How HR Can Navigate COVID-19

Legal experts shared advice for HR professionals at the NACS 2020 HR Forum.

March 13, 2020

By Sara Counihan

DALLAS—The NACS 2020 HR Forum took place this week with a timely discussion on the current legal and legislative landscape for employers, with COVID-19 front and center of the discussion. Attendees were briefed by Arthur Lambert, a partner at Fisher Phillips LLP, on the most recent information, and he addressed how employers should navigate the implications of the virus on the workplace. (For resources and information for retailers, including a Fisher & Phillips webinar, please visit

“The most important thing you can do is educate your employees about how the virus can be contracted,” said Lambert. He added that HR personnel should manage employee’s emotions regarding the threat of the virus. He encouraged attendees to train supervisors on overreaction impacts and emphasized the importance of adhering to antidiscrimination policies.

Employees can become worried when someone sneezes or coughs, and as an HR professional, you cannot legally tell employees if another employee has the virus or not, Lambert said. “It can become a morale issue because of singling out people,” he said. It’s best to calm employees down with logic, he advised.

Lambert addressed employee travel, and although companies can restrict business travel, they cannot prohibit personal travel. Instead, employers can advise employees traveling to areas where COVID-19 is an issue to take proper precautions.

Lambert also advised what to do if an employee tests positive for COVID-19, if an employee suspects they have the virus but isn’t confirmed and if an employee comes into contact with a presumptive COVID-19 case.

Following Lambert’s presentation, John Skousen, also a partner at Fisher Phillips LLP, gave attendees a few other updates in the legal and legislative space. He discussed updates from the National Labor Relations Board. He then gave updates from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which included retaliation and sexual harassment cases and discriminatory cases based on hairstyles, LGBT, gender identity and English-only policies.

Skousen addressed marijuana and CBD use in the workplace, and how marijuana, including medical marijuana, is still federally illegal and classified as a schedule one drug. He emphasized the safety implications a person under the influence can have on the workplace, and how there are legal carve outs in marijuana-legal states to ensure workplace safety is maintained.

Finally, Skousen discussed avoiding common wage and hour pitfalls and how to stay compliant with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The HR event also welcomed speakers on mental health in the workplace, employee engagement, using scheduling as a competitive advantage and several other topics. Look for more coverage of the event in NACS Daily next week.

For more information from NACS about navigating the COVID-19 outbreak, visit the NACS Coronavirus Resources page.

Sara Counihan is managing editor of NACS Magazine and content project manager at NACS.