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COVID 19 outbreak: How to prepare your business

Health and Benefits|Talent|Workers Compensation
COVID 19 Coronavirus

March 16, 2020

Our recent webcast covered its effect on businesses, the psychological impact and the applicability of insurance to COVID-19 claims.

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About our COVID-19 coverage

In our ongoing coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak, experts from across Willis Towers Watson share insight into what you need to know to manage your business and employees and reduce your risk.

Our recent COVID-19 (coronavirus) webcast hosted by Marc Hindman, risk control and claim advocacy practice leader, discussed the growing outbreak in the U.S. from many perspectives including what steps businesses can take to protect employees, how businesses are adjusting to the changes, what the psychological impact of the disease may have on employees and the applicability of insurance to cover COVID-19 claims.

Dr. Jeff Levin-Scherz, co-leader, North American Health Management practice, provided background on the spread of the virus, and its relationship to other known infections such as earlier coronavirus outbreaks such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and more common viruses like influenza.

“It's substantially more contagious than influenza and also much more contagious than SARS or MERS, which are others coronavirus-related diseases,” said Dr. Levin-Scherz.

He discussed the importance of staying up to date on the spread of the virus especially in regards to travel to hotspots like South Korea and Italy.

He also addressed the economic impact the COVID-19 outbreak will have on the global economy.

“The economic impact of COVID-19 is quite grim,” said Dr. Levin-Scherz.

He discussed the results of a recent survey conducted February 20–26 of 156 multinational employers that together have 1.5 million employees. The survey focused on how employers are adapting to the numerous changes in business since the outbreak. Among the survey insights:

  • 34% expect COVID-19 to have a significant negative impact on business results in the next six months.
  • 44% increased access to hand sanitizers.
  • 25% are disinfecting worksites.
  • 22% obtained supplies of personal protective equipment.

Additionally, he discussed the how to protect workers and the importance of:

  • Providing accurate and timely communications
  • Reminding employees about employee assistance programs and telemedicine
  • Ensuring supervisors have needed resources
  • Considering alternative approaches to work arrangements and meetings

Pam Enright, leader of expatriate benefits solutions, discussed issues facing mobile employees working and travelling abroad and cited key statistics:

  • 63% of employers surveyed are cancelling business trips to select countries.
  • 55% are encouraging employees to conduct meetings virtually.
  • 47% are cancelling planned conferences in select countries.

She noted that given these answers are already two weeks old, she’d expect these numbers may be even higher now and suggested employers and employees should consult the CDC and State Department websites for updates and advisories when planning travel abroad.

She also noted that expats working in countries with outbreaks are likely under high stress and anxiety levels that may impact productivity. Many expats may be requesting to return home or asking for assistance to repatriate their families. Some of the steps employers can take for expats are similar to domestic employees such as encouraging work from home policies and video conferencing and providing protective supplies and equipment.

Finally, she advised employers to review their expats health insurance policies to make sure there are no exclusions for pandemics.

Heather Marshall, senior leader, Talent and Rewards, discussed the impact the outbreak is having on rewards consideration. The impact on business operations is causing financial uncertainty just as companies traditionally set their short- and long-term incentive plan goals, and many organizations are grappling with how to set goals.

Some of the actions taken include reductions in goals, broadening of ranges and companies changing metrics to reflect their evolving strategies. Some companies, especially in Asia, are drawing on lessons learned during the Financial Crisis of 2008.

  • 44% of survey respondents report 2020 short-term incentives impacted.
  • About half intend to maintain the current short-term incentive design and reserve the right to use discretion.

Beth Ashmore, head of intellectual capital, Retirement, discussed employee concerns over losing pay and benefits to lost time at work should they become exposed to the virus, making it important for employers to communicate policy on pay and benefits especially in regard to missed work and workplace shutdown. Talk to your disability insurer, and check if your state’s workers compensation program may cover missed work. Also, she noted that there is talk of passage of a new Federal Medical Leave policy to address COVID-19 outbreak. She advised employers to:

  • Reaffirm long-term job security
  • Identify options to manage benefits program costs

Thomas Ryan, head of casualty claims, and Eric Silverstein, casualty coverage, both discussed the insurance claims process especially in regard to workers compensation and who is covered under policies. Ryan also discussed the importance of reviewing business continuity plans in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. If an employee becomes ill it is important to file a worker’s comp claim promptly. Ryan also advised if employers that don’t have a claims advocacy program to put one in place. He suggested employers give daily updates on response to the crisis. Silverstein went into greater detail about the types of employees may be covered by workers compensation citing for example a nurse in a medical office would be more likely to be covered than a call center worker.

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