Personalization helps meet the needs of multiple generations in the workplace

In many workplace organizations, there has been an increase in age demographics. As many generations are beginning to work together, it's necessary for organizations to cater to all generations while catering to their different needs, wants, and styles. Read this blog post to learn more.


Changing demographics are creating more age diversity in the workplace, and this 5-generation age range means employers are increasingly faced with catering to different priorities and communication styles with benefits.

When it comes to health and wellbeing, employees between the ages of 55 and 64 prioritize benefits related to physical health, while younger employees care more about social and mental health, according to a study from Optum.

“The one-size-fits-all approach to communication, benefits and services needs to evolve,” says Seth Serxner, chief health officer at Optum. “The challenges a 35-year-old woman with young kids has is very different from a boomer or an empty nester who are dealing with other issues, so the life circumstances are very different.”

Instead, employers should look towards implementing a personalized communication strategy, or even hyper-personalization of benefits related to life cycles, Serxner says.

“If you think about saving in a health savings account, for example, we like to really target these different groups,” he says. “Once we do that, we see a tremendous increase in contributions and the overall savings averages.”

Wil Lewis, a diversity and inclusion executive and head of global disability strategy at Bank of America, says that since the company functions in several different countries, it emphasizes diversity of experience, culture and generations.

“One of the things that we've done as an organization is focused on how to integrate the wisdom that comes from past experiences and be sure that we leverage some of their ideas and make decisions for the future,” Lewis says.

Bank of America is one of over 1,000 employers who have signed the AARP Employer Pledge Program, a nationwide group of employers that stand with AARP in affirming the value of experienced workers and are committed to developing diverse organizations. They have pledged to promote equal opportunity for all workers, regardless of age.

Bank of America also has an intergenerational employee network, with chapters across the U.S. and other countries. The network has, among other things, created mentoring programs where employees in different generations can come together and learn from each other in person or virtually.

“It's actually one of our fastest growing employee networks inside the company,” Lewis says. “We’re really trying to drive connectivity and opportunity for them to learn from one another.”

The company aims to have a broad and comprehensive benefit range that touches on all individual generations, says Ebony Thomas, a global human resources executive at Bank of America.

“We are really thinking about where employees are in their life cycle, and tailoring services, learning, training or benefits to that life cycle,” she says. “It's really thinking ‘are we inclusive of everyone in the organization, in different stages and points in their lives?’ and how a benefit impacts them.”

The Optum data also discovered differences in financial service needs among generations. Younger generations are more concerned about debt, student tuition and how to start saving, whereas older generations may be more interested in things like buying a house, family health or retirement, says Optum’s Serxner.

Technology is another area of great discrepancy among the workplace age gap. Serxner says understanding how millennials or younger generations think about text messaging versus older generations can help employers rethink how they’re utilizing technology and what impact it has.

“There can be mental and behavioral impacts from using technology,” he says. “Employees can start to feel isolated, lonely or left out, based on the way an organization might cater to only one group, or might have a bias toward one kind of technology, whereas some people really feel it's critical to be face-to-face or on the phone.”

It’s critical employers learn and understand the makeup of their workforce, and tailor their communication strategy to their needs, Serxner says. Employers can drive up engagement and participation in their benefit offerings.

“I work with one digital company communications company that’s more than 70% millennial, and all of their outreach, benefits and promotions are phone based,” Serxner says. “I have other older energy and utility companies where they still do big pool meetings, and hand out brochures and packages, where they have individuals explaining the benefits. So the employers tend to have a sense of who their populations are, and tailor their approaches accordingly.”

SOURCE: Nedlund, E. (08 May 2020) "Personalization helps meet the needs of multiple generations in the workplace" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/personalization-helps-meet-the-needs-of-multiple-generations-in-the-workplace


Meal program provides healthy lunches to remote workers

The coronavirus pandemic has placed many disruptions in the day-to-day lives of employees, which has caused both mental and physical challenges. Research has shown that more people are now snacking or eating more now, due to the quarantine brought upon many. Read this blog post to learn more.


Disruptions from the coronavirus have infiltrated the daily lives of employees, causing challenges to both our mental and physical well-being. Focusing on proper nutrition is on the back burner for many.

Twenty-seven percent of people reported snacking more during coronavirus, and 15% said they are eating more often than usual, according to a study by the International Food Information Council. Forty-two percent have been relying more on pre-packaged foods than in the previous month, despite believing they are a less healthy option.

“The quality of fuel we put in our body ultimately controls the output,” says Michael Wystrach, CEO of Freshly, a meal subscription service. “So how well our brain functions, how our emotions and hormones are released, how productive we are, it really does start with diet.”

The coronavirus has exacerbated the challenge of accessing healthy food for many across the United States. While there has been a skyrocketing demand for groceries and grocery delivery services during the pandemic, 37 million Americans are considered “food insecure,” meaning they lack access to affordable and nutritious food options.

To address those concerns, Freshly created a new meal service called Freshly for Business to provide healthy and affordable meals for employees working remotely. The program allows employers to offer free or subsidized meal plans consisting of up to 12 meals per week. Employers including PwC and KPMG, among others, are partnering with Freshly, which costs an average of $8 per meal per employee.

