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Press Release

North American companies take steps to protect employees from coronavirus epidemic

Key initiatives include restricted travel, remote work and employee communication, Willis Towers Watson survey finds

March 5, 2020

Health and Benefits|Risk and Analytics
Risque de pandémie

Arlington, VA, March 5, 2020 – Amid growing concern over COVID-19, a majority of North American companies are taking steps to protect their employees from respiratory infection and to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, according to a recent survey by Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW), a leading advisory, broking and solutions company. These initiatives include launching employee communication campaigns, expanding the number of employees working remotely, and restricting travel to and from countries deemed to be high risk.

“The coronavirus is a wake-up call for companies to review their strategies, policies and procedures about safeguarding employees, customers and operations in this and future epidemics,” said Jeff Levin-Scherz, co-leader, North American Health Management practice, Willis Towers Watson. “From boosting communication to increasing access to hand sanitizers, employers need a plan of action to protect their workers and reduce the risk of business interruption.”

One of the key initiatives aimed toward reducing the spread of the virus is to restrict travel. According to the survey of 158 national and multinational employers, nearly two in three (63%) have cancelled planned trips to select countries for their North American employees who travel internationally for business, and 55% are encouraging virtual meetings to decrease travel. Nearly half (47%) have cancelled planned conferences in select countries.

Remote work is advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it’s one of the policies that nearly half (46%) of organizations are implementing because of the COVID-19 epidemic. Other prevention policies being implemented include required screening for visitors or employees who have recently travelled (30%) and clarifying pay policy if worksites are closed or employees are furloughed (28%).

Almost half of respondents (45%) have done research to determine which employees are at risk of COVID-19, based on their travel. Over half (59%) have deployed communication campaigns geared toward preventing spread of respiratory disease.

To help prevent spread of respiratory disease, 44% of respondents said they have increased access to hand sanitizers for their North American employees, and 38% are reviewing and or/revising HR policies and procedures; however, only 5% are evaluating and/or reserving for potential increased health plan liabilities.

The survey also identified actions employers in China and Asia implemented that North American organizations can learn from, should the virus continue to spread. For example, most worksites in China have closed, and 82% of employees in China are being directed to work from home; however, most furloughed employees in China and other locations in Asia are being paid in full, and nearly all employers in Asia will continue to pay employee benefits, even if the worksite is closed.

“While the risks to those organizations with multinational operations or expatriate workers may seem more obvious, all companies can face a wide range of business risks due to the virus — from supply chain disruptions to shortages of computer chips and cell phone parts. It’s important that companies stay on top of developments as the virus is still in its early stages and its full impact is not yet known,” said Francis Coleman, managing director, Global Services and Solutions, Willis Towers Watson.

About the survey

A total of 158 U.S. companies, of which 64% of the respondents were multinationals, participated in the Willis Towers Watson COVID-19 Survey, which was conducted in mid-February. Respondents employ nearly 1.5 million workers.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has 45,000 employees serving more than 140 countries and markets. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimize benefits, cultivate talent, and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas — the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential. Learn more at

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