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Checklist: COVID-19 preparedness: Canadian employer considerations

Checklist: COVID-19 preparedness: Canadian employer considerations

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Governments and public health leaders have escalated steps to help contain the spread of the virus, declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization.

Employers are rapidly responding with action to protect the health of their employees, ensure business continuity, adapt to reduced customer demand, and minimize the disruption and financial consequences of the outbreak on their businesses.

The likelihood of subsequent waves of the outbreak, or an unpredictable mutation of the virus, underscores the importance of contingency planning for employers. The pandemic and the downstream effect of public health measures have left many employers scrambling to reduce unnecessary impacts on physical and emotional health, as well as productivity.

Most of us now know the steps individuals need to take to prevent or contain the virus: handwashing, avoiding large gatherings, staying home when ill, working from home if possible, and so on. But what steps should organizations be taking to address the impact on employee policies, health benefits, and financial stressors?

Here are some key considerations for employers regarding employee benefits, leave policies and regulatory requirements, as well as some federal and provincial guidance resources.

Health benefit considerations

Advise your Plan Administrators (Medical, Dental, Disability and EAP) on your COVID-19 protocol and understand what they are doing to prepare:

  • What are their plans for business unit preparation and continuity (especially member services)?
  • What is the readiness of the member service centers and advocacy programs to support member inquiries and concerns?
  • How ready are the provider service centers and network contracting groups to support provider inquiries and concerns?
  • What assistance will they provide to appropriately promote virtual care visits?
  • What is the specialty pharmacy’s contingency planning to monitor and avoid disruptions related to risk associated with the global manufacturing supply chain?
  • What is the readiness of the member service centers and advocacy programs to support member inquiries and concerns?
  • What does your EAP have in place to support employees and their families, from emotional stress, to child care if schools are closed, to concierge-like services such as deliveries if quarantined, etc.?

Short-term disability considerations

For employers with self-insured short-term disability (STD) programs, advise your Plan Administrator on preferred COVID-19 protocol; stay up to date on their insights. If a person must be quarantined due to local law, but is not symptomatic, do you want the carrier, as your Plan Administrator, to approve such STD claims?

If a person works in a local area where you may have to close a location or office due to public health orders, disease spread, or even reduced customer demand, do you want the carrier, as your Plan Administrator, to approve those STD claims?

Generally speaking, without any differing guidance on how you would like these claims handled, the carrier will typically only approve STD claims where a person is symptomatic based on verifiable testing and/or physician documentation.

Now is the time to review and update how you handle these programs.

Communications

Appropriate communication can help maintain calm while ensuring employees are doing what’s needed for both the company and their personal wellbeing. The COVID-19 situation is very fluid and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Using available technology can solve many communications problems:

  • An intranet site with ongoing updates can reduce the flood of organization-wide emails while enabling ease of updates to leaders, managers and employees. A dedicated page can also be used to share updates such as work-from-home and other policies on flexibility, as needed. A dedicated email address can be used to ensure that all employee questions are directed to the appropriate individuals, and that the most accurate and up-to-date answers are provided.
  • Creative solutions such as text messaging can be mobilized quickly to enable quick outbound messages that guide employees to important new information, or also help with business continuity.

Information on the status of COVID-19 cases in Canada, as well as information on testing, preventative measures, and travel advisories, can be found on the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 outbreak update site. As requirements for quarantines, business closures, etc. currently vary by province, the following resources should also be consulted as needed:

Work from home policies

While working from home is one of the best ways to apply social distancing and help contain the spread of the virus, employers should be aware that school closures may impact individual productivity. Parents working from home will need to care for and “school” their children who are also home all day. Regular two-way communication can identify when projects and tasks might be slipping because of the added responsibilities of employees caring for children during the day.

Guidance on employee personal travel

While employers can enact policies regarding business travel, they generally cannot restrict personal travel. What employers can do is:

  • Tell employees to check Government of Canada travel advisories before travelling.
  • Implement a policy requiring employees to report if they have travelled or will be travelling to high-risk areas.
  • Require that, after returning from travel to a high-risk area, employees must either self-quarantine or provide a medical clearance letter before returning to work.
  • Advise employees to verify coverage with insurer as coverage will likely not be available for COVID-19 illness or quarantines.

How we can help

We’re committed to helping organizations evaluate and manage the impact of the pandemic on leave and HR policies, health benefits and costs, investment strategies, and employee communications. There are proactive steps you can take to keep your employees and other stakeholders informed and empowered to take needed action. To learn more, reach out to your account executive or contact us at talktous@buck.com.

The information in this article is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to address your requirements. While we will endeavor to keep the information accurate, we cannot and do not guarantee the accuracy of the Information, and we accept no responsibility, and shall have no liability, for any loss or damage which may arise from using or relying on the Information.

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