Benefits Consideration for Onboarding Furloughed and Laid Off Employees

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to create obstacles for the workplace, many professionals are still having to continue with their day-to-day work lives which include having hard discussions with furloughed and laid-off employees. Read this blog post to learn helpful tips on re-enrolling employees into their benefits.


COVID-19 continues to throw us curveballs. While some states that were continuing on their path to recovery are having to backtrack, others have managed to temporarily halt the progression of COVID-19 and are proceeding as planned.

Amidst all this uncertainty, one thing is certain: human resource professionals continue to face overwhelming obstacles. Below, we outline issues that human resource professionals are likely to face as they onboard furloughed and laid-off employees.

Onboarding Furloughed Employees

HEALTH AND WELFARE PLANS

For employees enrolled in one or more employer sponsored health and welfare plans and receiving coverage during the furlough period:

  • Payroll deductions for required employee contributions for the plan generally resume upon return from furlough, subject to any changes in employment status that may affect eligibility.
  • To the extent repayment of employee contributions advanced during the furlough period is required, consider how to collect the employee contributions (e.g., through payroll deduction or otherwise), keeping in mind state law requirements related to payroll deductions.
  • Consider the extent to which election changes may be made upon return from furlough.

For employees not enrolled in an employer-sponsored health and welfare plan during the furlough period (or enrolled in COBRA continuation coverage):

  • Determine when eligibility for the plan resumes in accordance with plan terms (e.g., immediately or after a waiting period), subject to any impact on eligibility due to changes in employment status.
  • Consider the process for enrolling employees and the extent to which election changes may be made upon return from furlough, including any HIPAA special enrollment rights.

In addition:

  • Evaluate the impact of the furlough on employees' full-time status under the Affordable Care Act's (ACA's) lookback measurement period and stability period requirements.
  • Evaluate the impact of return from furlough on participation in wellness program activities and eligibility for wellness program incentives.
  • To the extent employees will have staggered work schedules, consider entitlement to benefits based on reduced hours (full time/part time) or new job requirements and whether any plan amendments are needed.

401(K) PLANS

Generally, employee and company contributions resume upon return from furlough; however, changes in job titles or positions may affect eligibility:

  • Determine whether employee and company contributions will resume immediately upon return from furlough based on elections in place immediately before the furlough period or whether new elections will be required.
  • Determine the extent to which legally required notices relating to plan participation must be provided.
  • Address the treatment of loan repayments upon return from furlough.
  • Determine the extent to which the period of furlough must be counted for purposes of plan eligibility, vesting and the right to allocation of contributions.

PENSION PLANS

  • Consider whether changes in job titles or positions may affect eligibility for continued participation upon return from furlough.
  • Review plan terms to determine the extent to which the period of furlough must be counted for purposes of plan eligibility, vesting and benefit accrual.

OTHER BENEFITS

  • Consider the impact of return from furlough on any commuter benefits (parking and transit).
  • Consider the impact of return from furlough on vacation and holiday accrual.

Onboarding Laid-Off Employees

HEALTH AND WELFARE PLANS

  • Treat rehired employees who have been laid off as new hires who must complete new hire paperwork for health and welfare plan eligibility.
  • Consider the impact of the termination of employment and rehire on the employee's status as a full-time employee under the ACA's lookback measurement period and stability period requirements.

QUALIFIED RETIREMENT PLANS

  • Defer to plan terms and break-in-service rules for purposes of determining the impact of the layoff on plan eligibility, vesting and benefit accrual.
  • Review plan terms and procedures for enrolling rehired employees in a 401(k) plan, including application of the plan's auto-enrollment feature, if any.

SOURCE: Pepper, T. (29 July 2020) "Benefits Consideration for Onboarding Furloughed and Laid Off Employees" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/benefits-consideration-for-onboarding-furloughed-and-laid-off-employees.aspx


Why continuous listening is the key to a smooth transition back to work

Returning to the workplace during this time can be difficult for many, especially with employers who are being faced with the question of how to create and keep a safe and comfortable workplace scene. Read this blog post to learn more.


As states and businesses reopen in the U.S., many employers are faced with a difficult decision: Should their employees go back to the workplace? And if so, when? Amazon told their workers they likely wouldn’t return until October, while Google announced that their employees wouldn’t go back to the office until 2021. Twitter and Facebook decided most employees could work from home forever.

But once employers do make that decision, they’re then confronted with a more formidable one: How do they get their employees back in a way that is both safe and comfortable for everyone? In short, how do they successfully manage employee experience?

Most companies have coordinated COVID-19 task forces charged with making those decisions and helping their employees navigate the global pandemic. And whether they realize it or not, those task forces are broken down into two different functions: operational and experiential.

When COVID-19 first hit, the task forces had to deal with the operational challenge of moving massive workforces home overnight, and they worked to ensure employees had the equipment and software needed to function remotely. And soon after, many realized they also had another responsibility on their plate: employee mental wellbeing.

Leaders recognized they’d have to find new ways to keep their people sharp, productive, and happy. In fact, their employees’ experience with remote work was a central component in making that big operational move successful.

The same will happen as task forces bring people back to the workplace. In fact, managing employee experience will become a task force’s most critical responsibility. To ensure employees feel comfortable returning to the workplace, company leadership needs to know how they feel about coming back and what safety concerns they may have. Then leadership must act on that information.

