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Checklist: COVID-19 preparedness: U.S. employer considerations

Checklist: COVID-19 preparedness: U.S. employer considerations

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Governments and public health leaders have escalated steps to help contain the spread of the virus, now 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 prepare for the impact on employee policies, health benefits, and financial stressors?

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

Health benefit considerations

Collaborate with your Plan Administrators (Medical, Rx, Dental, Vision, Care Management and EAP) on your and their COVID-19 protocols:

  • 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?
  • Is the trend for the carrier or employers to waive virtual care fees and COVID-19 testing fees? What is the potential cost? What is your ROI for your organization of removing cost as a barrier?
  • What is the Pharmacy Benefit Manager’s (PBM’s) contingency plan to monitor and avoid disruptions to your global manufacturing supply chain?
  • Has the HIPAA Covered Entity (health plan) complied with the HIPAA Privacy and Security rules?
  • 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 programs, Leave Administrators are soliciting employer preference on COVID-19 protocol:

  • 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 disease spread (or even reduced customer demand), do you want the carrier, as your Plan Administrator, to approve those STD claims?

For employers with insured short-term disability (STD) programs, carriers are stating that they will need objective clinical findings to document insured disability.

Check with your disability carrier regarding their approach for disability administration related to the virus. Without any guidance from you on how you would like self-insured claims handled, the carrier will generally only approve STD claims when a person is symptomatic based on verifiable testing and/or physician documentation, as with any other claim.

Generally, for insured business, rates in effect during the current policy period would not be affected. For self-funded business or for absence administration, the terms of the applicable ASA will apply.

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

American with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines

Titles I and V of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provide guidance for pandemic planning in the workplace. There are established ADA principles that are relevant to questions frequently asked about workplace pandemic planning such as:

  • How much information may an employer request from an employee who calls in sick, in order to protect the rest of its workforce when an influenza pandemic appears imminent?
  • When may an ADA-covered employer take the body temperature of employees during a pandemic?
  • Does the ADA allow employers to require employees to stay home if they have symptoms of the COVID-19 virus?
  • When employees return to work, does the ADA allow employers to require doctors’ notes certifying their fitness for duty?

Click the link for ADA-compliant employer practices for pandemic preparedness: https://www.eeoc.gov/facts/pandemic_flu.html


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.
  • 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.

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.

CDC recommendations for employers

The CDC has published interim guidance to help prevent workplace exposures to acute respiratory illnesses, including Coronavirus, in non-healthcare settings. This guidance also provides planning considerations if there are more widespread community outbreaks.

Updates are available on CDC’s web page at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV. We also encourage you to check with the CDC and your local health departments for updates.

For a checklist on steps organizations should consider to help to stay ahead of the COVID-19 outbreak, download our infographic.

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.