“We used our platform to solve the needs of customers who are saying, we have a lot of employees working at home who are working hard but are strained and have a lot of challenges on their plates,” Wystrach says. “Employers wanted to provide them a benefit of healthy food by signing up a few dozen to thousands of employees very quickly.”

Lack of proper nutrition can have devastating and expensive consequences: In the U.S., 40% of adults are obese, and 90% of overweight individuals have prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes, a condition often caused by poor diet. According to the American Diabetes Association, the cost of medical expenditures and lost productivity due to diagnosed diabetes was $327.2 billion in 2017, the most recent data available.

“Type 2 diabetes is the fastest growing disease in America, and it’s principally caused by poor diet. It takes a huge toll on employers and employees,” Wystrach says. “One of the challenges now is the traditional lunch hour is gone and convenience is the pinnacle. But we make poor decisions when we rely on convenience with our food.”

Providing food in the workplace is a much desired benefit, with 73% of employees saying they want healthy cafeteria and snack options at work, according to a survey by Quantum Workplace and Limeade. However, just 32% provided free snacks and food, and only 17% had an onsite cafeteria available for workers, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

As employers begin considering their return-to-work strategies and how they will make their offices safe and their benefits supportive of the health and well-being of their employees, providing meal options should be a major consideration, Wystrach says.

“Especially as we think about social distancing, the less you’re sending your employees out, the safer everyone is,” he says. “Employers will also be thinking about healthcare costs post-COVID. How do they keep overall healthcare costs down? It’s really in everyone’s benefit to provide benefits that promote health and wellness.”

Meal offerings and proper nutrition are a win-win for employers and their workers, Wystrach says.

“Health and happiness ultimately creates a more productive employee,” he says. “When you’re trying to find a win-win for everyone, it drives productivity, it creates happy employees, and it reduces cost over time. There will continue to be a focus on benefits that provide that.”

SOURCE: Place, A. (12 May 2020) "Meal program provides healthy lunches to remote workers" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/meal-program-provides-healthy-lunches-to-remote-workers


Bots Help Government Tackle COVID-19 Challenges

As many are fighting the battle with various programming software applications, at this time it is helping various agencies with coronavirus data collection. Read this blog post to learn more.


The war against the coronavirus is being fought with science, social distancing, health care … and bots, software applications that run repetitive tasks over the Internet. Public-sector agencies are programming bots to speed the collection and analysis of data about coronavirus infection rates, transform paper-based procurement processes into digital ones, and help employees conduct business when in-person contact is no longer an option.

Robotic Process Automation in the Public Sector

Federal agencies are deploying robotic process automation (RPA) to overcome process or administrative hurdles. The General Services Administration (GSA) used the technology—which automates manual, repetitive tasks through the use of bots—to help track the spread of COVID‑19 in counties across the United States where the GSA has buildings.

Jim Walker, director of public-sector services for UiPath, a New York-based RPA platform provider, said the GSA used bots to gather and update COVID-19 infection data when agency employees became overwhelmed as infection counts rapidly rose. Walker said the GSA has trained about 50 of its employees in the use of RPA to create bots for the agency.

In another case, a government agency in Ireland used RPA to help process the burgeoning number of unemployment benefit claims. When laid-off workers submit an unemployment claim, a bot conducts optical character recognition on data and determines where a person has been employed. When employment and benefits eligibility are confirmed, the bot can deposit benefit funds directly into employee bank accounts.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) deployed a bot to check on employees working from home. "Previously, the CMS would send out e-mails to confirm the health and welfare of its remote workers but would receive many thousands of e-mails a day in return," Walker said. "A small CMS team was tasked with reviewing those e-mails and creating regular status reports, but it became hard to keep up."

CMS deployed a bot that automatically checks the databases employees regularly access to perform their work. If an employee hasn't logged on for a specified period of time, the bot triggers a welfare check, Walker said.

Creating and Deploying Bots

Experts say RPA platforms can often be quickly installed. Because many basic RPA bots are of the "no-code" or "low-code" variety—meaning they require little or no software coding skills but rather, they function in drag-and-drop fashion—they often can be created, tested and rolled out in a matter of weeks, depending on the use case.

But experts say RPA platforms still require enterprise-grade security protections and the oversight of a designated team to manage bot development and deployment across the organization.

"If the automation challenge is COVID‑19-related, you don't have months or in some cases even weeks to get automation in place," said Keith Nelson, senior director of public-sector services for Automation Anywhere, an RPA platform provider in Arlington, Va. "Organizations often need immediate relief. In the case of HR, once a bot is created, users often simply have to send an e‑mail with a specified subject line to a certain address to activate it. In many cases, there's no need for any coding."

Automation Anywhere recently partnered with Microsoft to create a bot to help process COVID‑19 case forms for the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. Nelson said the initiative was in response to a directive from the World Health Organization to collect clinical data and case forms for coronavirus patients to identify infection trends more quickly.

Expanding Uses of RPA

Some government agencies have turned to bots to help them with onboarding. In this use, RPA can be programmed to verify a candidate's information, fill in and process new-hire forms, transfer that information into HR databases, send required paperwork to new hires, and help provision equipment such as laptops.

HR and IT functions are using automation for such tasks as creating and distributing remote-working agreements for employees, and transforming emergency funding requests from paper to digital formats.

