Brief: This is a continuation of a conversation we began with Ms. Dzokoto, an HR practitioner. She has been throwing more light on the role of HRs in organizations. She dispelled the possibility of HRs acting biased, either for the Owner-Manager or for the Worker.
In the previous post (15th June), she indicated the need for an established system within an organization where all parties work within the policies which guide the conduct of both the Employer and their Employees.
This pandemic, Ms. Dzokoto says, “is a wakeup call to Employers, Workers and the Labor unions as well as Authorities that supervise labor relationships to work towards properly developed employment conditions, to limit the use of discretion in dealing with employment related issues.”
HOST: Usually HRs entering the hotel industry have no idea about the unique work environment they are venturing into. What posture should they take particularly when it comes to working with employees who seem to be challenging their position (the HR position on issues)?
GUEST: Human Resource Management is a unique and a constant function you will find in every organization. Human Resource practitioners are usually not trained to fit into a specific industry because the core functions of an HR are universal except for the dynamics of application based on specific industries or organizations.
Some HRs have experiences in some industries; perhaps they were once workers in such industries before becoming HRs or they might have practiced in a particular industry for long. It is very ideal for every HR to be abreast with the nature of any industry they are working in and since HRs are not generally trained for specific industries. It behooves on every HR to draw an appropriate orientation program for him/herself to get accustomed with the basic functions and operations of any new industry they are venturing into. They must also always adopt an open mind and a ready-to-learn attitude to understand issues well. Whenever they are in doubt, they must go to the appropriate person in charge for clarifications and explanations.
A Human Resource practitioner must never stop learning about his organization and must also make consultations on thorny issues from one of his/her management keys.
Using myself as an example, I joined the banking sector from the Automobile Industry and even though, I was not totally a novice in accounting and banking issues, I joined a cashiering training program organized for lower level staff, and I also engaged in other duties such as calling over of vouchers just to have a working knowledge of the basic banking operations.
HOST: That’s good to know. Thank you. We must all be willing to learn in any environment we find ourselves.
In very simple terms what responsibilities do the Employer and the Worker owe to each other in the face of this pandemic?
GUEST: Generally, the responsibilities owed by the Employer and the Employee to each other still remain same during this Covid-19 pandemic period. Both the Employer and the Worker/Employee are to maintain the contractual agreement terms running unless there is the need for variations in those terms to adjust to the fall-out of the Covid-19 pandemic. In whichever case, the Employer has to leave communication lines opened for Employees for new negotiations if need be.
This is the time the Employer needs to be opened to the Employee on the realities on the ground and the Employees must also be opened minded and ready to negotiate in favor of the survival of the business.
However, on a more practical note, the duties of the Employer and the Worker are enumerated in sections 9 and 11 of the Labor Act 2003 (Act 651). Impliedly, during this COVID-19 pandemic period, the Employer is expected to ensure the general safety of workers in accordance with the provisions of the Act by taking practical steps to develop specific workplace guidelines out of the general guidelines on the pandemic. The Employer should also ensure that all resources needed for carrying out the guidelines are adequately provided and compliance of such guidelines ensured.
The Worker on the other hand also owes the duty of care and safety to the Employer and colleagues at the workplace. It is therefore required of the Worker during this period to strictly follow the workplace guidelines and the generic directives both at and out of work.
HOST: My next question seems to have been touched on above but I would like to ask it for it to be addressed more directly.
Where employment contracts and/or union agreements are silent about crisis, such as the devastating impact on businesses, as covid-19 has with hotels in particular, what position do you advice employees to take? Ignore the realities on the ground and insist on their rights? (will they not be seen as ‘stabbing’ the source of their daily bread?).
GUEST: The covid-19 pandemic is seen as an unexpected happening which most companies did not anticipate. If the covid-19 pandemic throws operation of some organizations out of gear, then there is the need to revise terms of the contract. This pandemic has left some companies especially those in the hospitality industry redundant. According to section 65 of act 651, redundancy is one reason under which termination is permitted. Section 8 of same acts states closure of business as right of the employer. With the current situation, employees cannot be adamant but to be opened to negotiation and ensure that whatever option their organization goes for should be done in accordance with laid down rules. On the other hand, employment relationships are contracts therefore from the legal perspective, one could take it from the angle of factors that vitiate contracts and will covid-19 qualify as one of such factors (this is a discussion for the lawyers).
HOST: As an HR, should you be in a hotel which had to reduce its staff and afterwards, in July/August, is recalling some of the staff, on what basis would you ask Ohemaa to report to work but not Akosua?
GUEST: Various reasons account for choosing an Employee to terminate during a downsizing exercise. For the Employer to make the best out of the downsizing exercise, issues of employee performance, and other related issues are core to downsizing exercise. The same criteria used to maintain some staff during the mass layoff will be used to recall any other person back to work.
In calling back staff from layoff, most companies have policies regarding layoffs and call backs. If there are no such policies then the HR must immediately lead the development of one (remember an HR must not act in a vacuum) and as the HR I will suggest the following guidelines for such a policy:
- Skill based selection
- Merit based selection
- Seniority based selection
- Employee status-based selection
The skill-based selection lays emphasis on critical skills required for survival of the organization in these difficult times
The merit-based selection is a method used to weed out poor performers out of an organization by reviewing historical performance of employees under consideration
The seniority selection method works to protect long serving staff because all things being equal, long serving staff are seen as assets to the organization than someone who entered barely a month ago
The employee status-based selection seeks to protect permanent employees and lay off non-permanent staff
The answer to who to choose is not that simple, it rather involves some deep analysis but to answer the question, choosing Ohemaa over Akosua implies that, Ohemaa possesses skills that are core to the survival of the hotel whilst Akosua does not, and/or though Ohemaa and Akosua perform the same duties, historical performance data proves that Ohemaa is a better performer, and/or due to the 10 years’ service of Ohemaa as against the 3 months of Akosua, the experience and institutional memory that Ohemaa has placed her ahead of Akosua and/or looking at both employees, it would be less complicated to terminate Akosua who is a contract staff than terminating Ohemaa who is a permanent staff.
I would like to emphatically state that, these decisions are not solely to be taken by the HR. The role of the HR in this situation is to provide the criteria for all stakeholders for them to build consensus on what weight each parameter should carry for execution because The HR function is not discretionary.
HOST: Thank you so much. It’s been good talking with you, Ms. Dzokoto. I intend to continue my ‘exploits’ on this conversation with hotel HRs and hope you will follow us.
Thank you once again for your time.
Where there is a crisis which was not anticipated, as with covid-19, well thought through and laid down processes in Employer-Employee relationships will ease rising anxieties. A good communication between both parties, particularly where there is no HR, should see decisions being made amicably.