But the current situation (and their employees’ feelings) can change rapidly. That’s why a method called “continuous listening” is essential to managing employee experience. At least once a day (if not more), employees should be able to respond to a few questions about how they’re feeling, and leaders can use that real-time information to successfully take care of their teams.

A large retail bank in North America has set up an always-on feedback channel for retail branch employees to identify safety concerns in different branches. The bank recognized that, when it came to health and safety concerns, employees might need to offer feedback immediately rather than waiting for a survey that came around once a day. Other organizations have used pre-screening tools that allow employees to self-report each day so company leadership can decide whether they should come into the workplace.

Continuous listening helps leadership communicate with employees, and vice versa. If there’s ever been a time to listen to your people and manage their employee experience, it’s now.

A Qualtrics study conducted at the beginning of May found that two out of three workers in the United States didn’t feel comfortable returning to the workplace. In fact, nearly half of all workers said they didn’t expect to go back to work until August or later.

Most respondents said they want assurance from public officials like the Centers for Disease Control or state and local governments before returning, while about half said they’d feel more comfortable once a treatment or vaccine is available. Nearly 70%, though, said they trust their company leadership to make the right decision on when to come back.

Once leadership makes that decision, however, employees expect them to enact policies and procedures that will protect workers’ safety. Almost 75% said they want their work facility to be thoroughly and regularly cleaned and disinfected, while 62% said they want strict policies about who cannot come to the office, including those who are sick and have recently traveled. Nearly 60% said they want masks available to everyone who wants one, while the same amount said they want all employees to be required to wear a mask at all times.

A majority expect their company to require those who travel to self-quarantine for 14 days, prohibit handshakes and hugs, and set safety measures around communal food. Almost 40% said they want employees to be brought back in phases instead of all at once.

Employees also want the freedom to take action themselves. Over 60% said they want to be able to wear a mask and maintain social distancing at work, and half said they want more flexible sick-leave policies that employees are encouraged to use, even with minor symptoms. Nearly the same amount said they want to be able to limit the number of people they’re exposed to in workplace meetings, and almost 40% said they want to be able to skip work without penalty or continue working from home if they feel unsafe.

These findings provide companies with a general idea of what their employees want to see before coming back to work, but gathering data specific to each organization is even more helpful. Before and after companies begin their initial return, they’ll need to listen closely and continuously to their employees and should increase emphasis on employee feedback.

After all, employees are an organization’s best ambassadors. Invest in them, and they’ll invest in you.

SOURCE: Choi, J. (27 July 2020) "Why continuous listening is the key to a smooth transition back to work" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/why-continuous-listening-is-the-key-to-a-smooth-transition-back-to-work


A new tool for employee temperature checks ensures safety and security of workers

As employers begin to move employees back into the workplace, they have to be mindful of new legal guidance that has come from the CDC and HIPAA. In regards to new legal guidelines set into place, employers and management teams will now have to check employee temperatures. Read this blog post to learn more.


Temperature checks will be mandated at workplaces once employees return to the office, due to legal guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but privacy concerns could heat up among workers concerned for their security.

“It’s now permissible to take employee temperatures, but if employers store it and keep track of it, there’s no exemption from HIPAA and identity laws,” says Dan Clarke, president of IntraEdge — an Arizona-based tech company.

IntraEdge developed a kiosk that privately takes employees’ temperatures, and only shares the results with the employee, keeping any health information concealed from HR. Instead, managers are simply notified if the kiosk gave their employee permission to enter the office, or not, which completely eliminates the potential for HIPAA violations, Clarke says. The kiosk, called Janus, can also prevent sick employees from entering the office if their temperature is too high.

Clarke spoke in a recent interview about how Janus can help employers protect their workforce, while adhering to privacy laws.

How does Janus help prevent the spread of COVID-19?

If we want to limit exposure to COVID-19, we can’t assign someone in the office to take everyone’s temperature; it’s not efficient and it puts more people at risk. Employers need a digital solution, one that puts them in compliance with HIPAA and privacy laws.

Janus uses an accurate thermal camera to take the temperature of the user. Before using it, employees would need to sign up online and provide information to confirm their identity. After that’s done, they’d go to the kiosk and present their identification through their phone. The kiosk will ask them a few questions about how they’re feeling and the camera will take their temperature. The normal temperature range for each employee is personalized based on the individual’s age and medical history. Many people don’t realize our normal temperature increases as we age. If an employee reads at an unhealthy temperature, they’re not allowed inside the office.

How does this help employers stay compliant with HIPAA and other privacy laws?

Employers don’t have access to their worker’s medical history, or the temperatures read by Janus. The kiosk doesn’t display an employee’s temperature on screen. Instead, the employee will receive a text message telling them their temperature and whether they’re allowed inside the office. Printouts are also available for employees who don’t have smartphones.

Is HR or a manager notified when employees aren’t allowed in the office?

Janus doesn’t share with HR what employees’ temperatures were, only if they were given a “yes” or “no” to enter the office. They can receive a text message whenever an employee is given a “no.” This helps employers stay compliant with HIPAA and privacy laws because they never see the full results, and they’re not stored. But it also helps them keep track of their workforce.

It can also be programmed to notify a security officer that someone didn’t pass the temperature check to ensure compliance. We can also program the kiosk to distribute security badges only to employees who pass the temperature check.

Before coronavirus, employees sometimes came to work sick out of fear their colleagues/managers would question their dedication to their job. Do you think this product will help change that after the crisis is over?

