Coronavirus: Mercer’s Guide for Employers, Workforce Support

(Part 1 of 2) 

As COVID-19 or coronavirus continues to spread across the globe, employers with a global presence find themselves confronting an invisible enemy with no solution in sight. The best that these companies can do is to follow the updates, guidelines, travel warnings and directives set by the World Health Organization, as well as national and local health authorities. The next thing they need to do is consider instituting policies and reviews that can ensure the health and safety of employees, communities and businesses. 

So what can companies do to keep their workplaces and employees safe, engaged and productive? And what can we learn from this situation to build resilience in the future?

Mercer proposes 10 considerations for employers with a global workforce. Here are 5 of them:

  1. Employee communication 

Employers should keep up-to-date with the latest developments on a daily basis. Communicate to your employees what is being done to protect them and to maintain business continuity. In addition, all employers need a pandemic/crisis management plan. Consider updating it in relation to COVID-19. 

Employee communications can be used to:

• Highlight current support mechanisms

• Reinforce travel restrictions and policies

• Provide tips and assistance to facilitate remote working

• Remind employees of hygiene practices to maintain health

• Share information on current business continuity and pandemic response plans

This is a good opportunity to remind employees and their managers that employees who are sick with a fever should not come to work. Consistent communication can convey leadership, avoid confusion and reduce anxiety. 

a. Make sure to work cross-functionally. HR, business leadership, operations, risk management, occupational health, travel and corporate communication need clearly set responsibilities, by region and business line. 

b. Make key decisions now. What would trigger a breakdown in business? When and how to communicate with employees and customers in both “normal business” and “crisis” scenarios? How will employees engage with customers/clients in both scenarios?

c. Prepare both a “normal business” and “crisis” communication plan. Draft communications and agree trigger events for sending them. 

d. Identify key target audiences (business leaders, managers, location leaders, HR, corporate employees, field employees, customers/clients, media, government entities, business partners, suppliers and families/dependents). In your communications, be sure to direct employees to reliable sources of information on COVID-19. 

  1. Support mechanisms 

Many organizations are innovating to support their workforce. Companies are looking at helping employees build a comfortable home-working space, new hospitalization cash allowances and special caregiving benefits. Do your current health and benefit providers (including insurers) have appropriate messaging about COVID-19? 

Have your employee health support resources (in employer-sponsored plans) been suitably trained? Are they well prepared to respond to employee questions on COVID-19? Review your own policies. Do you have the appropriate level of coverage? A complex medical evacuation may exceed existing limits.

Mental health. Employers have a role in communicating information and providing mental health support for their employees. Educating managers and making services available for those affected will help to mitigate the impact of the epidemic.

Financial wellbeing. This is another area where employees may need support. The volatility of the financial markets and the associated falls in asset values are affecting people’s retirement savings and other investments. 

Companies are suggested to do the following:

1. Obtain feedback from the organizations that discuss such issues with participants and employees (record-keepers, employer-sponsored/recommended advisory or coaching organizations)

2. Assess the appropriateness of the messages to participants

3. Consider whether additional, supplementary communication may be required. There is more to explore outside defined contribution plans. For example, a reduction in asset values can have an impact on share incentive programs within your organization.

Beyond investment, the virus has already had an impact on many industries. For example, income generation in the travel and tourism industry has been severely impaired. The virus in some geographies has led to reduced employment opportunities or reduced work hours, like employees in the travel and tourism industry. The majority of these employees will still have bills to pay so assisting such employees to bridge a period of financial difficulty could be welcomed. 

If not then there is a risk we will see people avail themselves of opportunities, where possible, to cash in retirement investments, take out loans against their retirement plans or cut back on retirement plan contributions. 

  1. Group medical and risk protection benefits

The stance taken by insurers varies and is likely to evolve. Employers who sponsor medical, life, disability, accident and special-risk insurance (such as business travel and expatriate coverage) should be familiar with the terms and conditions in their policies with regard to If pandemic exclusions, eligibility requirements and unique provisions for quarantine. 

Advisors, brokers and consultants can assist and provide guidance on local social security programs. to have proper infection-control equipment and be prepared to safely isolate, transport and quarantine potential patients. 

4. Onsite/near-site clinic protocols

All onsite or near-site employee health clinics must be prepared to evaluate and manage risks or questions about possible exposure. Health care workers in all levels of the system — including laboratories, ambulance services, clinics and hospitals — need to be informed about the virus and its transmission. 

They also need to have proper infection-control equipment and be prepared to safely isolate, transport and quarantine potential patients. 

If an employee or supplier is found to have been exposed, there should be protocols for transport, communication and decontamination.

5. Business travel management

Travel presents unique health and business challenges during pandemics. Be prepared for travel limitations and delays, including long-time quarantines in some areas. As COVID-19 expands geographically, business travelers can anticipate more screenings, longer waiting times, potential quarantines and refusal of entry. 

To limit business disruption and protect their employees, employers need to be proactive. Employees should be discouraged from traveling for business to the impacted regions. Even mild, unrelated injury or illness may be difficult to treat as the medical infrastructures are likely to be exhausted. 

Evacuation may not be feasible. Many major air ambulance providers will not transport anyone suspected of having COVID-19, and several commercial airlines have ceased flying to the impacted countries. Employers should consider adjusting travel policies and restricting travel and business operations in affected areas. 

Traveler risk management and communications

• Follow travel warnings strictly.

• Review advice from local public health authorities.

• Define essential travel, and limit all nonessential travel.

• Establish process checks to ensure business travel is truly required.

• Set up a process for reporting concerns and clarifying authority and accountability.

• Put in place governance for approval and standards for return to impacted areas. 

• Be proactive in evacuating employees from any newly impacted areas as borders may be closed to control the spread of disease.

• Recommend social distancing in impacted areas, avoiding large gatherings.

• When business travel is required:

– Enroll in home government “travelling abroad” consular programs. 

– Book flights closer to the departure date and purchase refundable tickets.

• Review current corporate travel policies and insurance programs (e.g., business travel accident and medical, evacuation, workers’ compensation and liability) for adequacy and support.

• Contact travel assistance and security vendors to determine any limitations on support and capacity

• Use (or implement) travel risk management protocols and supporting services, such as traveler tracking programs that push automatic security and health advisories to the traveler in real time.

• Think outside the norm — risk is inherent beyond direct travel into the impacted areas.

(To be continued)