COVID-19 continues to hit organizations hard and the public sector is no exception. Government agencies are still navigating the many changes COVID-19 has brought to the workplace since 2020, all while anticipating the upcoming COVID compliance challenges of 2022 — especially in light of the highly contagious Omicron variant.
Public sector agencies face many compliance challenges as employees continue to return to the office and policy changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to dominate the landscape. Here are the 4 main challenges agencies face in 2022:
Cybersecurity should be a top priority in the public sector for several reasons. Government agencies house sensitive data and other critical information that could cause many issues and even threaten national security. Cyberattacks can wreak havoc and even shut down vital infrastructures. But as technology advances, cybercriminals are becoming more innovative and even more audacious. According to Cisco’s recent cybersecurity report, 86% of organizations tied at least one employee to a phishing website in 2021.
Forty-five states have proposed hundreds of bills addressing phishing cybersecurity issues that could bring complex, new regulations. These regulations include mandatory reporting of all security breaches an organization experiences and training all employees on cybersecurity.
2021 saw many changes that increasingly challenged how businesses made workplaces safe. Organizations faced vaccine mandates and the litigation associated with them. Occupational and Safety Administrations (OSHA) and Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) regulations made workplace safety more complicated.
Organizations must be mindful of these mandates in 2022 as they will shape how agencies deal with compliance obligations. Some organizations are in 100% compliance, such as the Department of Education, while others have begun actively suspending people. Agencies have relied on education and counseling to date, but the Biden administration has recommended more severe punishments starting in January 2022.
Public sector organizations are moving forward with enforcement policies and it will affect staffing levels and cause other problems in the workplace. It could cause disruptions to vital services for Americans, but at this time, things are okay. The tens of thousands of exemption requests are also creating a backlog of paperwork that could have operational impacts on many public sector agencies.
In 2021, agencies enacted COVID-19 screening measures to combat COVID-19. It’s critical for agencies to update policies that focus on the transparency of how employees’ personal information is collected, used and stored. The technology used to help with COVID-19 can also be used to violate their privacy if not handled carefully.
The U.S. Department of Labor withdrew the 2020 final rule by the previous presidential administration that simplified the classification of independent contractors. As a result, there could be a new rule in 2022 that could expand the classification of workers as employees. Organizations must monitor the developments of worker classification and expect state-level ballot initiatives and lawsuits that address how app-based workers are classified.
Organizations must remain alert for regulation changes that will affect many aspects of the workplace. There could be fast-paced changes — for example, employer classification that could impact which workers receive organizational benefits — so it’s vital to implement changes as needed.
Public organizations should also make cybersecurity a priority. With hybrid work environments, securing work data is vital. Agencies that modernized their technical infrastructures were able to transition to remote work easily and safely. Therefore, continuing to use technology to make work data more secure is essential.
This USDA workplace safety plan outlines the federal minimum requirements organizations must meet for COVID compliance. It provides guidance on how public sector agencies can comply with minimum standards. Staying on top of regulation changes will help organizations adapt policies and procedures quickly to remain compliant with COVID-19 requirements.
Regulations centered on vaccination for the virus will be at the forefront of the challenges the public sector organizations will face, as well as shifts in worker classifications and privacy policies on the state level. But these challenges are not insurmountable as long as agencies in the public sector continue to be vigilant about emerging trends in compliance. It is essential for public sector agencies to rethink practices in the COVID-19 age and evaluate the lessons learned over the past couple of years.
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