I think the crisis is changing the perception of remote work enough that people will be comfortable saying they’re going to work from home when they don’t feel well. Janus can definitely help enforce it, if the employer chooses, but we wanted to ensure it was useful for employers after the crisis is over. It can also be used to clock employees in and out for work and as office security.

SOURCE: Webster, K. (08 June 2020) "A new tool for employee temperature checks ensures safety and security of workers" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/a-new-tool-for-employee-temperature-checks-ensures-safety-and-security-of-workers


SHRM: Employers Consider Safety Precautions for Return to Workplace

As employers begin to look at what lies ahead in regards to returning to the workplace, they also have to begin looking at what precautions they need to consider in order to keep the workplace safe for everyone involved. Read this blog post to learn more.


Nearly half of organizations surveyed have not announced a return-to-work date as COVID-19 restrictions ease in some parts of the country, but a majority of HR professionals think setting even a tentative date is a good idea.

The findings from new Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) research released June 9 illustrate how U.S. employers are considering a phased return of employees, staggered start and stop times, health precautions, and physical changes to their worksites.

Setting a return date is a good idea, two-thirds of HR professionals said, because it eases job-security concerns among staff, especially for those in physical and service industries such as health care, retail and education. Employers that have established a date prefer employees to return on or before June 30, according to more than three-fourths of HR professionals.
Much of what an organization decides to do depends on its size and industry.

Large employers—those with 500 or more employees—were less likely to have announced a return date. This was especially true in knowledge industries. However, organizations in those industries—finance, consulting, engineering and administrative services companies—also were more likely to let employees continue to work from home and determine when they want to return to the worksite.

Industries where the work is more physical—construction, manufacturing and transportation—were more likely to have already reopened their physical locations and to implement an alternating work schedule.

Other strategies include:

  • Staggering the start and stop of employees' workdays as well as break times so as to reduce the number of workers in one location at the same time (75 percent).
  • Reducing the number of customers permitted on site at one time and taking measures such as counting the number of people as they enter (78 percent).
  • Limiting the number of employees or customers on site at one time (81 percent).

The research is based on a SHRM survey that collected responses May 13-20 from a random sampling of 1,087 SHRM members working in HR. Academicians, students, consultants, people who are self-employed or retired, and HR professionals who were furloughed or laid off were excluded from the sample.

“This research gives a glimpse into how COVID-19 has changed the world of work, and what workplaces will look like once we return,” said Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, SHRM's president and CEO. “Workers should expect to see more masks, fewer handshakes, marked floors, more barriers, and greater flexibility—especially when it comes to remote work.”

Among employers implementing a phased-return plan, one-third intend to do so by specific departments or functions. Others are first bringing back employees with lower health risks or those in leadership positions. The length of the phased return also varies, from two weeks to more than three months.

"Getting back to work takes a lot of work," Taylor noted, "and HR professionals have played an essential role in drawing up plans that drive organizations forward and protect public health.”

SOURCE: Gurchiek, K. (09 June 2020) "SHRM: Employers Consider Safety Precautions for Return to Workplace" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/pages/shrm-employers-consider-safety-precautions-for-return-to-workplace.aspx


How to Monitor Your Employees — While Respecting Their Privacy

A recent survey found that 55 percent of millennials that had partaken in the survey plan to leave employers that prioritize profits over people. Read this blog post to learn more.


Even before Covid-19 sent an unprecedented number of people to work from home, employers were ramping up their efforts to monitor employee productivity. A 2018 Gartner report revealed that of 239 large corporations, 50% were monitoring the content of employee emails and social media accounts, along with who they met with and how they utilized their workspaces. A year later an Accenture survey of C-suite executives reported that 62% of their organizations were leveraging new tools to collect data on their employees.

These statistics were gathered before the coronavirus pandemic, which has made working from home a necessity for thousands of companies. With that transition having happened so rapidly, employers are left wondering how much work is actually going on. The fear of productivity losses, mingling with the horror of massively declining revenues, has encouraged many leaders to ramp up their employee monitoring efforts.

There is no shortage of digital tools for employee monitoring — or, as privacy advocates put it, “corporate surveillance.” Multiple services enable stealth monitoring, live video feeds, keyboard tracking, optical character recognition, keystroke recording, or location tracking. One such company, Hubstaff, implements random screen capture that can be customized for each person and set to report “once, twice, or three times per 10 minutes,” if managers so wish. Another company, Teramind, captures all keyboard activity and records “all information to comprehensive logs [that] can be used to formulate a base of user-based behavior analytics.”

Despite the easy availability of options, however, monitoring comes with real risk to the companies that pursue it. Surveillance threatens to erode trust between employers and employees. Accenture found that 52% of employees believe that mishandling of data damages trust — and only 30% of the C-suite executives who were polled reported themselves as “confident” that the data would always be used responsibly. Employees who are now subject to new levels of surveillance report being both “incredibly stressed out” by the constant monitoring and also afraid to speak up, a recipe for not only dissatisfaction but also burnout, both of which — ironically — decrease productivity. Worse, monitoring can invite a backlash: In October of 2019 Google employees went public about spy tools allegedly created to suppress internal dissent.