"Many government agencies didn't have work-from-home agreements or support response agreements until COVID‑19 hit," said Steve Witt, director of public sector for Nintex, a Seattle-based automation and process management company. "Many procurement and other processes had been conducted on paper before, where people would sign forms and hand them off to HR or to a manager."

HR functions are also using no-code automation platforms to quickly create digital forms for such tasks as tracking essential employees coming to and leaving work. For example, to track exposure and risk to employees, the forms might sit on a kiosk at a reception desk and request details about where employees have recently traveled.

"If HR needs to quickly build out a digital form, they can do it without requiring support from IT," Witt said. "That's helpful during the COVID crisis because IT is often scrambling to keep up with the technical-support demands of employees now working from home."

Companies are using RPA with popular collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams, and there are concerns that RPA will replace HR or IT jobs after the COVID‑19 crisis begins to recede. Experts say that, to date, the technology more often has replaced tasks, not entire jobs.

"A government employee might have 50 things to do every day but can only get to 40 of them," Walker said. "If you can automate those 10 tasks with bots, you haven't taken a job away but rather helped that worker do his or her job more efficiently."

SOURCE: Zielinski, D. (27 April 2020) "Bots Help Government Tackle COVID-19 Challenges" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/technology/pages/bots-help-government-tackle-covid19-challenges.aspx


Pandemic Takes a Toll on Employees’ Emotional Well-Being

As the coronavirus pandemic has made working from home a new norm, some employees are facing many challenges whether it be emotionally or mentally. Read this blog post to learn more.


Mental health issues in the workplace have been an area of concern for some time, but with the COVID-19 crisis, the emotional challenges employees are confronting have spiked.

"The coronavirus pandemic has made employees' mental health top-of-mind for employers, as many working adults are feeling a sense of uncertainty," said Nancy Reardon, chief strategy and product officer at Maestro Health, a benefits-management software firm based in Chicago.

Employees are feeling stress and experiencing significant change. They may:

  • Be concerned about the stability of their jobs.
  • Have been asked to work from home—or required to come onsite despite heightened health risks.
  • Be juggling child and elder care issues and responsibilities.

"Having to care for a disabled child, elderly parents or multiple children can be additional stressors that can affect an employee's emotional and physical well-being, especially as many day cares, community agencies and medical offices are being closed," said Kamilah Thomas, a licensed clinical social worker with KBT Counseling and Consulting in Bellaire, Texas.

Anyone could experience crippling levels of stress and anxiety now, so it's important for HR professionals and people managers to be alert to signs that may indicate employees are struggling to cope.

Signs to Watch For

Nate Masterson, HR manager for personal care products company Maple Holistics in Farmingdale, N.J., suggests managers be on the lookout for potential erratic work hours or lack of availability. These may be indications that something is wrong.

"Now, more than ever, it's important to stay on top of employee productivity, not in terms of the company's success, but for employee well-being," even—or especially—if employees are working at home, Masterson said. "It's important to come from a place of concern for health rather than business advancement during this challenging time."

Thomas encourages employers to be alert to "frequent physical complaints, increased anger or irritability, persistent sadness, excessive worrying, poor sleep patterns, suicidal thoughts, increase in substance use, impulsivity or reckless behavior."

Those changes are not always easy to notice when workers are onsite, much less when supervising remote workers. Check in regularly with teleworkers by phone or video conferencing, which provides an opportunity to gauge and respond to these concerns.

What Should HR Do to Ensure Employees Have the Support They Need?

One of the most important things leaders can do is provide an employee assistance program (EAP) or health plan with good mental health coverage, said Aimee Daramus, a licensed clinical psychologist in Chicago. If an EAP is part of the benefits package, now is a good time to remind employees of the availability of such services.

"Companies can also make lists of local mental health resources like therapists, psychiatrists, suicide hotlines, or meditation and yoga classes," she said.

HR professionals can help employees feel supported by role-modeling "the ability to say, 'I'm feeling some anxiety right now,' or other words that normalize talking about mental health," Daramus said. "People will feel less stressed just because they don't have to keep their problems a secret."

Even simply allowing them to talk about their concerns and emotions can help, said clinical psychologist George Vergolias, medical director of R3 Continuum, a behavioral health consultancy in Minneapolis. "HR professionals should strive for early and often communication to employees, including honest and transparent information about what you know and what you don't know" about issues such as job security, as the situation develops.

Employees Working Onsite

Employees still working onsite in industries such as health care, retail, food services and critical manufacturing operations will have different needs than those working from home. Those onsite may have worries about being infected by co-workers or customers. Amazon warehouse employees' concerns on these matters have been much in the news, as an example.

HR leaders and people managers should encourage and support these employees and communicate with them regularly about the safety precautions they are taking and encouraging employees to take. Employees should not report to work if they are experiencing symptoms. Employers may want to screen employees for fever or other symptoms and ask them to go home if necessary.

Employees Working from Home

Employees working from home have additional concerns. Many may not have experience working remotely—or may not be comfortable with it. Some may be dealing with caring for children or others who also are at home. Feelings of isolation may be common.

To support workers at home, Reardon suggests, HR professionals and managers can encourage them to go outside for a walk or to take lunch in another room to get a mental break during the day.

"Another good reminder for employees is to take care of their physical self by drinking a lot of water and eating healthy foods, which can reduce stress and keep employees mentally alert during the workday," she said.

