Given the forced office closures and community quarantine guidance, COVID-19 has brought remote work to the forefront of HR policy conversations. Many organizational design professionals believe that this period of rapidly forced working from home will change the workplace landscape indefinitely. Recognizing that many companies are currently unprepared for a long-term shift to remote work and that not all functional roles are designed for success in a virtual work environment, it is important to define now how your company will address a workplace shift toward remote work and determine program success factors to evaluate trial work-from-home policies.
In the U.S., there is no federal policy that requires private employers to provide employees with sick leave benefits. State and municipal policies on sick time vary widely across markets. Despite the lack of federal mandate, many private employers choose to offer sick leave, vacation time or a combined PTO policy as part of a competitive hiring package. Given the largely voluntary nature of leave coverage, different organizations could give very different guidance to employees. This variance can result in a lot of confusion for employees. Additionally, data has shown that lower-income and hourly wage earners – i.e., those most likely to be financially impacted by local business closures – are least likely to have paid sick time.
In times like what we are currently experiencing, employees seek guidance from their social peers regarding what is “normal” in terms of employer leave coverage. Given the ease of digital dialogue on social platforms, there is high potential for policy confusion and coverage gaps to create employee concerns about employer generosity. Perceived company culture, employee satisfaction and employer reputation are key market differentiators in a competitive environment. Any employee concerns around coverage for forced leave could significantly add to the impact on your company’s financial well-being.
Like leave coverage, employee benefits vary widely by company. For organizations that do not offer a health benefits program, keep in mind that the current global emphasis on health concerns may increase the importance of health coverage in employees’ eyes as a key benefit in a company.
Beyond the obvious concerns related to healthcare coverage, the COVID-19 pandemic has raised several other benefits-related issues:
• Many employees in the American workforce will have been impacted by school closures and concerns for elder care, so they may need flex schedule or family coverage benefits.
• People may have increased interest in coverage for telehealth or virtual healthcare.
• There may be higher demand for mental health support in the wake of social distance policies and increased social concerns.
• Employees who have lost wages and are financially distressed may seek financial counseling.
• Team members may feel increased desire to support charity or give back to community organizations that have been impacted by the pandemic.