Don’t Spook Your Colleagues: Employee Behavior During COVID-19

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Halloween masks may be scary, but you made sure that PPE masks for your employees are not. In fact, you’ve done it all to stop the spread of COVID-19 in your workplace: the mask wearing, the social distancing, the limited in-office capacity, the extra cleaning and vent filters. Maybe you even went to great lengths and had to re-strategize to ensure that these things were happening.

So why are some employees still spooked?

Extra precautions in the workplace keep things clean inside, but goblins still lurk outside.

Some organizations found that alternating in-person with remote workdays was a better way to tackle the capacity restrictions for their buildings during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Many organizations have enhanced cleaning procedures and spaced out shift changes.

And many have purchased masks and gloves for employees so they are always readily available.

For the most part, you know that your employees follow the safety guidelines with little to no intervention needed, making it easier for you to keep the office safe for your staff.

However, despite the compliance of your staff at work, you cannot control what they choose to do outside of the workplace.

The Issue

The individuals that make up your team have personal lives. And while we are amid a global pandemic, there are choices that leaders and managers are hoping employees are making outside of the workplace to protect their fellow coworkers.

For instance, if an employee is going out to large group parties every weekend sans-mask, without practicing social distancing, and they are posting this on their favorite social media channel for their fellow employees to see, they have created a possible fear and risk concern for their colleagues.

As an employer, it is up to you to decide whether these choices are causes for discussion, consequence or termination. Remember in Texas, we live in an at-will employment state.

Defining At-Will Employment

A common definition of at-will “means that an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any reason, except an illegal one, or for no reason without incurring legal liability.” The inverse is true as well, as employees are allowed to leave a job at any time for any or no reason without legal repercussions. This means that you, as an employer, have a right to address certain behaviors – within and outside of the office – that do not align with your company’s values as long as it is not a violation of EEOC and other civil rights laws.


Don’t assume, find out what the real nightmares are for your employees.

When evaluating which approach you deem is most appropriate, it is important to consider your employees’ opinions and comfort levels.

According to a recent report, 91 percent of the participants surveyed were at least moderately concerned that the virus will affect themselves or their families.

Confirming with your employees the agreed upon standards of behavior can help you to prevent stressed personnel by implementing any reasonable suggestions and taking extra steps to ensure that their concerns are being properly addressed. Keeping stress levels at bay is especially critical during the pandemic, as emotions are already running high. In fact, of nearly 7,000 U.S. employees, 73 percent have reported mental stress symptoms that have developed since COVID-19 first made its way to the states. High stress can impact job performance, foster toxic work environments, and have other detrimental effects for both employees and the employer. An employee is viewed as putting  his/her/their colleagues at risk because of off-the-clock choices can breed stress, so it is important to know how your team feels.

Put it all together (like a perfectly wrapped mummy).

While 2020 has had plenty of scary happenings, the global pandemic that we are facing today is likely at the forefront of your mind, and for good reasons. The novel and potentially deadly virus can wreak havoc on your own body, limit your interaction with others, and more. While it is an individual employee’s decision to follow CDC guidelines or not when off the clock, it is an employer’s right to decide whether those choices align with company values. Additionally, allowing your employees to send in feedback and express their concerns about current measures being taken gives them a sense of belonging, reducing their stress levels.

Remember, you have the power to tame the monsters.

Your organization has the power to create a productive, collaborative, and safe workspace for its employees by properly addressing employee Coronavirus concerns about out-of-office behavior, utilizing at-will employment when employee actions don’t align with company values, and asking employees to provide honest feedback. The only thing scarier than firing a careless employee is finding out that your efforts were done in vain because you didn’t endorse appropriate behavior and safety measures inside your workplace.

Still a little spooked when it comes to properly handling out-of-office behavior during a pandemic? Our HR on retainer services provide you with the expertise required to face the ever-evolving challenges presented by COVID-19. Contact us today to learn more.

We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business, with offices in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. Contact me at Caroline@valentinehr.com or call (512) 420-8267.