In addition, employers can also encourage home-based workers to take time for their families. "Taking a break from work to walk your dog with your daughter or teach your son math are not only ways working parents can keep their children occupied since they're not in school, but also good mental reminders to prioritize the overall well-being of family members during this time," Reardon said.

Innovative Approaches

These are different times, and everybody is feeling their way through them. It's important to think creatively about supporting employees wherever they are.

At Denver-based Paladina Health, which manages primary care practices, Chief People Officer Allison Velez said that virtual 15-minute meditations are being offered each morning. Teammates who miss the meditation can log in later for a replay.

"The old rules may not apply," Velez said. "This is the time for HR to reinvent themselves. If your old policies and programs aren't meeting the current needs of your teammates, change them." Paladina also has revamped its traditional paid-time-off (PTO) program to create new flexible options like PTO donations to colleagues and allowing employees to borrow against future PTO time they haven't yet accrued.

Diana Vienne, senior partner with Notion Consulting in New York City, offers some ideas for HR professionals to help employees cope:

  • Host virtual manager meetups that help support front-line leaders with tips and tricks for managing through this change.
  • Offer online toolkits and resources so all employees have what they need to operate productively.
  • Conduct a quick round of check-ins from participants at the beginning of every virtual meeting to see what's on people's minds, personally and professionally.
  • Provide informal videos from leaders that are empathetic and talk personally about challenges that they understand people are going through.
  • Encourage employees working remotely to take time for self-care and movement/exercise during the workday.

Most importantly, during these exceptionally stressful times, keep lines of communication open and remind employees regularly of the resources they have available to them. Remind them we are truly all in this together.

SOURCE: Grensing-Pophal, L. (07 April 2020) "Pandemic Takes a Toll on Employees’ Emotional Well-Being" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/benefits/Pages/pandemic-takes-a-toll-on-employees-emotional-well-being.aspx


Trump Signs Coronavirus Relief Bill with Paid-Leave Mandate

As the COVID-19 pandemic cases increase, employees are stuck choosing between staying home to avoid spreading the illness and working for a paycheck to pay their household bills. Due to the effect that the spread of coronavirus has created, the U.S. Senate has approved the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Continue reading this blog post from SHRM to learn more.


The U.S. Senate approved the Families First Coronavirus Response Act in a 90-8 vote on March 18, and President Donald Trump signed it into law a few hours later. The bill will provide free screening, paid leave and enhanced unemployment insurance benefits for people affected by COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill late on March 13. After several days of negotiation, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced that negotiators had reached a deal with the White House to pass the bill. "We cannot slow the coronavirus outbreak when workers are stuck with the terrible choice between staying home to avoid spreading illness and the paycheck their family can't afford to lose," Pelosi said.

Republican senators were concerned that the bill might hurt small businesses, and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said lawmakers are working on another bill that would include relief for small businesses. McConnell said he would not adjourn the Senate until the third COVID-19 economic stimulus package is passed, CNN reported.

Trump declared a national emergency March 13, which frees up billions of dollars to fund public health and removes restrictions on hospitals to treat more patients. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) will provide:

  • Free coronavirus testing.
  • Paid emergency leave.
  • Enhanced unemployment insurance.
  • Additional funding for nutritional programs.
  • Protections for health care workers and employees responsible for cleaning at-risk places.
  • Additional federal funds for Medicaid.

We've rounded up articles and resources from SHRM Online and other trusted media outlets on the news.

Paid Family Leave

As originally drafted, H.R. 6201 would have temporarily provided workers with two-thirds of their wages for up to 12 weeks of qualifying family and medical leave for a broad range of COVID-19-related reasons. The revised version of the bill will only provide such leave when employees can't work because their minor child's school or child care service is closed due to a public health emergency. Workers who have been on the payroll for at least 30 calendar days will be eligible for paid family leave benefits, which will be capped at $200 a day (or $10,000 total) and expire at the end of the year.

(Littler)

Paid Sick Leave

Under the bill, many employers will have to provide 80 hours of paid-sick-leave benefits for several reasons, including if the employee has been ordered by the government to quarantine or isolate or has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine because of COVID-19. Employees could also use paid sick leave when they have symptoms of COVID-19 and are seeking a medical diagnosis, if they are caring for someone who is in quarantine or isolation, or their child's school or child care service is closed because of the public health emergency. Paid-sick-leave benefits will be immediately available when the law takes effect and capped at $511 a day for a worker's own care and $200 a day when the employee is caring for someone else. This benefit will also expire at the end of 2020.

(CNN)

Large and Small Business Exceptions

Private businesses with at least 500 employees are not covered by the bill. "I don't support U.S. taxpayer money subsidizing corporations to provide benefits to workers that they should already be providing," Pelosi said on Twitter. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also said that "big companies can afford these things."

Covered employers that are required to offer emergency FMLA or paid sick leave will be eligible for refundable tax credits. Employers with fewer than 50 workers can apply for an exemption from providing paid family and medical leave and paid sick leave if it "would jeopardize the viability of the business." Gig-workers and other self-employed workers will be eligible for a tax credit to cover the benefits.

