On March 11th, the Government of India announced that aside from a few small categories all existing visas have been suspended until April 15, 2020 in an effort to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. While the cases are relatively low given the size of India’s population, its dense metropolitan centers are on high alert given the rate of transmission of the disease and local governments have issued guidelines for local citizens and employers.

Sannam S4 conducted a webinar which provided the latest updates regarding the virus as well as best practices employers are implementing in light of the crisis.

The webinar answered the following questions:
  • Where can I find the most trusted sources of information regarding developments related to the virus in India?
  • What has been the Government of India’s response?
  • What is the best practice for work from home?
  • How do I define essential and nonessential staff?
  • Is it required to pay nonessential staff who are put on leave?


Speaker Notes

Slide 1: Title Slide 

[Michael Green, Director of Government Relations and Strategic Development, Sannam S4]

  • The COVID-19 global pandemic with a focus on India
  • Developments happening daily
  • Decision makers are taking the situation day-by-day
  • As a global entry firm, our clients – mostly in markets like the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and NZ – come to us to help navigate their foreign expansion and foreign footprint
  • Operating in India since 2008 and have over 230 staff across 5 offices
  • Today’s webinar will focus the latest developments as it relates to employers in India
  • Q&A throughout, please type your questions in and we’ll do our best to answer
  • We have 7 slides so we have allotted 30-45 minutes to get through the presentation but can stay as long as there are questions

Slide 2: Presenters

[Michael to introduce speakers]

  • Michael: Nearly a decade of experience doing business in India with over two years living in Mumbai running Sannam S4’s operations. The challenges our company face, are the same ones our clients do be it adapting to changes in the tax regime, such as the relatively recent rollout of GST to best practices for employers. Currently based in Washington DC

  • Susmita: Heads Sannam S4’s HR Advisory Practice Group out of our New Delhi office. Susmita advises some of the world’s leading universities, nonprofits and businesses on employment best practices and implementing those practice on the ground in India. From administering insurance schemes to advising on salary benchmarking and tracking labor compliance, Susmita and her team act as a local partner to global HR Teams managing India from afar.

Slide 3: COVID-19 Developments in India Questions

M- What is the sentiment in India, particularly after the Prime Minister’s recent address? 

Ref: Official number of cases, explain quarantine and official guidance now for private sector to work from home.

Susmita Sen, Head of HR Advisory, Sannam S4 – Covid-19 is a global humanitarian challenge. Thousands of health professionals and frontline support staff are heroically battling this pandemic, at the cost of risking their own health and lives. India is on high alert as the number of confirmed novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the country has escalated to 197 (as of this morning).

The Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi, in his address to the nation- touched upon five predominant points- Self quarantine (why and how?); No hoarding of essentials; gratitude to our frontline healthcare staff- they are and therefore we are; avoid hospital visits for low grade symptoms and last but not the least- organizations at this time have a larger responsibility to deal with empathy and show to their employees, that they care.

M- What are some of the central and state led measures being taken?

“CAR” (Company Affirmation of Readiness towards COVID-19) for Companies/LLPs to confirm their readiness to deal with COVID-19 threat. CAR-2020 shall be deployed on 23rd March 2020 (Monday). We will inform all our clients of this requirement.

S- Disaster Management Act → The Disaster Management Act, 2005 (DMA) has been invoked, giving wide powers to the Ministry of Health and Welfare to enhance preparedness and containment of the virus. Various State Governments have also classified COVID-19 as an ‘epidemic disease’ under the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897 (EDA), giving local administration authority to impose various containment measures, such as quarantine, closures and surveillance. The Central and several State governments have been issuing numerous advisories and regulations on matters of travel, employment and healthcare. Any person disobeying the orders of the government in this regard shall attract the punishment as provided for ‘disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant’ under Section 188.

  • Gives Ministry of Health and Family Welfare additional power to enhance preparedness and containment of virus.
    • March 11: The Government of India announces that aside from a few small categories (employment, diplomatic and project visas excepted), all existing Covid- 19 in India The Latest Updates and Guidance for Employers visas have been suspended until April 15, 2020 in an effort to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Foreign arrivals must be quarantined.
    • Reports of tourists being quarantined.
    • As of March 17, 2020, the Government of India prohibits the entry of passengers from all EU countries (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, the UK, Afghanistan, Philippines, and Malaysia.
    • Virtually all travel into the country has now been halted.
  • Ref: Epidemic Disease Act → State governments evoking this act to impose closures and quarantines.
    • Karnataka (Bangalore) o Haryana (Gurgaon)
  • Other notes about the states:
    • March 5: Karnataka Labor Department issues circular on protocol for employees showing symptoms and implications for employers under the Employees State Insurance Act and Shops and Commercial Establishments Act 1961.
    • March 12: Software Tech Parks of India issues guidelines for work from home.
    • March 13: India reports 81 confirmed cases, including one casualty in Karnataka.
    • On March 16, the State of Maharashtra’s Chief Minister announced home mandatory quarantine for travelers from the United States, among others.
    • The State government of Andhra Pradesh is asking all recent international travelers to put themselves into a 28-day quarantine upon entry to the State.
    • As of March 16, 2020, Mission India’s American Centers in New Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, and Mumbai have closed until further notice and all visa appointments have been cancelled.
    • Kerala High Court has intervened to ask the Govt to control distribution and prices of masks and sanitizers
    • Delhi Govt has issued an advisory this morning for all private companies to allow WFH and all citizens to stay at home to follow social distancing guidelines
    • All malls, supermarkets have shut down and only essential item shops will remain open for limited times

Slide 4: Employer Checklist

M- What are some of the strategies organizations are adopting to ensure business continuity?