Tempting as it may be to implement monitoring in the service of protecting productivity, it also stands in stark contrast to recent trends in the corporate world. Many organizations have committed to fostering a better employee experience, with a particular focus on diversity and inclusion. There are not only strong ethical reasons for having one’s eye on that ball, but good bottom line reasons as well. The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey from 2019 found that 55% of millennials plan to leave employers that prioritize profits over people. Retention — which should be a priority for all companies, given the high expense of making and onboarding new hires — becomes difficult and costly for companies that don’t reflect those values. Given the risk of alienating employees coupled with the possibility of error and misapplication of these tools, it is quite likely that, for many, the juice just isn’t worth the squeeze.

Even so, some companies will still find it worth the tradeoffs. Justified fear of a collapsing economy reasonably drives employers to monitor their employees to ensure they are being productive and efficient. Indeed, they may even have ethically admirable aims in doing so, such as for the sake of their employees’ health and the health of the country as a whole. Furthermore, if the tools are deployed with the goal of discovering which employees are in need of additional help — more on this below — that may be all the more reason to monitor. But if your business concludes that it ought to monitor employees (for whatever reason), it is important to do so in a way that maximally respects its employees.

Here are six recommendations on how to walk this tightrope.

1. Choose your metrics carefully by involving all relevant stakeholders.
Applying numbers to things is easy, as is making quick judgments based on numeric scores spit out by a piece of software. This leads to both unnecessary surveillance and ill-formed decisions. It’s simply too easy to react to information that, in practice, is irrelevant to productivity, efficiency, and revenue. If you insist on monitoring employees, make sure what you’re tracking is relevant and necessary. Simply monitoring the quantity of emails written or read, for instance, is not a reliable indicator of productivity.

If you want the right metrics, then engage all of the relevant stakeholders in the process to determine those metrics, from hiring managers to supervisors to those who are actually being monitored. With regards to employee engagement it is especially important to reach both experienced and new employees, and that they are able to deliver their input in a setting where there is no fear of reprisal. For instance, they can be in discussion with a supervisor — but preferably not their direct supervisor, who has the authority to fire or promote them.

2. Be transparent with your employees about what you’re monitoring and why. 
Part and parcel of respecting someone is that you take the time to openly and honestly communicate with them. Tell your employees what you’re monitoring and why. Give them the opportunity to offer feedback. Share the results of the monitoring with them and, crucially, provide a system by which they can appeal decisions about their career influenced by the data collected.

Transparency increases employee acceptance rates. Gartner found that only 30% of employees were comfortable with their employer monitoring their email. But in the same study, when an employer shared that they would be monitoring and explained why, more than 50% of workers reported being comfortable with it.

3. Offer carrots as well as sticks.
Monitoring or surveillance software is implicitly tied to overseers who are bent on compliance and submission. Oppressive governments, for example, tie surveillance with threats of fines and imprisonment. But you don’t need to pursue monitoring as a method of oppression. You would do better to think about it as a tool by which you can figure out how to help your employees be more productive or reward them for their hustle. That means thinking about what kinds of carrots can be used to motivate and boost relevant numbers, not just sticks to discourage inefficiencies.

4. Accept that very good workers will not always be able to do very good work all the time — especially under present circumstances.
These are unique times and it would be wrong — both ethically and factually — to make decisions about who is and who is not a good employee or a hard worker based on performance under these conditions. Some very hard-working and talented employees may be stretched extraordinarily thin due to a lack of school and child care options, for instance. These are people you want to keep because, in the long run, they provide a tremendous amount of value. Ensure that your supervisors take the time to talk to their supervisees when the numbers aren’t what you want them to be. And again, that conversation should reflect an understanding of the employee’s situation and focus on creative solutions, not threats.

5. Monitor your own systems to ensure that people of color and other vulnerable groups are not disproportionately affected.
Central to any company’s diversity and inclusion effort is a commitment to eliminating any discrimination against traditionally marginalized populations. Precisely because they have been marginalized, those populations tend to occupy more junior roles in an organization — and junior roles often suffer the most scrutiny. This means that there is a risk of disproportionately surveilling the very groups a company’s inclusivity efforts are designed to protect, which invites significant ethical, reputational, and legal risks.

If employee monitoring is being used, it is important that the most junior people are not surveilled to a greater extent than their managers, or at least not to an extent that places special burdens on them. For instance, it would be particularly troublesome if very junior employees received a level of surveillance — say, sentiment analysis or keyboard logging — that only slightly more senior people did not. A policy that says, “This is how we monitor all employees” raises fewer ethical red flags than a policy that says, “This is how we monitor most employees, except for the most junior ones, who undergo a great deal more surveillance.” Equal application of the law, in other words, legitimately blunts the force of charges of discrimination.

6. Decrease monitoring when and where you can.
The impulse to monitor is understandable, especially in these times. But as people return to their offices — and even as some continue to work from home — look for places to pull back monitoring efforts where things are going well. This communicates trust to employees. It also corrects for the tendency to acquire more control than necessary when circumstances are not as severe as they once were.

At the end of the day, your employees are your most valuable assets. They possess institutional knowledge and skills others do not. You’ve invested time and money in them and they are very expensive to replace. Treating them with respect is not only something they deserve — it’s crucial for a company’s retention efforts. If your company does choose to move ahead with surveillance software in this climate, you need to remind yourself that you are not the police. You should be monitoring employees not with a raised baton, but with an outstretched hand.

SOURCE: Blackman, R. (28 May 2020) "How to Monitor Your Employees — While Respecting Their Privacy" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2020/05/how-to-monitor-your-employees-while-respecting-their-privacy


Viewpoint: What’s Your Company’s Emergency Remote-Work Plan?