(The Washington Post)

Lawmakers Previously Approved $8.3 Billion Emergency Bill

Another emergency spending package to fight coronavirus rapidly worked its way through Congress, and President Donald Trump signed it into law March 6. The measure will provide funds to develop a vaccine, provide protective and laboratory equipment to workers who need it, and aid locations hit with the virus.

(SHRM Online)

Coronavirus Prompts Employers to Review Sick Leave Policies

Do employees have the right to take time off if they are concerned about contracting coronavirus? Can employers send sick workers home? Should employees be paid for missed work time? HR and other business leaders are likely considering these questions and more as COVID-19 makes its way through the United States. "We believe employers would be wise to review their paid-time-off practices immediately," said Francis Alvarez, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in White Plains, N.Y. "Employers are likely to face unique circumstances that were not anticipated when they prepared their attendance and leave policies."

(SHRM Online) 

Visit SHRM's resource page on coronavirus and COVID-19.

SOURCE: Nagele-Piazza, L. (18 March 2020) "Trump Signs Coronavirus Relief Bill with Paid-Leave Mandate" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/Pages/Senate-to-Vote-Soon-on-Coronavirus-Paid-Leave-Mandate.aspx


4 Sick-Leave Practices to Avoid During the Coronavirus Pandemic

While the spread of the coronavirus continuously increases, employees are urged to stay at home if they feel any symptoms that could be related to the virus. As employers begin to risk lost productivity due to sick leave, they may be tempted to adopt inflexible standards. Continue reading this blog post from SHRM to learn more.


Government officials are urging sick workers to stay home and employers to have flexible leave policies during the coronavirus pandemic. Don't let business pressures and reliance on past practices lead you to make bad decisions about attendance and leave policies during the public health emergency. Here are four mistakes employment law attorneys said businesses should avoid.

1. Being Inflexible

Many employers are understandably worried about the business impact of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. They might be tempted to adopt inflexible sick time or general attendance policies to keep people coming to the workplace in an effort to maximize productivity, said Marissa Mastroianni, an attorney with Cole Schotz in Hackensack, N.J. "But it's a mistake to adopt an inflexible policy that would pressure a sick worker to come to the office," she noted.

Under Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules, employers have a duty to protect employees against known hazards in the workplace. "If one does not already exist, develop an infectious disease preparedness and response plan that can help guide protective actions against COVID-19," OSHA said in its Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19.

The guidance noted that workers might be absent because they are sick or caring for sick family members, need to care for children whose schools or day care centers are closed, have at-risk people at home, or are afraid to come to work because they think they'll be exposed to the virus.

"Don't make employees feel pressured to come in when they shouldn't," Mastroianni said. If employees feel sick or think they have been exposed, they should be told to stay home. "We don't want to wait until someone is actually diagnosed."

Under OSHA rules, employees who reasonably believe they are in imminent danger can't be fired for refusing to come to the worksite. But what if an employee just doesn't feel comfortable reporting to work?

"Be more flexible with existing policies," said Susan Kline, an attorney with Faegre Drinker in Indianapolis. Employers should also consider providing additional sick time for instances of actual illness. If someone can't work from home, decide if offering paid time off is possible.

Some employees may take advantage of a flexible leave policy, Mastroianni said, but the employer's potential for liability is significant if employees are required to report to the workplace when they should stay home.

The analysis could be very fact-specific, and employers may want to contact a lawyer before denying time off.

"For a lot of companies, it's a challenge," Kline said, "because they want to be supportive but also don't know how big this is going to get."

2. Applying Policies Inconsistently

"Employers may choose to relax certain procedures set forth in sick-leave policies under extenuating circumstances, such as the current outbreak," said Jason Habinsky, an attorney with Haynes and Boone in New York City. "However, it is critical that employers apply any such modifications uniformly in order to avoid any claims of discrimination or unfair treatment."

For example, if an employer chooses to excuse absences for or to advance paid time off or vacation time to employees as a result of a COVID-19-related illness, the employer must be certain to do the same for all employees who are absent under similar circumstances.

"This requires employers to ensure that all decision-makers are aware of any temporary or permanent modifications to sick-leave policies to maintain consistency," Habinsky said.

3. Ignoring Leave Laws

All sick-leave policies must comply with applicable state and local paid-sick-leave laws, and these laws may require employers to provide leave for COVID-19-related absences. Although employers may be required to provide leave, they should note that many laws allow employees to decide when to use it.

Employers must also avoid forcing a sick employee to perform services while out on leave, Habinsky noted, as this may constitute interference or retaliation under certain leave laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). In fact, employers must avoid taking any actions against employees that could be construed as retaliation in violation of the FMLA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and applicable state and local paid-sick-leave laws.

"This could include any form of discipline in response to an employee's use of sick time or request to use sick-leave time," Habinsky said. "Likewise, to the extent employees are performing services while working remotely from home, they must be paid for time worked in accordance with applicable federal and state wage laws consistent with their classification as exempt or nonexempt."

Laura Pasqualone, an attorney with Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie in Phoenix, noted that many paid-sick-leave laws prohibit employers from requiring a doctor's note unless the absence is for at least three days. But requiring a medical certification at all could further burden emergency rooms and urgent care facilities and could expose employees to more germs, she said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has urged employers not to require employees to provide a doctor's note to verify their COVID-19-related illness or to return to work.

