Supporting and protecting employees through COVID-19

Your organisation’s response to COVID-19 could be found in your Employee Benefits program.

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak continues to cause substantial business disruption risk, with many employers now making significant changes to their business operations and employee practices to respond to the virus. This is clearly a challenging time for everyone especially HR and risk managers who will be at the forefront of protecting their employees.
The good news is that organisations with a comprehensive employee benefits program can be well positioned to support and protect their employees during this complex time. Many of the typical employee benefits in New Zealand can provide valuable support to your employees and are likely to apply during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Employee Assistance Plan (EAP)
If your employees have had to adjust to new working arrangements along with potential uncertainty around finances and their health, they are likely to need additional support. Your EAP service is a good resource for employees who are feeling anxious or struggling to adjust to the events of COVID-19. Most of the EAP services are telephone based and not reliant on face-to-face contact.
Many EAP providers are also offering tools and resources for employers on the steps they can take to manage COVID-19 in the workplace. This ranges from topics such as employee hygiene to what to do when an employee presents at the office/work site with symptoms. Now could also be a time to remind your employees of your EAP service and the services available to them.
We encourage you to be in touch with your EAP provider to understand their full range of services and that you remind employees on how they can access the services.

Group Salary Continuance
If your company provides Group Salary Continuance, it is likely there is not a pandemic exclusion and so the valuable cover afforded by this policy is in effect for any eligible employees that may be infected by the virus. Of course, all other policy conditions and requirements for a valid claim would still apply. Importantly, the policy is unlikely to have any restriction in cover if employees are working from home. At a time when employee concern around health risks is high this benefit has never been more important.
We are working with a number of organisations to assist them communicate the coverage under the company sponsored salary continuance policy and reassure their employees how it will apply in relation to COVID-19. We recommend reminding your staff of this benefit as an important strategy to maintain employee mental health and engagement. You should also seek the support of your adviser/insurer in this exercise.

Private Health Insurance
Similar to Group Salary Continuance insurance, Private Health Insurance does not contain a specific pandemic exclusion. Therefore, if you have either a company-funded or employee paid private health insurance program as one of your key employee benefits then you can take this opportunity to remind individuals of its value.
While testing and treatment for COVID-19 is classified as acute care and is funded under the public health system, it is important to communicate the benefits that are still available for employees to use. Where your plan includes GP and Specialist consultations for example, video or telephone consultations will be covered.
As with the all benefits, an effective communication strategy with the support of your adviser/vendor(s) is recommended.
Continuation Options
The insurance landscape is likely to change as a result of Covid-19, and it crucial to advise employees who are leaving the company of their ability to continue their insurances when they leave the company. Where your policy provides one, a continuation option allows a departing employee the opportunity to continue their existing cover without medical underwriting. An adviser can provide departing employees with a quote, as well as a full personal risk review, to ensure the insured benefit programme is suitable and affordable for the individual.
What more could my organisation be doing?
Other areas of an employee benefit program which you might want to consider at this time are:
Telehealth – in recent years tele-medicine has emerged as a tool for employers to give employees easy and immediate access to primary medical care. We are seeing a trend towards companies partnering with telehealth providers to give their employees access to telehealth services which removes the requirement for face to face contact with the medical provider.
Working from home assessments – with the sudden move to working from home for entire workforces there will be a large number of employees working from home for the first time. This move undoubtedly creates a risk for employers and having appropriate assessments or self-assessments in place to mitigate this risk is becoming more prevalent.
Mentemia – in the current environment employees are facing pressure at multiple points, such as financial strain, isolation, balancing work from home with schooling their children amidst a backdrop of a real risk to their health and the health of their loved ones. In light of this and with the support of Ministry of Health, Kiwibank and Westpac, this workplace wellness App has been released for all New Zealanders to use for free, until at least October 2020. Mentemia is packed with evidence-based ideas and tools to help you learn how to be well, and stay well. It helps you deal with the most common stressors we experience in the modern connected world today - poor sleep, anxiety and stress. Mentemia is available for download on Google Play for Android or the App Store for iPhone.

In this complex world your organisation is being challenged on how you can protect and engage your employees. Some of the answers could be found just in your current employee benefits so now is the time to remind employees of the tools and benefits you have already in place and how it applies to them during COVID-19.
As a recap our top 3 tips are:

1.    Take a close look at your current employee benefits – our initial analysis is showing most benefit programs are likely to be highly effective in the current environment.
2.    Leverage the support of your benefit providers, most will know how their product works and will be applied to COVID-19. Aon can support you in this process.
3.    Communicate to employees clearly and with confidence how the benefits apply and, where relevant, how they can access the offering.

If you have any questions around your benefits program and how it might be affected by COVID-19 please get in touch with us.

For more information please contact your Aon Client Manager or Anita Los’e.

Anita Los’e 
National Manager – Employee Benefits

This website contains general information only and does not take into account your individual needs or financial situation. It is important to note that limits, excesses, terms and conditions and exclusions apply to the products and services outlined on this website. Please refer to the relevant policy documents for details of cover, the provision of which is subject to the insurer’s underwriting criteria that apply at the time. Please contact us if you have any questions.