S- Business Continuity Plans: Health & Govt Engagement- Start by identifying authoritative sources of public health guidance on the epidemic, and stay up to date on officially recommended and mandated actions in the applicable jurisdictions. These sources include The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The World Health Organization, Ministry of Health & Child Welfare and statespecific public health guidance. Coordination with state and local health officials is strongly encouraged for all businesses so that timely and accurate information can guide appropriate responses in each location where their operations reside. This official guidance should serve as the foundation for organizational decisions about health- and legal-risk mitigation. Being able to demonstrate corporate policy alignment with official recommendations can be an important legal safeguard in cases where the company’s infection-control efforts are challenged.

2. Leadership contingencies and decision makers. Build a succession pipeline and decentralize the decision process to make it nimble and agile for quick fixes

3. Stepping Up Hygiene and Sanitation protocols, set up a task force to drive this. Employers must implement measures to reduce the risk of workplace transmission. For example, public health guidance for reducing transmission includes ensuring that employees have easy access to handwashing facilities and/or hand sanitizers and that public surfaces such as counters, doorknobs, and elevator buttons are regularly disinfected. Also, implementation of robust methods of screening visitors and constant surveillance of employee health.

4. Communication-

  • Select communication channels and set protocols to send communication early and often
  • Legal and practical protocols mandate companies to be able to prove that they have given employees accurate information about ways to prevent the spread of infectionguidelines on social distancing, hygiene etc (Mention ESIC & Workman’s Compensation)
  • Develop an approach for cascaded communication to provide clarity and direction; regular communication from leadership
  • Keep the two- way communication open and ensure confidential reporting
  • Key messages to stakeholders such as suppliers, service providers and customers, and begin a dialogue with them on potential contingency measures

Slide 5: Work from Home

M- Since work from home is best practice and has either been mandated by the states or not strongly suggested by the Prime Minister, how have you supported clients to get ready for this shift, fast?

S- The coronavirus pandemic is expected to fundamentally change the way many organizations operate for the foreseeable future. As governments and businesses around the world tell those with symptoms to self-quarantine and everyone else to practice social distancing, remote work is our new reality. How do corporate leaders, managers, and individual workers make this sudden shift?

More questions employers need to ask themselves:

  • What steps are needed for staff to be able to continue to work from home, if needed?
  • Technology?
  • Cyber Security?
  • Telecommunications?
    • Are list servers up to date?
    • How will sensitive information stay protected? o How will the building be secured?
    • Cost of operational changes?
    • Donor communication?
    • What policy will need to be adapted for the current situation?
  • Infrastructure- Do people have the requisite technology or access to it? Who has a laptop? Will those who do [have laptops] be able to dial into their organizations easily? Will they have the software they need to be able to do work, have conference calls, etc? What about the employees who don’t have laptops or mobile devices? How do you make sure that they have access to the resources they need to do work? Direct managers have to very quickly ensure that every employee has full access, so no one feels left behind.
  • Managing remote teams- How often should we communicate? Should it be video, phone, instant messaging sites etc? Set smaller milestones for evaluation and feedback. You’ve got to help people understand how to do this and give them confidence that it work. Newer employees, those working on critical projects and people who need more contact will require extra one-on-ones. Remember, too, that you can do fun things virtually: happy hour, coffee breaks, lunch together. All these things can continue the connection you had at the office. And there’s ample research showing that virtual teams can be completely equal to co-located ones in terms of trust and collaboration. It just requires discipline. Covid- 19 in India The Latest Updates and Guidance for Employers

  • Psychological effect of remote working- People get used to having these unplanned watercooler or cappuccino conversations with colleagues, and they are actually big, important parts of the workday that have a direct impact on performance. How do we create those virtually? For some groups and individuals, it’s will be constant instant messaging. For others, it will be live phone conversations or video conferences. Some people might want to use WhatsApp, WeChat, or Viber. A boss can encourage those types of contact points for psychological health. People are not going to be able to figure this out organically. You’ve got to coach them. There’s one more thing: Exercise. It’s critical for mental well-being.

  • Culture- make sure that team members constantly feel like they know what’s going on. You need to communicate what’s happening at the organization level because when they’re at home, they feel like they’ve been extracted away from the mothership. They wonder what’s happening at the company, with our clients, with our common objective. The communication around that is extremely important. So you’re emailing more, sharing more.

  • During this period, people will also start to get nervous about revenue goals and other things, so you’ll have to make sure they feel like they’re going to be OK. Another thing is to ensure that no members feel like they have no less access to you than others. At home, people’s imaginations begin to go wild. So you have to be accessible and available to everyone equally. Finally, when you run your group meetings, aim for inclusion and balance the airtime so everyone feels seen and heard.

