benefitexpress March 20, 2020 9 min read

Navigating COVID-19: Information & Actionable Next Steps for Employers

Use employee benefits offerings to guide through crisis

By now, it's likely that matters related to or as a result of COVID-19 are at or near (or even exclusively) the top of your agenda.

As an employer, HR leader or benefits administrator, you know that the decisions and actions you take in tough times mean the most to employees. Keeping your employees healthy both physically and mentally is a priority, and especially now. How are you utilizing your existing benefits strategy to assist your employees in times of need—and how are your employees taking advantage of their offerings in this specific period of uncertainty?  

The current climate of COVID-19 is exceptionally unpredictable, with updates occurring by the minute, it seems. During this time, or other periods of uncertainty, employees look to their employer for reassurance, compassion and guidance. 

Here are a few ways you can use elements of your existing HR and benefits strategy to help maintain employee wellness during the uncharted waters of COVID-19 and similar challenges that may present in the future.

1. Highlight EAP offerings to ease fears and anxieties 

When unpredictable situations happen, anxiety and fear rise even among the calmest of individuals. And now more than ever it's important to be an advocate for your employee's emotional wellness by putting a spotlight on your organization's relevant benefits offerings, such as employee assistance programs.

To support the emotional and mental health of employees, many companies have incorporated EAPs into their benefits package to allow employees to receive counseling for them self or a family member in a time of need.

Now is one of those times.

Use your communication channels to remind employees of EAP offerings, including explanation of the services offered and inclusion of the specific contact information for your program. Helping employees relieve anxiety and fear will ease the nervousness and help keep employees and their families as safe and healthy as possible. 

2. Review the Families First Coronavirus Response Act

On March 18, 2020, President Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act ("the Act") into law. For employers with less than 500 employees, this means more extensive family leave and sick benefits related to COVID-19 along with updates to unemployment and Medicaid. Learn details when you join our webinar on March 31. 

To properly administer the requirements noted above, it’s crucial that employers connect with any internal or external teams and legal professionals who assist with leave administration and/or employment laws.

The below presentation includes further details about the Act. View the presentation now, or, download the slides for your own use later.


3. Promote telehealth options

Other benefits offerings your organization has in place can also play a critical role in protecting the health of your employees. When communicating information around best practices for maintaining health and preventing the spread of illness, don't forget to highlight telehealth service options. Remind employees that telehealth helps prevent hospital overcrowding, and also provides an alternative, cost-effective healthcare option for employees when compared to using urgent care facilities or the emergency room.

For employers without a telehealth plan, SHRM notes "the best course of action is to [advise employees to] call their health provider if they have one, their local urgent care clinic, or—in a pinch—the local ER and describe their symptoms."

To help employees understand their symptoms and prepare to share them with their telehealth physician, we've provided the below chart.  

covid-chartData: WHO, CDC and @siouxsiew @XTOTL via the

Plus, don't forget the basics

It's no question that these are uncertain times—but even now, the best precautions to take are also the simplest. Whether your employees are in the office, telecommuting, taking a sabbatical or even out of work for a period of time, take a "back to basics" approach to help maintain and enforce recommended hygiene protocols among your workforce.

Steps to prevent the spreading of illness

  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, especially after being in a public area or coughing/sneezing
  • Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol often
  • Avoid touching your face during the day if you haven't washed your hands 
  • Clean and disinfect commonly used spaces such as desks, lounge areas, kitchen appliances, keyboards, door handles, etc
  • Practice social distancing and maintain a six-foot distance between coworkers
  • Stay home when you're feeling sick to avoid passing illness to others

As a business leader, it's important to review the current pandemic and respond appropriately. By regularly communicating the health care options you offer, and pointing your employees in the right direction to access these benefits, you'll be able to confidently help your employees feel assured that they have the support needed while navigating the changes of COVID-19 or a related crisis now or in the future.  

We invite you to attend our upcoming webinar on COVID-19 for employers, which will cover the evolving situation and how companies are responding to the issue. For more information and guidance on COVID-19, visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website.