While coronavirus (COVID-19) is disrupting the workplaces of many in various countries, it is imperative that the United States takes as many precautions as possible. Many workplaces have emergency plans into fruition for storms and unforeseen weather, but are there plans in place for a virus that is spreading quickly? Read this blog post to learn more.


This coronavirus (or COVID-19) has taken a more serious turn in the U.S. with warnings that it could very well impact how, when and where we work:

"Disruption to everyday life may be severe," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, cautioned at a news conference. "Schools could be closed, mass public gatherings suspended, and businesses forced to have employees work remotely."

The global spread of the virus may be a moment that reveals whether employers are ready to respond rapidly to unexpected workplace changes. Business travel could decrease or come to a full stop. More employees may need to work outside of local "business hours" and use video conferencing to operate across time zones. And, if it gets bad enough, many could indeed be asked, or request, to work remotely.

Are organizations ready? Chances are probably not. But even for those open to rethinking how the work would get done, are they ready for the inevitable post-crisis question: "Why don't we do this all the time?"

How do you prepare your organization to not only flexibly respond to this potential disruption, but also to use it as an opportunity to reimagine work broadly? Here are five steps to get started:

Acknowledge the possibility that all or part of your workforce may need to work remotely.

Hoping and praying it doesn't happen, or simply ignoring it, is not a strategy. Neither is handing everyone a laptop and saying "Go work someplace else" on the day they expand wide-scale quarantines. Plan as if the only way to remain operational will be for as many employees as possible to work remotely. Gather a cross-functional team together now that includes business-line leaders, IT, HR, communications and facilities to start to plan for different scenarios and optimize execution, should circumstances require a rapid response.

Map out jobs and tasks that could be affected.

Note which roles and duties: 1) Can be done, even partially, without a physical presence in the workplace, 2) Cannot be done, even somewhat, outside of the physical office, and 3) Not sure.

Challenge any potentially inaccurate default assumptions about specific jobs you may have thought couldn't be done remotely. And for those in the "not sure" column, be willing to experiment. For example, for years, I've been told, "Administrative assistants can't work flexibly." And, for years, I've worked with teams of administrative assistants to prove that is not true. Yes, certain tasks they complete require physical presence, but those can be planned for. The majority of their tasks can happen effectively outside of the traditional model of work and benefit the business.

Audit available IT hardware and software, and close any gaps in access and adoption.

Assess the comfort level with specific applications, such as video conferencing and other collaboration/communication platforms. Where you find gaps, provide training and opportunities for practice before people need to use them. Real-time mastery is not optimal and is inefficient. Identify devices owned by the organization that people could use and clarify acceptable "bring your own" phone and laptop options. Determine if there are any data-security issues to consider and how best to address them beforehand.

Set up a communications protocol in advance.

This communications plan needs to outline: how to reach everybody (e.g., all contact information in one place, primary communication channels clarified — email, IM, Slack, etc.); how employees are expected to respond to customers; and how and when teams will coordinate and meet.

Identify ways to measure performance that could inform broader change.

After the flexible response period is over, this data will allow you to reflect on what worked, what didn't and why. The data will also prepare you in advance to answer the inevitable question once the crisis has passed, "Why don't we do this all the time?" Depending upon the outcomes, you may decide to continue certain aspects of the flexible response permanently. For example, perhaps you cut business travel by 25% and substitute video conferencing. You determine afterward that about 80% of those meetings were equally as effective virtually. Therefore, a 20% decrease in business travel will continue, but this time as part of the organization's sustainability strategy to cut carbon emissions.

Global health emergencies, like COVID-19, are scary, disruptive and confusing for everyone. And if you plan and nothing happens? Then, at minimum, you have an organized, flexible work disaster response ready the next time there's a challenge to operational continuity, which chances are, there will be.

SOURCE: Williams Yost, C. (10 March 2020) "Viewpoint: What’s Your Company’s Emergency Remote-Work Plan?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/viewpoint-whats-your-companys-emergency-remote-work-plan.aspx


Coronavirus: How Employers Around the Globe Are Responding

Employers are continuously looking out for the safety of their employees and customers. With the spread of COVID-19 becoming faster and more relevant, employers are putting in effect their emergency plans to continue providing safety measures for both employees and customers. Continue Reading this blog post to learn more.


Companies are scrambling to respond as the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19, spreads around the world. During a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) webcast March 10, an official with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked employers to do all they can to slow the coronavirus.

SHRM Online has collected the following news reports that reflect the different ways in which organizations are reacting to protect their employees and their businesses.

Emergency Leave

Walmart to Allow Any Worker Concerned about Coronavirus to Stay Home 'Without Penalty'
Walmart is enacting an emergency leave policy for its 1.4 million hourly US workers that allows them to take time off without penalty if they fear the spread of a new virus. The nation's largest private employer said Tuesday that a worker at its store in Cynthiana, Ken., tested positive for the COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
(New York Post)

Colorado Will Require Paid Sick Leave for Certain Workers in Response to Coronavirus
The state of Colorado will soon require employers to offer paid sick days to hundreds of thousands of service and hospitality workers in response to the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Gov. Jared Polis announced the new policy on Tuesday morning as he declared a state of emergency.
(Colorado Public Radio)

Employee Relief Fund

Amazon Launches $25 Million Relief Fund for Delivery Drivers, Seasonal Employees Amid Coronavirus Outbreak
Amazon is launching a $25 million relief fund for delivery drivers and seasonal workers amid the coronavirus outbreak, it announced March 11.  The aim is to help employees "that are under financial distress during this challenging time," the company said. This includes Amazon Flex drivers and its network of delivery service partners, who handle last-mile package deliveries, as well as seasonal employees, who help the company manage variation in customer demand during peak periods and holidays. Amazon will allow these employees to apply for grants that are equal to up to two weeks of pay if they're diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.

