, but what’s happening with employees in their communities and what they bring to work, will certainly prove to be a business-sustaining and ultimately profitable endeavor.
Using Data to Keep the Workforce and Community Safe
The pandemic demonstrated the immense benefits of technology, and in the post-pandemic business world, continuing the trend of utilizing technology and data for improved productivity, safety, and success will be wise.
GCs should recognize the role of data and technology in promoting better business achievements as well as workforce health and safety. Some businesses, for example, will benefit from the integration of digital monitoring practices that track public health and workforce metrics (such as injuries, healthcare and housing access, and disease exposure), which business owners can document and analyze over time. A GCs role in managing this type of data is extremely important – balancing different data privacy laws with the business’s interest in using this data with employee health and safety. These analyses will grant businesses insight into how they can improve their practices, as well as improving the wellness of their workforces and their communities.
As the business world gradually begins to open up again, it’s important that GCs and business owners collaborate on how to prioritize community health and workforce safety.