President Joe Biden marked his first day in office Wednesday by signing 17 executive actions—a few of which will affect the workplace and how HR leaders do their job.
Among Biden’s first executive orders was creating an office of White House COVID-19 response, which will work with federal agencies and report directly to the president. Goals include securing more protective equipment for workers and increasing testing and vaccinations. Biden also signed an executive order launching a “100 Days Masking Challenge,” which calls for a nationwide face mask and social distancing mandate in federal buildings, on federal lands and by federal employees and contractors.
Those orders reinforce employers’ attention on COVID-19 and may mean a continuation in remote work policies and more aggressive workplace safety measures—although most employers are already doing that and the majority are not forcing their workers back into the office any time soon.
“I think it’s wise that [Biden] is repeating the message that this is about health, managing infections and having a healthcare strategy,” Lorrie Lykins, vice president of research for the Institute for Corporate Productivity, told HRE recently.
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Biden’s COVID order, which also focuses on ramping up vaccine rollout, will also likely spur employers to look at their COVID-19 vaccination policies as many experts say employers play a big role in ensuring that getting scores of Americans vaccinated. Industry insiders expect employers to widely encourage workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and develop a robust communication strategy to offer education and health information in order to get employees to buy in. Meanwhile, the majority of organizations say they are contemplating whether to mandate vaccinations for their employees.
Another executive action from Biden on Wednesday has employers paying attention—he’s strengthening workplace discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.