(CNBC)

Coronavirus Testing

NYC's Hotel Workers Union to Offer Members Coronavirus Testing
The health insurance plan run by the city's powerful hotel workers union will soon offer more than 90,000 people tests for the coronavirus. About 40,000 workers and 50,000 of their relatives and union retirees are covered by the plan run by the New York Hotel Trades Council.
(New York Daily News)

Closures and Quarantines

Starbucks Closed a Seattle Store after 1st Case of Employee Diagnosed with Coronavirus
Starbucks temporarily closed a Reserve store location in downtown Seattle after an employee was diagnosed with COVID-19 and was quarantined March 6. This is the first case of coronavirus contracted by a Starbucks in-store employee. The company immediately closed the affected store, initiated a deep-clean procedure and sent home employees that had direct contact with the infected partner.
(Nation's Restaurant News)

'No-Contact' Food Delivery Offered

Gig Economy Companies from Uber to Lyft Take Action as Coronavirus Cases Grow
Uber and Lyft are planning to compensate drivers affected by the coronavirus for up to 14 days. Postmates and Instacart have unveiled "no-contact" food delivery. DoorDash is letting customers leave in-app instructions if they prefer orders left at the door. Amazon Flex, which taps independent contractors to make deliveries, doesn't have a policy to compensate drivers and is instead supporting on an "individual, case-by-case basis."
(CNBC)

Teleworking Promoted, Office Visits Restricted

Twitter Tells Employees to Work from Home as Tech Firms React to Coronavirus
Twitter on March 2 became the first major U.S. corporation to strongly encourage its employees to work from home to avoid spreading coronavirus.
(Los Angeles Times)

How IBM, Goldman Sachs, PwC and Others Are Responding to the Coronavirus Threat
IBM, which nearly three years ago ended remote work for some U.S. employees, said Feb. 27 it had asked workers in coronavirus-affected areas to work from home "wherever possible." The guidance was issued for IBM workers in China, Japan, South Korea and Italy. The company also restricted travel to some locations and canceled its in-person participation in the RSA Conference on cybersecurity in San Francisco.
(Washington Post)

Google Tells More than 100,000 North American Employees to Stay Home
Google is telling all of its North American employees to stay home until at least April 10, as the COVID-19 coronavirus spreads, CNBC reported March 10. On March 9, CNBC reported that the company blocked all external visitors from coming into some of its offices, including New York and the San Francisco Bay Area where its Silicon Valley headquarters are located.
(CNBC)

UBS Divvying Up Teams in Switzerland, Having Them Switch Off Teleworking
UBS, the Swiss bank headquartered in Zurich, has begun implementing a split-operations policy in Switzerland this week as part of its coronavirus response. The firm has already implemented a similar policy for its employees across the Asia Pacific region.
(News of the Day)

Cuomo Asks NY Businesses to Split Employee Shifts to Prevent Coronavirus Spread
The State of New York will ask businesses to consider having employees work two shifts and allowing telework, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a CNN interview.
(New York Post)

Domestic and Global Travel Restricted

Ford Bans Employee Travel on Coronavirus Fears
Ford Motor Company told employees March 3 that it is banning all non-essential air travel until at least March 27 because of concerns about the novel coronavirus. Ford had been restricting travel to and from China but has now extended the ban to all flights, both international and within the United States, out of concern for employees' health and safety. There may be exceptions, a Ford spokesperson said, but they will probably be rare.
(The Motley Fool)

Coronavirus Cancellations, Travel Bans
Google on March 3 called off its flagship developers conference, called I/O, which was scheduled for May in Mountain View, Calif. Last year, the three-day event drew 7,000 attendees. The company said it would look for ways to "evolve" the event, raising the possibility of livestreamed or remote sessions. Several other companies and organizations, including the World Bank and the IMF, said they would replace in-person gatherings and meetings with virtual ones.
(NPR)

Coronavirus Conference Gets Canceled Because of Coronavirus
The Council on Foreign Relations canceled a roundtable called "Doing Business Under Coronavirus" scheduled for Friday in New York due to the spread of the infection itself. CFR has also canceled other in-person conferences that were scheduled from March 11 to April 3.
(Bloomberg)

Airlines Cut More Flights, Execs Take Pay Cuts as Coronavirus Takes Toll on Flying
United CEO Oscar Munoz and president Scott Kirby will forgo their base salaries through at least June 30. United also said it was postponing "non-critical" projects requiring capital expenditures, got a $2 billion loan from a group of banks and expects to incur a first-quarter loss. Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said Monday in a message to employees that he would take a 10 percent pay cut and Delta said it is instituting a hiring freeze, taking some planes out of service and retiring older aircraft.
(Herald & Review)

