Labor disruption events may threaten the critical operations of your farm business. Such situations could prevent either key or essential workers and/or a large number of workers to perform their work at the farm. This may be caused by illnesses or injuries incapacitating employees and preventing them to safely work at the farm for either short or prolonged period of time.
If such an event affected your farm, would you be ready? Who will fill in to perform critical tasks (e.g. milking, planting, harvesting)? In the short-run? In the long-run? What resources will they be able to access in order to help them perform at an acceptable level and in a safe manner? This guide is meant to help you address these questions and develop proper plans to help you deal with labor disruptions.
Steps for Developing a Labor Disruption Plan
Step 1 Establish a Labor Disruption Plan Committee
The farm’s ownership group and key managers should be involved in strategic planning. They are the ones that should be able to identify and assess the potential impacts of labor disruption and the alternatives strategies to cope with it. The input of specialized or experienced employees may be useful in specific cases as well, as they may be better positioned to develop strategies or guidelines for performing certain tasks in their absence. Be sure to identify someone that will have responsibility for keeping the work of the committee and planning in action.
Step 2 The committee should identify your farm’s vulnerabilities to a labor disruption event.
- Identify critical tasks required to maintain the operations of your business.
- Among those critical tasks, identify which of them require special skills or knowledge that only one or few people on your team have (e.g. operating specialized equipment, repairing or maintenance of specialized equipment, AI, business operations such as payroll).
- Identify internal resources that could help perform these critical tasks during a labor disruption event. These could include:
- Any resources developed to train employees and/or standardize procedures such as SOPs, job descriptions, employee handbooks, and training material.
- Having a cross trained workforce
- Hiring extra workers
- Having the ability or infrastructure that would allow your current skilled/specialized workers to mentor/coach (either on-site or remotely depending on circumstances) a new person in safely performing a critical task.
- Identify potential external partners that could help perform these critical tasks or with whom you could share the risk of labor disruption. Partners could include neighboring farms, relatives, input suppliers, custom workers, or other business associations or networks.
- Review strategies to increase the ability of employees to perform across farms/businesses. Possible options to consider are cross-farm training, adoption of common training programs, common safety protocols across farms, or establishing procedures and protocols to enable skilled or specialized employees from other farms to operate safely and effectively on your farm.
- Develop agreements with external resources for them to either a) provide support or training to help your employees perform critical tasks during your absence or the absence of some employees or b) have agreements for those tasks to be performed by someone else either on your farm or elsewhere (e.g. move livestock to other farms, have custom operators come perform tasks)
All critical tasks should be covered in your labor disruption plan. Tasks that you identify as most critical and for which the set of existing alternatives and resources is most limited should become your priorities in minimizing the impact of labor disruptions and reducing the financial impact to your business.
Step 3 Based on identified vulnerabilities and resources, develop contingency plans for performing critical functions of your farm during a labor disruption event.
- Create a document listing the critical task and description of work activities. Identify employees responsible and employees that are backups for each task. The list should include a) employees and contact information, b) order in which to contact employees or outside resources, and c) steps to be taken to ensure that everyone identified to do this work can be effective and safe in performing the task (e.g. training material to be reviewed, resource person to call,).
- For any of these critical tasks, if the contingencies involve external resources include the nature of the agreement in place (e.g. written copies of agreements if such things exist) and the contact information of the external resource. If no written agreement exists, at the very least include the name and details of the contact person, a description of the nature of the verbal agreement, and the date when the agreement was reached.
Step 4 Make sure that proper policies are in place to deal with the situation of absentee employees
- Employees know who to contact in case they are unable to work.
- Who will inform employees on shift of job responsibilities during a labor disruption
- Sick leave policy
- Health insurance coverage
- Review safety plans and trainings with employees as new tasks are assigned.
Finally, make sure that the security and safety of all employees is ensured. This may imply developing protocols and safety procedures for each task and ensuring that proper resources and training is available to each of them.