4. Failing to Actively Encourage Sick Workers to Stay Home

According to the CDC, employers should actively encourage sick employees to stay home by:

  • Telling employees to stay home if they have symptoms of acute respiratory illness, a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, or signs of a fever. Employees should be fever-free for 24 hours without the use of medication before returning to work.
  • Urging employees to notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick for any reason.
  • Ensuring that the company's sick-leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of the policies.
  • Making sure contractors and staffing agencies inform their employees about the importance of staying home when ill and urging business partners not to reprimand workers who need to take sick leave.
  • Not requiring employees with acute respiratory illness to provide a doctor's note to verify their illness or to return to work, since health care providers may be overwhelmed with requests.
  • Maintaining flexible policies that allow employees to stay home to care for a sick relative.

"Employers should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other sick family members than is usual," the CDC said.

[Visit SHRM's resource page on coronavirus and COVID-19.]

SOURCE: Nagele-Piazza, L. (18 March 2020) "4 Sick-Leave Practices to Avoid During the Coronavirus Pandemic" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/Pages/4-Sick-Leave-Practices-to-Avoid-During-the-Coronavirus-Pandemic.aspx


How HR leaders can make remote work pain free

As employees begin to transfer from office desks to kitchen tables, their bodies will begin to experience pain that may be foreign. Due to several state governments creating laws about closing down businesses and emphasizing social distancing, working from the comfort of the home may become the new everyday norm. Read this blog post to learn helpful tips on how to stay healthy during this period.


In response to the COVID-19 crisis, workers around the world are leaving their office chairs and desks for couches and kitchen tables. As HR professionals work to keep employees healthy and productive while they're at home, back and neck pain from these ad-hoc arrangements will quickly become another challenge to tackle.

Back pain is extremely common — 80% of us will experience it in our lifetimes. Even under normal circumstances, research has found that back pain in the workplace can make it more difficult to focus and make decisions. And stress and anxiety can make the experience of pain even worse.

“Problems come up when you’re sitting in one position for too long slouched down, or with your back rounded forward,” says Jim White, exercise specialist at Fern Health, a company that provides digital musculoskeletal pain programs to employers. “This can overstretch the ligaments in your spine and put strain on your spinal discs, which protect your vertebrae from rubbing together.”

HR managers can help support employees working remotely by recommending how any workspace can be made safe and comfortable. White suggests the below tips, whether employees are working from their own home office or are making calls from the couch.

Check your posture. Posture alignment makes a big difference, White says. A daily posture checklist should include:

  • Align elbows and wrists. When sitting and typing, elbows should be at ninety degrees and aligned with the wrists. Shoulders should be relaxed and level.
  • Straighten up. There should be a straight line from the top of your head to your back. Don’t let the pelvis rotate forward – this creates a curve in your lower back that contributes to pain.
  • Check your chair. If you’re sitting in a chair that isn’t designed for an eight-hour workday, try placing a rolled-up towel behind your lower back. Living room couch your best option? Arrange pillows so your lower back is supported, and try not to sink in and slouch if your couch is particularly soft.
  • Keep the top of your computer screen at eye level. Positioning your computer too high or too low can contribute to neck and shoulder pain. If you’re sitting on the couch, put a pillow on your lap to raise the screen and protect your legs from your device’s heat.

Get a change of scenery (without leaving the house). Create your own “standing desk” by sending a few morning emails from the kitchen counter or a high dresser. And throughout the day, listen to your body. If your lower back feels stiff when you stand up, or if your feet or legs “fall asleep” while you’re sitting, these are signs that you’ve been in the same position for too long.

Continue to exercise. Without commuting or having access to the gym, it can be difficult to keep activity levels up – but it’s critical. Exercise increases blood flow to the muscles and is one of the best ways to combat pain, says White. Aerobic exercise can also help tackle anxiety, which makes pain worse.

Try simple stretches throughout the day. One perk from working from home is that employees most likely have more privacy and can take a quick break for a big stretch or even a few yoga poses. Try two or three of your favorite stretches from below and try to stretch every hour or so, White recommends. Just note that they may not be safe or tolerable for everyone.

  • Pec stretch: Stand in a doorway and place your forearms on each side of the doorframe. Push your chest forward slightly so you feel a stretch in your chest and between your shoulder blades. Hold for as long as is comfortable, up to 10 seconds. Repeat as tolerated, up to three times.
  • Child’s pose stretch: Start on a mat or towel on the floor on all fours. With your big toes touching, spread your knees apart and sit back onto your feet as best you can. Hinge at the waist and extend your arms in front of you or next to you. If you can, touch your forehead to the floor. Hold for up to 15 seconds.
  • Chair rotation: Sit sideways in a chair. Keeping your legs still, rotate your torso to the right and reach for the back of your chair with your hands. Hold your upper body there and hold for up to 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side, up to three times.

A comfortable workspace is critical to a productive day, especially in places that aren’t designed for the nine-to-five. During this chaotic time, HR leaders can provide guidance on creating a space that supports back and neck health, and helps employees avoid the added stress and distraction of being in pain.

SOURCE: Ryerson, N. (23 March 2020) "How HR leaders can make remote work pain free" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/how-hr-leaders-can-make-remote-work-pain-free


Employers Grapple with Teleworking Decisions, Fairness

With businesses closing daily due to the implications that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon them, many employers are still questioning whether their employees have the resources to successfully work remotely. Read this blog post from SHRM to learn more.


