After decades of territorial disputes and military conflict between Russia and its neighboring countries, Russia decided to launch a large-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. News articles describing militant attacks on the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and disturbing images of the country’s war-torn people quickly flooded international news outlets. The Russian offensive is being condemned internationally, with the United Nations General Assembly adopting a resolution that “deplores” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and “demands” a complete withdrawal of Russian forces. Many countries, including the US, have provided military aid and humanitarian assistance to the Ukrainian people and placed sanctions against Russian businesses and individuals. The sanctions have disrupted a global supply chain already stressed from the COVID-19 pandemic, with even more product delays and price increases expected as the conflict continues.
In the workplace, employers are not only faced with a potential impact to their business caused by the supply chain, but they are also navigating the unique challenge of supporting employees who are coping with an international war.
Financial Impacts on Employees
The Russia-Ukraine conflict has dramatically impacted oil prices. This means higher gasoline costs, and for employees who rely on personal vehicles to commute to and from work, this could mean an increase in their out-of-pocket costs.
Gas is not the only impacted commodity. Russia and Ukraine supply the world with about 30% of its grain, with Ukraine being the second-largest wheat exporter. A disruption in the global supply of wheat and corn will drive domestic prices up – directly affecting US consumers and, in turn, your employees.
Some employers are attempting to offset these anticipated expenses by providing employees with a gas or grocery stipend. Employers may also want to consider hosting an employee commuter program or encouraging employees to commute by train, bus, or bike to help with gas expenses – or forgo the commute altogether by allowing employees to work from home (if possible).
Emotional Toll on Employees
You may have employees who are of Ukrainian or Russian descent. Perhaps they still have family members who live in Ukraine or Russia. Or maybe they are impacted by the eastern European crisis in another way. Whether or not they are personally affected by the war, many individuals feel a tremendous amount of empathy for those suffering. Each employee will have unique and complex feelings and reactions. The best way to support your employees during this challenging time is to provide a safe outlet to share and discuss their thoughts (if they want to). This might be in a small group forum or a one-on-one meeting with their manager. In any group setting, be sure to remind employees to listen to others, respect other perspectives, and of course, discrimination will not be tolerated.
In addition, remind employees of available resources through your organization’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if applicable.
Harassment and Discrimination Considerations
Unfortunately, there has been an increase in reports of harassment and discrimination against Russian and Russian-American employees in the workplace. Employers should never condone these occurrences and immediately take action if they see an employee berating or making derogatory statements about another coworker or a third party (such as a vendor or customer) based on their nationality, for example, being Russian. It is also illegal for an employer to take any adverse employment actions, such as terminating, demoting, or refusing to hire an employee or candidate based upon their nationality. On the other hand, giving Ukrainian employees or candidates preferential treatment simply because they are Ukrainian is also illegal.
Showing Support for Ukraine
Employees may wish to show their support for the Ukrainian people by displaying a Ukrainian flag at their desk, wearing a pin, or organizing a fundraiser. Employers should ensure that they approach all humanitarian causes consistently. If they allow employees to express their support for one cause at work – they should allow it for other situations, too, provided it is not offensive or disruptive. Employers may consider implementing a “no-politics” policy for communications and activities that are purely political, as long as employees are allowed to discuss topics protected under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
As far as allowing employee solicitations for fundraising efforts, again, consistency is crucial. Whether it is Scout Troop cookies, raffle tickets to a school fundraiser, or donations to the Red Cross on behalf of Ukrainian citizens, if an employer opens its doors to any solicitation, they should be aware that union organizers may be permitted to use the same means. This includes email, bulletin boards, lunchroom facilities, etc. However, employers cannot bar solicitation on employees’ own time, such as lunchtime and breaks.
Start with Empathy
As we navigate yet another unprecedented workplace challenge following the COVID-19 pandemic, consider providing your employees with a bit more grace than usual. Employers should approach unexpected employee relations situations with the potential of being caused by the stress from the war in Ukraine. Show empathy to your employees and ensure your employees are doing the same by respecting their coworkers.
Did you know?
Archbright members can contact the HR Hotline to get direction on a specific workplace situation or talk through some ideas on best practices. Members also have access to a Resource Library with hundreds of sample policies, forms, templates, and keynotes, such as Politics in the Workplace Keynote, NLRB’s Guidance on Employee Handbook Rules Keynote, and Harassment in the Workplace Keynote.
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