The 2021 Workplace

by Eric Knott, MBA, PHR, CLRL

Undoubtedly, the U.S. workplace in 2021 will be as complex, if not more so, as what employers are managing today.

Three key areas to watch in the New Year:

The Ever-Changing COVID-19 Best Practices

As treatments come to market (and even a likely vaccine or two), anticipate updated CDC guidance on how long COVID-positive employees should remain away from the workplace and new benchmarks for determining when an employee qualifies as having been exposed. Additionally, expect updated guidance from OSHA (and ADOSH in Arizona) regarding the obligations of employers as it pertains to OSHA’s General Duty clause and keeping workers safe from exposure.

The Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Discussion Will Grow … and Deepen

Businesses are wise to review their execution of DEI initiatives to determine the initiatives’ effectiveness and adjust as needed. Employees, consumers and investors expect businesses to manage DEI proactively and to make management decisions that reflect the best interests of a diverse community. 

Election Implications

Regardless of the outcome, 2021 is going to be a year of significant legislative adjustments to the workplace. From the potential tax changes (which may or may not change the retirement savings calculus for employees) to ongoing nationwide discussions about employees versus independent contractors, and from significant evolutions in the National Labor Relations Board’s direction to the ongoing pursuit of increased sick leave and minimum wage benefits, the national and state election results will mean new workplace regulations (likely starting mid-2021).

2021 will be a dizzying year on the employment front. Staying ahead of the expected changes is key to ensuring businesses don’t waste money and time on agency enforcement actions, publicity missteps and plaintiff’s litigation.

Eric Knott is a professor of business at ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business and is the principal at management consulting firm FinePoint HR.

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