HRE’s number of the day: at-risk workers

While safety measures are important for all workers, employers should give special consideration to at-risk employees in the midst of COVID-19.
By: | June 29, 2020 • 2 min read

44%: Percentage of employers that have accommodated at-risk employees by creating more flexibility

Employers are giving special consideration to at-risk employees who are older or have a medical condition and whose jobs cannot be done remotely. Two-fifths of employers (44%) have accommodated at-risk employees by creating more flexibility, and 50% more are planning or considering such actions, according to a new survey of employers from consulting firm Willis Towers Watson. Roughly 30% of employers are reassigning at-risk employees to new roles that accommodate remote work or physical distancing, and many more plan to do so.

What it means to HR leaders
Employers are taking a closer look at how to safeguard returning employees in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. About 40% of companies identified workplace safety as a top priority in June, compared to 27% in a survey conducted in April, according to Willis Towers Watson. Most employers (71%) have developed workplace and employee safety policies to prepare for the return of employees. Among precautions they are embracing, or considering, are screening workers on re-entry, providing personal protective equipment and reconfiguring workspaces.


But at-risk employees—who represent a big portion of the workforce—present a bigger challenge for HR and other corporate leaders. The Kaiser Family Foundation recently found that one in four workers is at high risk for serious complications from COVID-19 if infected. Their analysis estimates that 37.7 million workers, or 24% of employed U.S. adults in 2018, are at high risk, including 10 million who are 65 or older and an additional 27.7 million with pre-existing medical conditions. The analysis also estimates that 12 million more at-risk adults who do not work themselves live in households with workers. For this group, indirect exposure could be just as serious of a risk as going to work themselves, Kaiser says.

Related: 1 in 4 workers at risk for serious COVID-19 illness as employers open up workplaces

HR leaders are wise to give special consideration to these employees, experts say.

“These data suggest employers should take into account the higher risk some workers will face, allowing them to work at home where possible, to be tested and to minimize their risks if they return to work,” says KFF President and CEO Drew Altman.

Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at

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