Work Areas Disinfected

How Dallas-Area Restaurants Are Prepping Their Kitchens and Dining Rooms for Coronavirus
Extra hand sanitizer is only part of the effort. Some say food delivery is the next big answer. At one eatery, crews have started sanitizing credit-card pin pads, surface areas and both sides of all door handles more regularly. Like many restaurants, it has put out more hand-sanitizing dispensers and ordered touchless hand sanitizer dispensers to replace manual ones.
(The Dallas Morning News)

Nike Closed Its Worldwide HQ in Oregon for Deep-Cleaning after 1st U.S. Coronavirus Death
Nike announced March 1 it temporarily closed its corporate headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., in order to deep clean the campus following the first US death from COVID-19 the day prior. "While we have no information indicating any exposure to Nike employees, out of an abundance of caution, we are conducting a deep cleaning of campus," a Nike spokesperson told KGW, the Portland, Ore., NBC-affiliated station. "All WHQ buildings and facilities, including fitness centers, will be closed over the weekend."
(Business Insider)

Facebook Shuts London, Singapore Offices for 'Deep Cleaning' After Employee Diagnosed with Coronavirus
Facebook said March 6 it was shutting its London office and part of its Singapore base for "deep cleaning" after an employee in the Asian city state was diagnosed with coronavirus.
(The Economic Times)

SOURCE: Gurchiek, K. (12 March 2020) "Coronavirus: How Employers Around the Globe Are Responding" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/Pages/Coronavirus-How-Employers-Around-the-Globe-Are-Responding.aspx


Keep Employee Data Safe

Original post benefitspro.com

When a cyber breach occurs, lawsuits are usually not far behind. It’s a chain of events that has become de rigueur in the consumer realm when retailers experience a breach and it is bleeding over into the workplace, too.

Employees whose data is exposed are increasingly pointing the finger at failings in the technology employers use to secure their information and lapses in protocols that allow vulnerabilities to be exploited.

Who is responsible if your employees’ personal information is stolen on company time? Where does the company’s obligations begin and end under the duty of care laws? How might state and federal breach regulations impact an organization’s proactive and reactive data security efforts?

How a breach happens and how the company responds both play a major role in determining the potential legal ramifications. To mitigate the risks, it is critical for HR professionals to understand their responsibilities before a cyber criminal strikes.

Many employers aren’t even aware of either the enormous security risks their organizations face or the best strategies to protect the employee data they hold.

Ensuring that employers have access to the right tools and expertise to address data breach concerns is an important role for benefits managers and the brokers and agents who support them.

Know the risks, have a plan

Financial information is what comes to mind most frequently when businesses consider where breach risks exist, but that thinking is too narrow. It overlooks the incredible value inherent in employee data. Not only does financial information lurk within HR’s employment records in the form of salary histories and bank routing numbers used for automatic deposits, but standard consumer data is also present.

Full names, birth dates, addresses and social security numbers exist in every employee’s file. Health and benefit data may be present, too, such as carrier names, subscriber numbers, or details on beneficiaries and dependents. And where there’s smoke, there’s fire. The same servers and systems that host employee and customer data, likely hold data pertaining to trade secrets, M&As, business plans, and more. All the more reason to get your company’s cyber strategy in gear.

Adding complexity to the situation is the fact that employers must be concerned with two types of data breaches — those that are the result of a purposeful act, such as a hacker or a malicious insider, and those that occur by accident. Lost laptops and cell phones are just one common example where an inadvertent exposure could easily happen.

Each flavor of breach represents a different risk profile and each requires its own mitigation measures. A two-pronged approach to breach prevention that marries technology and best practices enables employers to address any existing security gaps while also providing improved protection for employee data.

Deploying technology tools to safeguard sensitive information assets is one part of a comprehensive data security strategy that keeps employers in line with duty of care laws and other breach regulations.

Firms have a range of solutions to choose from and they should tailor their approach based on their network and infrastructure architecture, the information types that are vulnerable to exposure, the volume of data that must be protected, resource availability — from funding to staffing — and any regulatory guidelines or compliance mandates that must be considered.

Encryption is a perfect example of a technology that is relatively simple, but still enormously effective when it comes to securing employee data. Free and low-cost encryption platforms are available which can help to protect confidential information from unauthorized access even if a hardware item (thumb drive, laptop, etc.) falls into the wrong hands.

Other technology tools may also be appropriate depending on the employer’s needs, including firewalls, mobile device management software, and multi-factor authentication to protect access to more sensitive systems.

Security best practices are the second half of a successful data protection strategy. These protocols largely deal with the ways humans interact with the organization’s information and they also cover what to do in the event of a breach. Employers will want to manage network and data access in a way to limits who is able to view and change employee information.

Methodologies for storing, processing, analyzing, archiving, and destroying employee data should be documented in detail and anyone responsible for those tasks must be trained on the organization’s security practices.

An incident response plan is another best practice employers should include under the data security umbrella. This doesn’t need to an exhaustive plan, but it should outline the steps employees are to take if they suspect a breach has occurred — everything from blocking access to compromised servers to contacting the company’s privacy or information security employee or consultant. (Don’t have one? Here’s why you should.)

A strong plan can significantly limit the potential harm that is likely to fall upon any employee whose data was exposed. And as risks evolve, so should the incident response plan – it should be a living, breathing part of a comprehensive cyber strategy with routine reviews.

Retain the right expertise

Another concern often faced by employers, particularly those smaller organizations where internal resources are lean, is that they don’t have good insight into the evolving cyber threat environment and the latest data protection strategies.

