How the Pandemic Changed H.R. Jobs

For George Boué, who ran H.R. at Stiles, a commercial real estate company based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the anxieties of his job began to increase this fall. He kept jerking awake at 3 a.m., his mind racing with questions. How was he going to roll out a vaccine mandate to his colleagues who viewed it as an intrusion? More important, how was he going to keep everybody in his office safe?

Mr. Boué, who is fully vaccinated, was surrounded by friends in South Florida who were citing misinformation about the vaccine. He estimated that one-third of his 300-person staff is most likely not fully vaccinated. When the Labor Department rolled out its vaccine rule in November, requiring large businesses to get their workers vaccinated or tested weekly, Mr. Boué started drafting the terms for his company’s vaccine policy; then he put it on hold because of legal battles over the mandates, especially in Florida. Mr. Boué decided that among teammates he wouldn’t refer to the policy as a mandate, because he wanted to temper tensions whenever he could.

“There’s those that are feeling the world is coming to an end, and this is horrible, and those on the other side of the spectrum that feel this is all a bunch of baloney,” he said. “The toughest part of my role has been trying to address all sides.”

His responsibilities continued to grow thornier since the start of the pandemic: In the early months, his team had to order gallons of disinfectant and hundreds of masks. Last summer, they had to start enforcing mask requirements in the office for unvaccinated employees, though his team did not ask for proof of vaccination for that rule and instead went by “the trust factor.”

Some executives are outsourcing Covid safety work to companies that set up turnkey vaccine and testing systems. DocGo, for example, a health care and technology company, creates testing programs for businesses and monitors the maintenance of employee confidentiality, data privacy and compliance with federal government standards.

Still, Anthony Capone, DocGo’s president, said he hears regularly from H.R. directors, especially those worried that their unvaccinated workers will struggle to obtain Covid tests, which could mean employers are in violation of government guidelines.

H.R. professionals said they’re trying, wherever possible, to point toward government rules and to emphasize to employees that they’re simply following advice from public health authorities.