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Employers broadening efforts to protect workers’ health and wellbeing amid COVID-19, Willis Towers Watson survey finds

Key initiatives include a dramatic increase in remote work, ensuring access to prescription drugs and medical care

April 10, 2020

Health and Benefits
Risque de pandémie

ARLINGTON, VA, April 10, 2020 — Employers are broadening their efforts to help their workers cope with COVID-19 while at the same time preparing for an eventual return to a stable workplace, according to Willis Towers Watson’s latest survey of employers’ responses to the pandemic. Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company.

Employers reported a dramatic increase in remote work: 39% said over three-quarters of their workers could now work remotely, up from just 14% before the pandemic. Almost all employers (97%) reported promotion of physical (social) distancing as well as increased cleaning and access to disinfection for those employees who are not able to work remotely.

Wellbeing — both physical and emotional — remains a primary consideration for employers. Many employers are shaping an effective course of action by increasing employee access to virtual medical care. The survey found that 86% of employers are promoting use of telemedicine, a nurse line or virtual visits for medical concerns. Fifty-eight percent are increasing access to telebehavioral health, and an additional 14% plan to do so. For those employees who contract the virus, 41% report they will waive out-of-pocket costs for treatment.

To encourage access to prescription drugs during the pandemic, 37% are relaxing supply limitations for non-specialty drugs (i.e., allowing 90-day supplies of medicines that otherwise are dispensed 30 days at a time); another 7% plan to do so.

“Protecting the health of employees, customers and the community is a prime concern for all employers,” said Jeff Levin-Scherz, M.D., leader, North American Health Management practice, Willis Towers Watson. “Organizations recognize their employees are going through a difficult period and are taking action to help them manage through the health and economic aspects of this crisis.”

Half (55%) of employers would provide salary continuation for a median of two weeks if an employee is out of work on self-quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure. Additionally, to help workers deal with challenges when a family member is ill, more than four in five employers (84%) have policies that allow flexibility for employees to work from home if they are caring for a sick family member.

Employers often continue to require physician notes for employees for leave (56%) or for returning to work (68%) after COVID-19 illness even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discourages this practice.

Eighty-eight percent of employers reported they have a business continuity plan in place, and 65% have an emergency command center. Eighty-seven percent reported they would conduct post-event plan reviews to improve future emergency preparedness. Only 39% reported they had already instituted supervisor training specific to COVID-19.

In an effort to prevent COVID-19 stigma, employers are acting to avoid bias or discrimination associated with the pandemic. Forty-seven percent of employers have organized plans to avoid stigma in the workplace associated with the COVID-19 epidemic, and 21% are planning anti-stigma campaigns.

“This is a defining leadership moment for many organizations,” says Dr. Levin-Scherz. “The employers that take strong action to put people first will be the best positioned to enhance employee wellbeing, restore stability and achieve future business success.”

About the survey

A total of 654 employers participated in the COVID-19 Employer Readiness Survey, which was conducted during the week of March 30, 2020. Respondents employ nearly 7.8 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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