The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact companies and their workers across multiple industries. Cases started to decline in January 2021, only to ramp up again during the summer of 2021 thanks to the Delta Variant. Employers departments that previously had COVID regulations and policies in place to mitigate the pandemic’s early effects on their employees, have had to switch gears to keep up with continually changing workplace conditions. Here are just some of the current challenges that companies are facing in this constantly changing COVID environment.
As part of President Biden’s Path Out Of The Pandemic plan, all federal employees are required to be vaccinated by Nov. 22 and federal contractors by Dec. 8, 2021. According to the White House, these mandates have influenced the private sector as well. Since the July declaration, employers, schools, nursing homes, restaurants, hospitals and cities in all 50 states have announced new vaccination requirements. Since July, the share of job postings that require vaccination are up 90%. The Biden Administration wants to enforce vaccinations across the private sector.
The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is developing a rule that will require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to work. While this rule hasn’t passed yet, OSHA regulations will state that OSHA will issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to implement this requirement which will impact more than 80 million workers. The next step will likely target healthcare workers and school employees.
For HR departments, COVID regulations will likely require companies to track employee vaccinations, especially in industries where it is or will be required. And while an ETS for private sectors hasn’t been released yet, HR departments can still encourage all employees to get vaccinated to make compliance easier once the rule goes into effect.
Future OSHA regulations may also require employers to provide PTO to get vaccinated. OSHA is developing a rule that will require employers with more than 100 employees to provide paid time off for the time it takes for workers to get vaccinated or to recover if they are under the weather post-vaccination. This requirement will be implemented through the ETS.
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Demands for Telemedicine
The COVID-19 pandemic pushed many companies to offer telemedicine as part of their healthcare benefits packages. Telemedicine allows employees to visit with a doctor online and get their prescriptions delivered. Offering telemedicine as a benefit reduces employees’ physical exposure if they do have the virus while having quick access to appointments and treatment. Not only does telemedicine keep people out of emergency rooms, but it may result in lower claims costs for employers, according to SHRM.
The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) and Social Sciences Research Solutions (SSRS) conducted a survey of 1,776 adults about telemedicine and found:
- One-third of respondents reported having a telehealth visit for themselves or a dependent last year.
- 8 in 10 adults said their primary health issue was resolved during their telehealth visit.
- The most common purpose for a telehealth visit was a preventive service, prescription refill or routine visit for a chronic illness.
- Rural residents said they were more likely to use telehealth for surgical consults than people living in non-rural areas.
Easy access to healthcare can help make sure employees receive preventative healthcare which can lower future costs for employers. And, if employees can get a wait-free virtual appointment for a cold or flu, they can get treatment faster, which will help get them back to work sooner.
Need for Mental Health Services
Employee mental health remains a major focus for HR departments. Whether workers were affected by the pandemic firsthand or not, health and economic concerns took on new urgency throughout 2020 and that remains very much the same in 2021.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) predate COVID-19, but they are now more in use than ever to help employers address worker stress and burnout. According to one study, 83% of US employees are experiencing mental health issues and 40% of workers don’t feel employers support their mental health. There are many ways HR can take action in order to become part of the mental health solution.
- Train managers on how to recognize mental health issues. The three most common types of mental illness affecting Americans are anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder. Employers need to make sure managers and other staff can recognize the symptoms of these disorders.
- Encourage employees to use PTO and sick time. Take steps to cover the workload of employees who take time off. One of the biggest reasons employees don’t take time off is the fear of falling behind.
- Break the silence around mental health. Open communication about mental health, especially from company leaders, helps remove the stigma from the topic so that workers feel less shame discussing their struggles, and are more apt to seek help.
- Include an EAP in your benefits offering. Typically costing around $20 a year per employee, EAPs are usually offered together with health insurance and provide free, confidential counseling to any employee in work-related or personal distress. With EAPs, employees can simply pick up the phone rather than researching the right therapist, making an appointment or worrying about copays. EAPs offer a limited number of sessions, but their counselors can refer employees to continued therapy if necessary.