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Helping nonprofits navigate HR during the global pandemic

By May 4, 2020December 10th, 2020No Comments

Before the coronavirus shut down most of the world, Maureen Marfell, HR Services Director at 501(c) Services, would answer as many as 20 calls a day from her office in Silicon Valley. Today, Maureen fields over 50 calls a day from her dining room table, helping nonprofit leaders navigate the unique problems the virus has created.

During an interview, Marfell talked about how the global pandemic has challenged the way nonprofits muster their human resources, and how COVID-19 has transformed her work and home life.

How do you like working remotely?

I’m fortunate I can work remotely, but I’d rather be in the office. I like getting away from the house, and I miss being with people. But I feel lucky I get to talk to people in the nonprofit world and give them help during this tough time.

Other than location, how has your work life changed since the COVID-19 shutdown?

I’ve been taking calls at 6 a.m. and then working for about 12 hours. Now, the questions I get from 501(c) Agencies Trust members are always complicated. Our members don’t know what’s going to happen next. I feel lucky I can talk to people and provide assistance during this difficult time.

I’m not the kind of person who works remotely in pajamas. For me, it’s important to keep the same routine. I still dress business casual every day. But I’ve got my Uggs on.

What difficult questions are you getting during the pandemic?

Legislation is moving so quickly that it’s hard to keep up with all the new laws and new acronyms, like the FFCRA, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which expands paid sick and family leave for workers affected by COVID-19. Just when you think you know the current legislation, they change it.

I don’t have all the answers, and for me, that’s frustrating. At the end of the day, I’m pretty tired.

Have your calls changed now that stay-at-home orders are starting to lift?

Now, six weeks into the shut down, I’m getting more questions about the challenges of calling back workers who have been on unemployment. Some people, like part-time employees, may not want to come back because they feel they’re making more money on unemployment.

How should nonprofits deal with those workers?

You have to let them know they have a job, and if they don’t come back, they’ve made a decision to quit. That move could affect their unemployment benefits.

What calls stick with you?

All these calls hit me emotionally right now. Hearing about workers who are seriously ill with COVID-19 is hard to process every day.

Employers are worried about the mental states of their employees and how isolation and uncertainty is affecting them. And we’re hearing more about employees who are depressed, dealing with anxiety or contemplating suicide.

It just a really tough time. We’re even talking to CEOs who are afraid they might lose their nonprofit if they can’t get financial aid.

What advice do you give employers with desperate workers?

I tell them to access their employee assistance program, if they have one, or tap resources in their community. If they know someone is contemplating suicide, they need to contact the family, who can take the employee to the hospital. Sometimes, you have to call law enforcement, who are there to help.

Is there a most-often-asked question?

Yes, “How do I deal with the Families First Act?” especially if an employee sounds like they don’t fall under those regulations. Some people are afraid to come to work. And although fear is real, it’s not a condition that neatly falls under that paid sick leave or Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

What should nonprofit leadership tell reluctant employees?

That they need to come to work, and that you have good safety procedures in place, like providing masks.

If an anxious worker refuses to return to work, you might be able to give that employee an unpaid leave of absence. You must be as sensitive as possible, but you have to be very direct, too.

How are you taking care of yourself during this time?

What really drives me crazy is not being able to travel because I love to travel. It’s part of my job, and I love it.  It’s hard not being able to get outside and do things, to see people and family.

We’re pretty much isolated. My therapy is to talk to family, exercise and read good books.

It would be easy to go batty now, but I’m not.

About the Author

Lisa Kaplan Gordon is a veteran content producer, e-book creator, and social media writer with two Pulitzer Prize nominations and three National Headliners Awards. Her writing has appeared in Washingtonian Magazine, Redbook, Yahoo!, AOL Real Estate, AOL Daily Finance, USA Today, and US Weekly, as well as major metro dailies. She writes several times a month for

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