It seems that every hour, another company announces that its employees will work from home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus—although working remotely is not an option for everyone.

For example, roughly two-thirds of the 700 employees at the Community Healthcare Network need to be onsite to provide patient care. But what about the administrative staff who may be able to work from home? Should they be given the opportunity?

Kenneth Meyer, the chief human resources officer at the New York City-based network of 12 clinics, has been grappling with the question. "Will they have the resources they need to perform their jobs?" he wondered. He's not sure that the employees have the computers and Internet connections they'll need. "We're a nonprofit. We don't have computers and scanners just lying around," he added.

And there's another element to consider: Is it fair to let some employees work from home while others labor in an environment where they are more at risk of contracting the coronavirus? "Staff morale definitely enters that equation. It isn't the governing the factor, though," Meyer explained.

Deciding whether to let employees work from home amid the pandemic isn't easy for many firms. Health care providers and manufacturers require most people to be onsite to keep operations running. Yet even for companies where it is technically possible for employees to work remotely, there are other considerations that must be addressed. While such companies are often OK with some people working from home, they lack the systems and protocols to keep the business running smoothly when there is no one at the main office.

Last week, there was significant disagreement among senior executives at software maker Betterworks about whether to close the company's offices temporarily, according to Diane Strohfus, Betterworks' chief human resources officer. Some favored shuttering the offices, while others argued it wasn't necessary because the coronavirus situation was overblown.

"Opinions were all over the map, but we decided to err on the side of safety and caution," Strohfus said. The company decided to make the work-from-home policy mandatory so that people who really wanted to stay home didn't feel pressured to go to the office by those who chose to work there. She added that many of the employees at the Redwood City, Calif.-based company have infants and school-age children, so allowing people to work from home made sense when school and day care closings are happening all over the country.

"I told managers to expect more distractions," Strohfus said.

Strohfus added that even though it's technically easy for the company's employees to work from home, for a firm accustomed to personal interactions, there were still adjustments to be made. To improve communication, channels were added to Slack, a messaging platform used by Betterworks employees, and managers are organizing video meetings to keep employees connected.

"We encourage [videoconferencing]. People can feel your personality when they see your face," Strohfus explained.

Companies don't have to let people work from home, said Tracy M. Billows, a partner in the Chicago office of law firm Seyfarth Shaw who specializes in labor issues. However, she added that if someone is pregnant or has a disability or medical condition that affects his or her immune system, companies must make some accommodations.

Billows said companies need to follow existing laws and coronavirus-specific directions from institutions like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when creating work-from-home policies amid the pandemic. Beyond that, companies need to account for their individual circumstances. Has an employee been infected? Is the company located in a virus hot spot where schools are closed? Does the work need to be done onsite? Companies must balance the safety and security of their workers with what the business needs to continue to operate, she explained.

"There are no one-size-fits-all answers," Billows said.

As the virus spread, Elyse Dickerson thought about how to treat the 10 hourly employees who work in her health care company's manufacturing facility and do not have sick leave. Last week, she told them she would pay them for two weeks if they were feeling ill or needed to care for a family member.

"If they don't get paid, they can't feed their families or pay their rent," said Dickerson, co-founder and chief executive officer of Fort Worth, Texas-based Eosera, a maker of ear care products. She told her other 10 employees that they could work from home but might be called in to help in the manufacturing facility if someone is out sick.

Dickerson doesn't know what the company will do if area schools close, although that won't be a problem for most of her employees. She said employees could bring their children to work if necessary. "I suppose we could put on a movie," she said.

And if an employee contracts the virus, she said the company would have the facility deep-cleaned within 24 hours. She has two months' worth of product in reserve in case there are any production delays.

"We already bleach down the facility every night," she said. "You could eat off the floors."

SOURCE: Agovino, T. (18 March 2020) "Employers Grapple with Teleworking Decisions, Fairness" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/employee-relations/Pages/Employers-Grapple-with-Teleworking-Decisions-Fairness.aspx


Mental Well-Being During a Quarantine

Maintaining Mental Well-Being During a Quarantine

In response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have recommended that individuals who may have been exposed to the disease self-quarantine at home for 14 days. In addition, public health officials are recommending that healthy individuals practice social distancing, staying at home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Following the advice of public health officials can help stop the spread of COVID-19, but if you don’t take proper precautions, your mental well-being could suffer while you’re quarantining.

If you’re self-quarantining or practicing social distancing, keep the following tips in mind to maintain your mental well-being.

Maintain a Routine

One of the best things that you can do to preserve your mental well-being is to stick to a routine. For example, if you’re used to going to the gym before work, try to wake up early and get an at-home workout in before you go to work or start your workday from home. Maintaining as much normalcy as possible with your daily routine can help keep your mood as lifted as possible, and prevent boredom and distress from taking over.

If you have children that will be at home now, it’s also important to create a routine for them. Whether they are practicing virtual learning with their schools or if they will just be home, you should implement a structured schedule for them so they know what your expectations are. Try to limit as much screen time as possible and incorporate learning activities throughout the day.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

This suggestion goes hand-in-hand with sticking to a routine. While you’re at home, it can be easy to go to bed or sleep in later than you typically would. Breaking your normal sleep routine can have negative effects on your overall mental well-being, so you should try to stick to your typical schedule as much as possible.

