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Lessons from September 11

The terrorist attacks served to remind employers of the importance of taking care of certain basic HR issues.

March 4, 2002
Related Topics: Change Management

The terrorist attacks of September 11 have had little lasting impact on theworkplaces of companies that were not directly affected. This doesn’t mean,however, that there aren’t HR lessons to be learned from the event. In fact,what the terrorist attacks did do was remind employers of the importance oftaking care of certain basic HR issues, as well as being prepared for workplaceemergencies. Some of the issues that have risen to the surface are:

  1. Employee safety and security. "If employers don’t pay attention tosafety and security issues, there is the possibility for lawsuits regardingnegligent hiring, supervision, and good old-fashioned negligence," saysattorney Roger Brice, partner and head of the labor and employment group atSonnenschein, Nath and Rosenthal in Chicago. "There is a general duty clausein OSHA that says that employers have to provide workplaces that are free ofrecognized hazards that could cause harm to employees. In light of 9/11, ifemployers don’t take some heightened security precautions and bad thingshappen, they can be subject to liability."

    Interestingly enough, when it comes to security, Brice believes that today’semployees tend to be much more accepting of things they would have consideredintrusions two years ago. This includes e-mail and voice-mail monitoring and theuse of security badges and metal detectors.

  2. Succession planning. The fact that so many people were killed on September11 while at work underscores the importance of succession planning and the needfor organizations to have already identified leaders who can step into key roleson short notice.

    "Companies cannot afford to have small numbers of people with skill setsthat are not shared by others," says Paul Ofman, a consultant with RHRInternational in New York.

  3. Policies regarding business travel. Employers have to determine what theywill do with employees who are afraid to fly even though their jobs may requiretravel. If the fear is clinically based, it may be a covered disability underthe ADA, and employers would have to make reasonable accommodations.

  4. Military leave. HR must inform supervisors that employees have a right tomilitary leave. By law, employees who are members of the military reserve mustbe granted leaves of absence on request. If the leaves of absence are for lessthan 91 days, the returning employees must be re-employed in the positions theywould have had if the employment had not been interrupted by military service.If the leaves are longer, the returning employees must be reinstated to thepositions they would have had or similar positions in terms of seniority,status, and pay.

  5. Crisis planning. According to Arthur F. Silbergeld, a partner inthe Los Angeles office of Proskauer Rose LLP, human resources departments shouldreview and update their crisis and evacuation plans, and establish plans to provideemployees with food and shelter for up to 72 hours in the event of a disasterthat prevents them from leaving the premises.

  6. Employee communication. In uncertain times -- whether because of aterrorist attack or a declining economy -- employees need communication frommanagement more than ever. "HR executives need to be mindful that it is theirjob to connect the dots for employees," Ofman says. They have to demonstrateto employees why their jobs are still relevant in order to re-establishenthusiasm and commitment.

  7. Employee-assistance plans. The counseling resources available throughemployee-assistance programs were used heavily in the weeks after September 11.According to a study by ComPsych, a company that manages workplaceemployee-assistance programs, one out of five employees who’d previously usedtheir company’s EAP used it following September 11, and an additional 11percent of employees began to view EAP services with renewed respect.

    One of the problems experienced by some companies with EAPs was thatinformation about use of these services didn’t always make it to the seniorleaders who tend not to be well-informed about how people are feeling andreacting to crisis.

Workforce, March 2002, p. 38 -- Subscribe Now!

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