Efforts to craft, deploy, and maintain an effective privacy and security program are made more difficult when industry expertise is lacking. Without a strong understanding of where security vulnerabilities exist, or which new threat vectors are likely to be of concern, employers could find themselves directing their limited resources in too many directions and without much effect.

Because many breach scenarios involve little or no technology — hard copies of completed enrollment forms accidentally left in a shared conference room, for example — simply turning responsibility for data privacy over to the IT function isn’t going to work. It’s important that employers are able to seek guidance from someone experienced in data protection in all its forms.

Continuously educate the front line

Employees themselves may pose potential security challenges, so continuous training is essential to protect a company’s own data and that of its customers. Companies should consider implementing educational sessions about new scams and privacy and security refreshers as part of their annual compliance training.

By partnering with employees to help protect their data, the organization can maximize its technology investment and ensure that everyone is committed to the company’s culture of security.

Social engineering schemes are increasingly popular among hackers, effectively turning the workforce into either an employer’s first line of defense or its greatest weakness.

The most recent spoof comes courtesy of a company’s top executive — or so the scammer wants you to think. An employee will receive a request from the CEO — either by way of a hacked email account or an email address that closely resembles the real thing — to cough up documents, usually W-2s. With a few clicks, countless data about a company’s employees has been exposed.

Rather than quickly react, employees should be trained that if they see something, say something.

Identity management

Along with taking appropriate security measures internally, employers may also consider offering identity-related benefits to their employees. These packages bring a powerful suite of tools to the table that provide workers with proactive education and reactive support. Informational resources teach individuals how to spot corrupt websites and suspicious e-mail links.

They give details on what to look for when conducting annual credit report reviews. And workers concerned their personal data may have been exposed — whether at work or through a health care provider, retailer or other avenue — have access to identity theft experts able to help them navigate the resolution process.

The fraud team can assist them in replacing important documents that may have been lost due to theft, fire or flood. They can even monitor known black market websites to see if an employee’s stolen data is being used fraudulently.

Together, these strategies give employers a way to keep employees’ information safe while providing workers with assurances that they’ll have the support they need if the worst should happen.


Boating, Biking, and Beaching: Summer Safety Tips for Employees

Originally posted by Chris Kilbourne on http://safetydailyadvisor.blr.com

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in one recent year, more than 3,000 Americans were injured and over 700 killed in boating incidents. Of the people killed, more than 70% drowned, and more than 90% of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets.

So the very first boating safety tip to emphasize and reemphasize to employees is that everyone in a boat should be wearing a life jacket, whether or not they can swim.

Alcohol is another factor contributing to boating accidents, injuries, and fatalities. CDC says that alcohol use affects judgment, vision, balance, and coordination, and is involved in about a third of all recreational boating fatalities. Boating under the influence of alcohol is just as deadly as drinking and driving. Not only is it dangerous to operate a boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it's also illegal in every state in the United States.

A third point to emphasize about safe boating is that people who pilot pleasure craft should know what they are doing. This means that they should have taken a safe boating course. CDC reports that more than 7 out of every 10 boating incidents are caused by operator error. Boating education courses teach the rules for safe operation and navigation of recreational boats, and can help boat operators keep their passengers safe.

Safe Biking

In 2010, 618 cyclists were killed and an additional 52,000 were injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

To prevent bike accidents, injuries and fatalities, NHTSA suggests the following safety precautions:

  • All bicyclists should wear a properly fitted bicycle helmet every time they ride. A helmet is the single most effective way to prevent head injury resulting from a bicycle crash.
  • Bicyclists are considered vehicle operators. They are required to obey the same rules of the road as other vehicle operators, including obeying traffic signs, signals, and lane markings. When cycling in the street, cyclists must ride in the same direction as traffic.
  • Drivers of motor vehicles need to share the road with bicyclists and be courteous, allowing at least 3 feet clearance when passing a bicyclist on the road. Motorist should also look for cyclists before opening a car door or pulling out from a parking space. And they should always yield to cyclists at intersections and as directed by signs and signals. Motorists should be especially watchful for cyclists when making turns, either left or right.
  • Bicyclists should increase their visibility to drivers by wearing fluorescent or brightly colored clothing during the day, dawn, and dusk. To be noticed when riding at night, cyclists should use a front light and a red reflector or flashing rear light, and use retro-reflective tape or markings on equipment or clothing.

Safety at the Beach

The United States Lifesaving Association (www.usla.org) offers beachgoers many lifesaving safety tips on their website, including these:

  • Don’t swim alone. That way if you have a problem, there is someone there to help.
  • Don't swim under the influence. Alcohol impairment affects swimming ability and judgment.
  • Swim near a lifeguard. Your chance of drowning at a beach protected by lifeguards is slight.
  • If you are caught in a rip current, don't fight it by trying to swim directly to shore. Instead, swim parallel to shore until you feel the current relax, then swim to shore.
  • Never dive head first into unknown water. Check for depth and obstructions like rock formations first.

 


How to Keep Unneeded Lawyers Out of Workers’ Comp



How to Keep Unneeded Lawyers Out of Workers’ Comp (via CFO.com)

Risk Management | November 27, 2012 | CFO.com | US It's no secret that workers’ compensation cases involving attorneys are generally more expensive. In fact, workers’ compensation, started a century ago to remove workers and their employers from the tort system, remains highly litigious. It does…

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