How to Get Staff to Comply with New COVID-19 Office Policies

Associations that are reopening are implementing new rules to prevent the spread of disease. But what if an employee refuses to follow them? An HR expert shares some ideas on getting staff to comply with new safety protocols.

Anyone who has worked in an office knows there’s always that one person who just won’t follow the rules. And while pre-pandemic the fallout from someone flouting office policies was typically not severe, in today’s environment, the consequences could be deadly.

As employees return to the work, they want rules designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 enforced. A recent survey [PDF] from O.C. Tanner found that 74 percent of employees want those who don’t follow the rules to “face consequences” from an employer. In addition, 87 percent believed it was the employer’s responsibility to enforce safety practices related to COVID-19.

If staff are expecting compliance and want their employer to take charge, what’s the best way to make sure that happens? Kim McNeil, an HR knowledge advisor at the Society for Human Resource Management, shared some best steps for organizations heading back to the office.

First, before talking to staff about returning, go over your existing safety policies, update them for COVID-19, and review policies regarding compliance. “In my experience, many employers already have policies in place,” McNeil said. “It’s a good time to go back and see if there are changes that need to be made.”

Once you have clear policies, the key to getting them followed with the least resistance is clear communication. “An employer can put policies in place, but if it’s not communicated to employees, it does little good,” McNeil said. “Hold virtual meetings to discuss the changes, set up an internet portal on the new practices, and have employees acknowledge them.”

McNeil said you can’t overcommunicate at a time like this. In the best of times, it can be hard for employees to adapt to changes and to remember new procedures, so it’s important to try to address any concerns they have early on.

“Hold meetings so they can ask questions and so the employer can explain  the rationale,” McNeil said. “Have gentle reminders around the office and the workspace. Have signage about the precautions.”

And while the employees surveyed by O.C. Tanner felt the employer held responsibility for enforcing policy, McNeil said it’s good to encourage a communal responsibility among employees. “Another aspect is having staff be accountable to each other,” she said. “They can remind each other as staff members—giving a friendly nudge: ‘Only two of us are supposed to be in a common area.’ They need to be responsible adults in the workplace.”

While communicating well upfront will help reduce problems, there’s a chance you’ll have an employee who’s unwilling to comply. In that case, employers must act. McNeil said the first thing to do is find out why.

“If an employee is unable to wear a mask for a long period of time because of some breathing condition, that may be an ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] issue where you have to discuss with them some accommodations,” McNeil said. “When ADA is not a factor, an employer would want to be uniform and consistent in disciplinary action.”

McNeil added that although new rules do take time to get used to, when policies and consequences for not complying with them are clearly explained, implementation tends to go much more smoothly.

“Getting those communications out goes a long way in staff understanding and being more accepting of the regulations, and dealing with people who choose to violate,” she said.

What has your association done to help staff understand and comply with new safety protocols as you return to the office? Share in the comments.


(Drazen Zigic/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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