Attacking the coronavirus with clear plans, policies

Consistent, accurate information is vital.
By: | March 12, 2020 • 2 min read

As the coronavirus and workplace fears continue to spread—government officials estimate more than 1,000 cases in the U.S. and more than 30 deaths—HR professionals are developing, refining or rolling out plans to keep their workforce safe and productive. Although the situation changes daily, offering consistent, accurate information and support mechanisms can help convert fearful employees into a well-informed and healthy workforce.

Mercer published a free employer’s guide on COVID-19, called Ten Considerations to Support your Workforce.

Among its key tips is that employee communication must convey leadership, avoid confusion and ease anxiety.

“Employers should be communicating to their employers frequently, clearly and concisely as information and guidance around COVID-19 is changing daily,” says David Zieg, clinical services leader in Mercer’s total health management practice. “We also advise clients to closely follow the information and guidance from local and county health departments, not just the CDC and WHO—as local information is what employees will react to, and have questions about—right away.”

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Other suggestions the guide mentions include:

  • Offer or promote existing support mechanisms, such as telemedicine, which can avoid unnecessary exposure to the virus. Educate managers on how to spot employees with mental-health issues that could be aggravated by a public-health crisis, such as depression or anxiety. Make sure they communicate what mental healthcare benefits are available to workers.
  • Help employees pay their bills. The virus is also affecting the health of employee paychecks. Consider rolling out a temporary, financial-assistance program for workers; otherwise, they may cash in retirement investments, take out loans against their retirement plans or cut back on retirement-plan contributions.
  • Work cross-functionally. HR, business leadership, operations, risk management, occupational health, corporate communication and other business functions must clearly set responsibilities by region and business line.
  • Become familiar with exclusions in your health insurance pertaining to pandemics. What are the eligibility requirements? Are there unique provisions for quarantine?
  • Clarify policies for business travel. Avoid travel and business operations in restricted areas. Keep in mind that evacuations may not be feasible. Many major air ambulance providers will not transport anyone suspected of having the virus.

Based on responses from Mercer’s survey last month, 77% of companies said they were not adjusting plans for compensation.

“We are seeing companies taking a decidedly compassionate approach—maintaining payrolls, auditing benefits to ensure coverage and extending flexible use of paid time off and other paid-leave programs,” Mercer states in the guide. “Their overarching goal is to sustain a bright future for their employees while supporting them through the difficulty.”

Carol Patton is a contributing editor for HRE who also writes HR articles and columns for business and education magazines. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.