There is no doubt that employee training has been an increasing priority in recent years. This trend is as simple as “giving the people what they want; in a 2018 LinkedIn survey, 94% of employees indicated that they would stay at a company longer if it invested in helping them learn. Given that this survey was taken before the COVID-19 pandemic and that it focused on job-related training, a question arises: What, if any, changes in training should employers undertake now?

In examining the role that training can play in addressing the COVID-19 crisis for employers, we should focus on three types of training: benefits availability, hygiene best practices and employer liability reduction.

Benefits Availability Training

Not far into the course of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., the Families First Coronavirus Reduction Act gave workers at small businesses (fewer than 500 employees) two new types of paid leave (subject to certain restrictions): up to 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave and up to 12 weeks of paid extended family/medical leave. Both benefits remain available to these workers until Dec. 31, 2020.

Although these two new types of leave were mandated benefits, over the course of the following four weeks, the U.S. enacted other programs — most optional — as elements of pandemic financial relief. They include the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which made mandatory changes to high-deductible health plans and flexible spending account (FSA)-eligible purchases, as well as optional changes to certain retirement plan premature distribution and loan programs, tuition reimbursement plans and student loans. Finally, IRS Notice 2020-29 announced that flexible benefit plans could open a special pandemic enrollment period for all employees, skirting the normal “life event” rules and allowing enrollment changes to health plan, health FSA and dependent day care FSA options and contribution amounts.

Given this plethora of benefits changes, many leaders, empathizing with employees undergoing difficult financial times caused by the pandemic, are left wondering about the best way to communicate those available changes. Certainly, circulation of an electronic brochure summarizing benefits plan change descriptions has been proven to be of limited effectiveness and limited value.

Hygiene Best Practices Training

This pandemic has taught us new and more effective ways to stay healthy — and an increased need to do so. While many employees are doing their best to stay up to date and seek the latest information on how to improve their well-being during this time, there are some employees who aren’t as inclined to learn on their own. With so much information (both factual and clickbait) in various corners of the internet — particularly on social media — organizations need to ensure they are guiding their employees to the most accurate and scientifically proven information as part of their wellness programs.

Liability Reduction

Lastly, employers must provide training to reduce their liability, whether in regard to employees’ acquiring COVID at work or their passing it on to a customer. In some cases, this type of training is left to each employer to assemble and roll out, but an increasing number of states are regulating such training. For example, effective July 27, Va. achieved first-in-the-nation status by imposing temporary business reopening regulations on all employers with work locations in the state. These regulations include multiple training requirements, which become effective later this fall. Fines for violation of these new regulations range from $13,000 to $130,000 and increase for repeat offenses.

Better Training Yields Better Results

Given the increased urgency and gravity of purpose of employee training due to the pandemic, informal and untracked training is no longer sufficient. A formal learning management system (LMS), with cross-architectural compatibility among instructional design, content delivery and tracking modules, is now a must-have for more and more organizations of any size. The good news is that modern LMSs are fully developed and ready to help, and a key to success is their SCORM (shareable content object reference model) compliance.

SCORM, as well as its most notable alternative, AICC (aviation industry computer-based training committee), is a standard that starts by bringing “plug-and-play” compatibility to the various components of an LMS, including content from multiple sources and providers. But SCORM also turns up the power of an LMS by incorporating standard features like:

    • Enforced course pacing to prevent skimming.
    • Prerequisite enforcement and curriculum modeling.
    • Bookmarks and save and return features.
    • Embedded quizzes or a “final exam” designed to assess learners’ comprehension of the material, with unlimited retention of the test results, including individual questions and answers.

Once a SCORM compliance standard is in place, when a new challenge like the COVID pandemic appears, employers have a choice of content on a variety of topics, avoiding the time-consuming task of developing new content.

The pandemic has sharpened the need for a well-defined, strategic employee training plan that includes topics ranging from new benefits to techniques that will help employees maintain good health and avoid the spread of disease. It is also a must-have for employers to comply with various training requirements and recommendations. Finally, the retention of individual employee training records associated with key components of this content should form an integral part of any employer’s COVID liability mitigation plans.