The Second Wave of COVID and the post-COVID world: What will this mean for workplace complaints?

This past fall looked – and felt – different from other autumn to winter transitions. Now that we’re moving into winter with increased COVID-19 case numbers, the questions have changed from “Will there be a second wave?’ to “How long will this second wave last and how much longer before the vaccine rollouts?”.

Physically distanced and remote work arrangements limit employee interactions. With less interaction, this may facilitate less conflict. At the same time, many work arrangements have changed dramatically and rapidly. Depending on the workplace, employees are less connected and when they do interact, they  do so in different ways, like Zoom or other remote methods. Personal interactions over video applications have already led to conflict – obvious scenarios like insensitive comments about a colleague’s appearance, failing to mute before tossing an insult – but some not so obvious scenarios as well.

Wherever people work and relate together, especially during times of high stress like these – the potential is there for increased respectful workplace and other complaints. Some areas of vulnerability include:

Family Status and Accommodation Complaints

COVID-19 has put an increased burden on employees with caregiving responsibilities. Employees with children or elderly parents may face reduced supports – such as daycare, school, respite, or homecare – that require them to shoulder more responsibilities on the home front. Employers may now be asked to provide more flexibility and accommodation in their work schedules, with accompanying increase in family status accommodation requests. Without question, such requests may cause operational challenges unforeseen as recently as a year ago. Outside the box thinking has always been the most important of an HR professional’s tool. Creativity combined with compassion have become more important than ever.  

COVID-19 Safety Protocols and/or Allocation of Work

Returning to the physical workplace will require new, and close adherence to, COVID-19 safety protocols. Managers will face heightened awareness for the allocation of personal space, use of masks and other PPE, even communal lunchroom use. Remember that lunchroom microwave that now seems so 2019?

Depending on the industry, uncertainty about job security in the post COVID-world might mean increased sensitivity to the allocation of work. Stressful dynamics arising from the allocation of work could lead to allegations of harassment, bullying, or other complaints.

Mental Health Factors

Uncertainty related to economic and health issues, compounded by loneliness and estrangement from family and other supports, have contributed to unprecedented levels of stress, anxiety and workplace instability. Employers are likely to see an increase in workplace complaints that have mental health issues operating in the background (or the foreground).

Many employers have already hit the ground running and are providing better and more supports to their workforces to help heal and repair the trauma associated with living in a pandemic.

Privacy Issues

With current test positivity rates, employers will have to grapple more than ever with how they manage employee personal and personal health information. The stigma associated with test positivity and the illness itself is very real in communities large and small within Canada and in Manitoba. The desire for privacy is fundamental; at the same time, employers have come into criticism for not providing enough information within their environment and to the general public.  One thing is predictable: Both over and under disclosure have the potential for causing tension in the workplace and therefore eliciting workplace complaints.

As always, prevention is the key to preventing or at least limiting workplace complaints. Knowing the vulnerabilities as we all navigate the Second Wave and move into a post-COVID world will go a long way to mitigate risk.