Staffing firms are looking forward to putting their 2020 troubles behind them and returning to better circumstances. However, we’re not yet free of Covid-19 and its consequences. Staffing firms need to plan for an unprecedented transition period, followed by a significantly different future operating environment. Here are a few key things to consider.

The war for talent resumes. For all but the least skilled, current and prospective employees will again have options. If workers don’t have good reason to work for you instead of somebody else, they probably won’t. The structural problems of the American talent landscape haven’t gone away.

Protection becomes a must. Traumatized workers will place a new and lasting emphasis on workplace safety. Employees depend on their employer to put their interests first and be a trusted source of information.

If employers want to attract and retain talent, and avoid the fines, shaming and public disclosures that are likely to come from the new administration in Washington, they must ensure the well-being of their workforce. The good news is that the actions that keep people safe will enhance employee and customer loyalty and are ultimately good for business.

A “return to normal” will take time. The escape from our Covid-19 nightmare won’t happen overnight. Months will toll as people decide whether to be vaccinated, then wait their turn for what may be a series of inoculations. Scientists seem uncertain whether vaccinated people might still transmit the virus, and current data suggest that a certain percentage of the population won’t partake of the vaccine. Employers need to plan for a lengthy transition.

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Compliance may prove even more difficult. There’s a lag between when adverse medical trends are evident and when regulation is effected to address those trends. This lag will similarly prevail during any wind-down of the pandemic. Meanwhile, getting employee buy-in could be challenging: people are anxious to go back to prior ways, and any favorable new-case trends are likely to prompt further indifference about precautionary behaviors. This convergence of circumstances is likely to prolong the pandemic and pose a heightened degree of legal, operational and compliance risk.

The lawyers haven’t gone away. The hoped-for wind-down of the pandemic in no way portends a wind-down of pandemic-related litigation. In fact, the exact opposite might occur as courts reopen and causes and consequences are better understood. With all its nuances and ambiguities, management of the pandemic is ripe for second-guessing.

Plaintiff attorneys are smart business people who know how to translate weaknesses in pandemic risk management programs into sympathetic juries and handsome verdicts.

Don’t use regulation as the sole basis for your plan. Laws and regulations can’t fully contemplate the particulars of any specific business. They are inconsistent, subject to change, and sometimes unpredictable in their application. Employers need to base their decisions on what is right and necessary, and be ready to adapt when circumstances change. This requires close insight into both ongoing societal trends and the specifics of the organization’s own operations. Legal compliance is the baseline, not the standard.

While there will be challenges in the coming months, staffing firms and employers can start preparing now. By creating proactive plans that account for employee safety, protection, compliance and regulation, leaders will be able to set themselves up for a successful start to the new year.