Legal, staffing issues plague Midlands businesses during pandemic
Finding qualified employees and navigating new legal terrain are two of the biggest problems Midlands-area businesses face in the continuing pandemic, according to a pair of local experts at Tuesday’s Northeast Connection and Small Business Breakout meeting. About two dozen people representing area small business owners, government and education attended the virtual meeting sponsored by the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.
“Stretch what you think is normal,” advised Megan Graham, director of professional staffing at talent firm Find Great People. “Be flexible with employees and change your mindset from ‘why it won’t work’ to ‘how to make it work.’”
Employers have to be ready to act fast to recruit and keep staff in today’s candidate-driven job market. “People looking for jobs typically have an offer within a week,” Graham said, “and a third of new employees know the first week on the job if they’ll stay even six months. So make sure that first week is great.”
The best place to find new employees who’ll stay with you is your current workers, she added. “Offer incentives for employees to refer people. Statistics from the Society for Human Resource Management show 45% of people hired as referrals from your current team will stay at least two years, while only 25% of people found from other sources stay that long.”
Employers also are struggling with unprecedented legal concerns, according to panelist Michael Henthorne with labor and employment law firm Ogletree Deakins. “The pandemic has led to more litigation than any other single event in U.S. history,” he told meeting attendees.
One of employers’ biggest questions is whether they can require employees to be vaccinated. “Generally, yes,” Henthorne said. “But a lot of employers are defaulting to requiring weekly negative COVID-19 tests instead.”
President Biden’s Emergency Temporary Standard vaccine plan will require employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is either fully vaccinated or tested weekly. The ETS is likely to be issued this month, Henthorne said, but it’ll be challenged in court by several states, including South Carolina, delaying its implementation.
Employers — even small businesses — with government contracts have less wiggle room, though. Their employees must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8, Henthorne said. “Fully vaccinated means being two weeks past the second or only shot, so employees need to have that shot by Thanksgiving.”
Henthorne and Graham both encouraged employers confused or concerned with issues they’ve never faced before to get help. “Don’t try to fight the battle alone,” Henthorne said.
The Northeast Connection and Small Business Breakout group meets the third Tuesday of every month to network, share ideas and offer encouragement for greater success. Participation is free and open to anyone. Learn more about free online sessions for small businesspeople and other services on the chamber’s website.