Spend Time Outside

Unless health officials give you explicit instructions to stay in your home no matter what, try to get outside periodically throughout the day. This could involve going out in your backyard or taking a walk around the block, but shouldn’t include going to a park or other areas where large groups of people may be.

Being outside also helps to promote higher vitamin D levels, a vitamin the body makes when skin is directly exposed to the sun. Many people are deficient in vitamin D, so exercising outside can be a great way to correct that.

Leverage the Power of Technology

When in quarantine or self-isolation, it can be easy to feel lonely. Fortunately, advancements in technology have made it easy to connect with others without having to physically be in contact with them. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends reaching out to loved ones with technology to reduce feelings of loneliness and anxiety, and to supplement your social life while you’re quarantining or social distancing. If you’re feeling down, use video calling technology or social media to get in touch with friends and family.

Don’t Obsess Over the News

It can be easy to become overwhelmed by watching the news and reviewing the updates of the COVID-19 situation. While it’s important to be informed of the situation, you should not obsess over the news. For example, instead of monitoring the news all day from home, consider checking for updates once in the morning and once at night.

Practice Positivity and Gratitude

Taking five minutes a day to write down the things that you are grateful for has been proven to lower stress levels and can help you change your mindset from negative to positive. While you’re quarantining or social distancing, it’s important to build time into your routine to practice positivity or express gratitude to change your mindset on your situation and boost your mood.

Summary

Your mental well-being plays a huge role in your overall health and well-being, and it should be prioritized. These six suggestions may help you maintain your mental well-being during a quarantine, but shouldn’t be considered as medical advice.

If you have concerns about your mental well-being while you’re in quarantine, please contact your mental health professional or use SAMHSA’s National Helpline by calling 800-662-HELP (4357).


Coronavirus pandemic puts the spotlight on mental health resources

Mental health is a sensitive topic for those who are affected by it, but as businesses begin to close due to COVID-19, certain behaviors and uncertainty has led to an increased amount of anxiety. During this time, mental health is being challenged with balancing the stress of the COVID-19 outbreak and daily lives. Read this blog post to learn more.


Managing mental health in and outside of the office is a challenge for more than half of Americans, but the added stressors of coronavirus are pushing many people to reach out for help.

As attempts are made to quell the spread of COVID-19, companies have mandated employees work remotely and have cancelled conferences, gatherings and other non-essential travel. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended implementing “social distancing,” which involves minimizing exposure by avoiding large crowds, working remotely if possible, and practicing personal hygiene like washing your hands frequently.

“Obviously it’s a stressful time, and we’re seeing significant increases in sessions for therapy and psychiatry,” says Russ Glass, CEO of Ginger, a virtual mental health support platform. “The disruption in behavior and the uncertainty has led to a lot of anxiety.”

The increasing severity of the pandemic has many people on edge. The World Health Organization released guidance for dealing with stress and anxiety associated with coronavirus. Among their recommendations: avoid watching the news and implement plans to feel prepared and safe.

“Avoid watching, reading or listening to news that can cause you to feel anxious or distressed — the sudden and near-constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can cause anyone to feel worried,” the WHO guidelines say.

But for those with mental health issues, balancing the demands of work with this new reality can add additional stress and make work challenging.

“When people are experiencing fear, they try to exert control in whatever situation they can, but the results are often destructive,” says Ken Zuckerberg, vice president of training at ComPsych, a global EAP provider. “Employees are not performing their best if they’re dealing with feelings of isolation, or fears of being quarantined.”

Eighteen percent of Americans struggle with mental illness, and 61% of employees report their mental health affects their work, according to the CDC. Even in times when external stressors are not as prevalent, these issues lead to productivity loss and absenteeism in the workplace.

“People at work who are dealing with behavioral health issues self-report 20% or greater productivity loss and also develop other chronic health conditions,” Glass says. “Employees are coming to their employer and saying, ‘I need help but our current insurance plan or current EAPs aren't providing the right level of access. I can't get care.’”

Now more than ever, employers need to provide resources that address these mental health issues, Glass says.

“Companies have to be thinking about both physical and mental health and recognize that this is a very stressful time for their employees,” says Glass, whose mental health platform, Ginger, connects users with behavioral health coaches for chat and video-based sessions. Users can seek help from therapists and psychiatrists through the platform. Glass says they’ve reported an 16% increase in session volume and a 10% increase in their daily users in the past two weeks.

For those struggling with anxiety or feelings of isolation because of coronavirus, WHO recommends people maintain their daily routines and reach out for support and connection.

“Even in situations of isolation, try as much as possible to keep your personal daily routines. Stay connected via email, social media, video conference and telephone,” the guidelines say.

Ensuring the mental well-being of all employees, especially in high-stress times, involves providing communication and access to help, Glass says.

“Putting resources in place or communicating the resources you already have in place can be helpful to your employees,” Glass says. “If you're feeling anxious, it’s a good time to reach out to family members or friends or your behavioral health coach and talk through it. Have some outlets to discuss this in a way that's not just social media.”

SOURCE: Place, A. (13 March 2020) "Coronavirus pandemic puts the spotlight on mental health resources" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/coronavirus-pandemic-puts-the-spotlight-on-mental-health-resources