Employers Amending Benefits, Policies in Response to COVID-19

Companies addressing emotional, family toll on workers
A man working from home reading emails

With workplaces around the country grappling with how to protect their workers and keep business running during the COVID-19 outbreak, many employers are adding benefits and changing policies to be more responsive to employees’ needs, new research shows.

The National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions (the National Alliance), a trade association for healthcare solutions companies, surveyed 256 employers of different sizes and in a variety of industries from March 18 to 23 to find out what changes they were making in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus. The survey found that while many companies are being proactive amidst the crisis, salaried employees are more likely to benefit than hourly workers.

Some company changes have been nearly universal. For example, more than 98% of respondents said they had banned unnecessary travel, as well as attendance at in-person meetings. However, other changes vary based on the type of workforce.

More than 70% of salaried workers can effectively do their jobs from home, the survey found. In contrast, less than half of hourly workers can do so. Some industries, such as finance and professional services, were better able to navigate the shift to remote work than other industries, such as retail.

Among employers who can accommodate a remote workforce, 69% had added telecommuting policies, with half making telecommuting mandatory. Employers who couldn’t accommodate a remote workforce were taking other steps:

  • 60% were implementing flexible hours
  • 24% were shutting down temporarily with pay
  • 20% were considering shutting down temporarily with pay
  • 24% were considering shutting down without pay
  • 5% had shut down without pay

New benefits to address COVID-19 impact

Some employers are even adding new benefits to address the disease outbreak, as many recognize the impact that COVID-19 is having on families and are looking for ways to help.

A second survey of 500 human resources and benefits leaders from March 18 to 20 by family benefits platform Cleo found that 93% of respondents said their organization was offering employees new family benefits in response to the crisis. More than 50% of respondents had added benefits to support working parents in particular, such as live coaches and expert guides.

More than half of respondents to the National Alliance survey — 53% — said they were providing special programs for employees that address the emotional impact of COVID-19. Additionally, 59% of respondents said they were offering unpaid family leave and 46% were offering paid family leave.

Earlier in March, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was signed into law, requiring certain employers to offer paid sick or family leave to workers affected by COVID-19. However, the law only applies to businesses that have between 50 and 499 employees, leaving many workers wanting paid leave legislation expanded.

In addition to family leave, the National Alliance survey found that some employers are also helping workers with medical costs associated with COVID-19:

  • For employees with high deductible plans, 89% of employers are either considering or offering coverage of COVID-19 testing with no deductible. Additionally, 37% are covering the actual treatment with no deductible.
  • At this time, 66% of employers are either considering or waiving copays for doctor visits associated with COVID-19 testing. About 75% are either considering or waiving copays for COVID-19 telemedicine visits.

Companies are constantly making changes to respond to the crisis. Check in with your manager or HR department to see if there are any changes that might affect you.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.