  • Productivity- Trust your staff. You can’t see what people are doing. But equip them in the right ways, give them the tasks, check on them like you’ve always done, and hope they produce in the ways you want them to. You can’t monitor the process, so your review will have to be outcome-based. But there’s no reason to believe that, in this new environment, people won’t do the work that they’ve been assigned. Remote work has been around for a very long time. And today we have all of the technologies we need to not only do work but also collaborate. We have enterprise-wide social media tools that allow us to store and capture data, to have one-to-many conversations, to share best practices, to learn.

  • Childcare- Bosses should be prepared for that conversation and to help people think those issues through. The blurring of boundaries between work and home has suddenly come upon us, so managers have got to develop the skills and policies to support their teams. This might involve being more flexible about the hours in which employees work. You don’t have to eat lunch at 12pm. You might walk your dog at 2pm. Things are much more fluid, and managers just have to trust that employees will do their best to get their work done.

    • Donor communication?
    • What policy will need to be adapted for the current situation?

***Do I address essential vs. nonessential employees in slide 6 or slide 4? *** ANS: Slide 6 (Have added your question to this section)

Slide 6: People Centric Decisions

M- How will we prepare for possible increased numbers of absenteeism?

a. Plan to monitor and respond to absenteeism at the workplace, through agile work options. Employers may also consider changes to reduce overcrowding, such as facilitating remote work, shift work, and perhaps physical layout changes. Such measures may help protect workers from infection and help protect organizations from liability. Cross-train personnel to perform essential functions so that the workplace is able to operate even if key staff members are absent. M- What are some of the government directives on leave and pay?

S- Leave obligations are dictated by the State specific Shops and Establishment Act guidelines. Employers should analyze their legal obligations to provide employees with leave in the event of sickness or disability and evaluate whether their policies need to be adjusted in the current circumstances. Companies should consider under which circumstances they would want to extend or expand benefits and protections, and they should evaluate their level of income protection for employees on leave, perhaps adjusting benefits plans for employees who exceed their sick-day allotment in order to support sick employees who must stay home.

It is important to look beyond the immediate legal requirements to the broader business and legal implications. For example, a business may not be legally required to pay an employee during a period it bars him or her from the workplace because that individual was on personal travel to a place where transmission was occurring. However, choosing not to do so makes it more likely that they prematurely return to work, thereby infecting other staff, risking business continuity, legal liability from third parties such as customers, and contributing to an increase in infections.

Also, let me quote a few examples here. In case an employee tests positive for Covid owing to a travel undertaken for official purpose, he/ she is entitled to paid leave owing to the Workman’s Compensation Act and it’s interpretation in these cases. This has been formally announced by the Karnataka Government, and covers all employees irrespective of travel history, official or not. So for all other states, in case of an employee has been on personal travel and tests positive, the employer is not liable. In many non- organized sectors which fall under the Factories Act, the employer is liable to pay 50% salaries, despite shutdown (gyms, salons, supermarkets etc)

M-How are organizations differentiating their staff at this point?

S- Identify critical business functions (prioritised activities) and essential employees. Enterprises should consider the following:

  • Set up alternate teams of employees (e.g. Team A & Team B) who can be deployed at different work schedules (e.g. Team A working in the office at alternate weeks, while Covid- 19 in India The Latest Updates and Guidance for Employers Team B telecommutes). The teams should be physically segregated to avoid the risk of infection between teams

  • Cross-train employees and establish covering arrangements to minimise disruptions

M- What are some of the directives on travel being followed domestically?

S- Limit all non- essential travel Discourage use of public transportation Introduce travel health and safety kits for field and service workers Track official travel restrictions and provide support to staff members that may be stranded away from their homes

M- Any other best practices to highlight?

S- Covid Helplines set up for employees to seek answers ; Wellness Helplines set up by organizations to seek emotional support to battle psychological upheavals because of quarantine, isolation, anxiety, depression etc.

Slide 7: Sickness Protocols

S- There can be two cases here.

b. If there is an employee who reports sick to the office.

  • Employees who develop flu-like symptoms (i.e. cough, shortness of breath) upon arrival to work or become sick during the day, should be separated from other employees immediately. HR to refer to any travel history or possible risk of exposure
  • All sick employees may be advised to consult a medical practitioner and be sent home immediately.
  • They should remain self- quarantined even from family members till the test results are out
  • Employees are advised not to return to work until they are fever free and any other symptoms have not manifested themselves for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines.
  • The line manager needs to be notified of the medical condition

c. Employees who need to provide care to sick family members, may make application for leave, post discussion with their line manager

  • Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.

Covid- 19 in India The Latest Updates and Guidance for Employers Like we highlighted earlier, the discretion on Leave and Pay would differ as explained earlier. But as a best practice most organizations are extending full paid leave for the period of self- quarantine, to reduce any further liability.

Michael to take up Q&A and make closing remarks. Flag webinar, which will happen next Wednesday March 25 to take a closer look at some of the tax, finance and compliance updates.

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