For weeks now, talk of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has dominated the news cycle. Employees are probably wondering if they should cancel any upcoming meetings, if their benefits offerings provide any relief for potentially sick employees, how the recent losses in the market will affect their group retirement plans, and whether there’s a plan for remote work, and if so, when it comes into effect.
There are other concerns for business owners to consider. For instance, what happens if a key member becomes ill with the disease and is unable to work for several weeks?
This blog suggests some workplace policies and directs readers to resources provided by the Government of Canada and individual insurance carriers.
How You Can Help Employees Manage COVID-19
Encourage Remote Work Where Possible
If your business has the flexibility to allow employees to work from home, encourage them to do so. Social distancing is an effective way to prevent the spread of disease. Removing the need to commute to work, which for many employees involves riding packed trains and busses, reduces their odds of becoming sick.
Some employees may not enjoy working from home, particularly those who thrive in social atmospheres. To help alleviate feelings of isolation, schedule virtual coffee breaks where co-workers can join a video or voice call and talk about non-work related matters.
Not every workplace can allow its employees to work from home. However, measures can still be taken to reduce your employee’s risk of becoming sick. Some suggestions include:
- Staggering start times.
- Hosting meetings virtually.
- Encourage employee’s work spaces to be at least a meter apart.
- Insist employees take time-off as soon as they or any household members feel unwell.
Communicate With Your Employees
Employees will be turning to their employers for reassurance that there are plans in place to mitigate the risks of becoming sick. In a survey of 158 employers, 59% said they’ve ramped up their communication and 38% are reviewing their policies and procedures.
Let your employees know that your business has a plan in place. Communicate any new policies regarding remote work, sick leave, and travel plans. Employees will understand that the situation is constantly developing and policies may change over time. Knowing that their employers are concerned about their health will provide some peace of mind.
Be Proactive, Not Reactive
Avoid waiting for an employee to become ill before taking action. Studies on the spread of disease shows that being proactive is more effective at keeping people healthy than reacting to its spread. A good rule of thumb is that policies related to social distancing should come into place once the virus enters the broader community.
- Do you have a policy in place for employees returning from trips abroad?
- Is there a business continuation plan in case a key member is unable to work?
- What should employees do if they’ve come into contact with someone who has COVID-19?
Veteran businesses may be able to look at any policies they had in place during previous health scares such as H1N1 or SARS and update them accordingly.
Remind your employees that these are precautionary measures. By reducing unnecessary exposure to large crowds and public areas, regularly washing hands, and coughing into elbows, the chance of contracting the virus is lowered. Communications should express caution—not panic.
What Insurance Carriers Are Doing
Insurance carriers are constantly updating their policies on COVID-19. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced changes to sick-leave benefits. The 7-day wait period for short-term disability has been waived. Any employee forced to self-quarantine will receive EI benefits for the entire period without requiring a doctor’s note. In addition, some employers are choosing to top-up EI benefits to enhance sick-leave amounts.
The goal is to reduce the financial burden for any employee required to take time-off due to COVID-19.
Insurance carriers are also aware that with spring break on the horizon, many employees with families are considering whether to go forward with their vacation plans.
Currently, the Government of Canada has recommended people postpone or cancel any out of country travel plans. Some insurance carriers are treating this recommendation as a Level 3 travel advisory and are no longer offering travel assistance coverage for anyone choosing to travel after the advisory came into effect.
This does not apply to all insurance carriers and, at this time, insurers continue to honour travel benefits associated with domestic travel. Check with your plan administrator to see what your insurance carrier still offers.
Any employee who must travel is advised to make sure they’re prepared for any medical emergency. Before leaving, check the Government of Canada’s Travel Advisory page and make sure you’ve checked with the out-of-country insurer. If coverage is available remember to pack your benefits card and health card. If a medical emergency does occur, call your plan’s travel assist emergency hotline.
Because COVID-19 has spread fast, some employees may have been out of the country when the virus began spreading and the non-essential travel advisory came into effect. In these instances, insurance carriers are honouring travel assistance coverage.
Generally, plan members are not expected to incur out-of-pocket expenses due to a quarantine although coverage varies between carriers. If such an expense does occur, plan members may submit a claim for evaluation.
Everyday more is becoming known about COVID-19. Here are a few organizations updating their websites as the situation develops.
It is likely that Covid-19 will affect employees’ daily routines both personally and professionally. Ease some of their anxiety by providing clear communication about your policies, instruction on how they can find more information, and reassurance that you will be monitoring the situation and providing updates as necessary.