Building a Remote Workforce

In mid-March when Discover Financial Services made the decision to put safety first, it meant quickly devising a plan to move 8,000 call center agents from their cubicles in 4 different regional facilities to their homes. Infrastructure services and customer service teams worked 24/7 to develop work-from-home kits consisting of monitors, keyboards and cables, then arranged drive-thru operations at each location, enabling agents to easily transfer the equipment to their cars. In all, 1,900 agents per day were equipped and ready to work off-site. And if that wasn’t challenging enough, Discover’s largest call center in Utah was forced to cope with a 5.7 magnitude earthquake.

While few companies have to mobilize thousands of workers in just a few days, businesses large and small have been forced to establish a plan, communicate it effectively and go remote during the coronavirus outbreak. Experts say communication is key to maintaining positive morale while still getting the job done. A few best practices may include:

  • When possible, adopt a beginning and an end date to the arrangement or adhere to a state or locally mandated stay-at-home order, making adjustments if needed.
  • Depending on normal work styles, try to establish consistent work hours, including times when people should be around their desks or be available to collaborate with their teams.
  • Take advantage of the flexibility a remote arrangement can provide. Trust and safety should yield greater peace of mind and empower people to get the job done with minimal supervision.

While many Discover employees were accustomed to working remotely, it will be new to many businesses. Many will find that for employees in appropriate positions, working remotely can increase both employee engagement, workplace productivity and job satisfaction.

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No-Deductible COVID-19 Care

ebso-covidUninsured people needing medical treatment for the coronavirus will be able to get that treatment without concerns about out-of-pocket costs or unexpected charges. Thanks to the federal stimulus package passed by Congress in early April, hospitals and healthcare providers that treat these folks will be paid for unreimbursed care at current Medicare rates.

While the law does not require that health insurance carriers and employer-sponsored health plans waive cost-sharing charges such as deductibles and coinsurance for coronavirus patients requiring medical treatment, many groups are pushing for this relief. In response, some large insurance carriers and health plans have said they would waive out-of-pocket costs for in-network COVID-treatment through the end of May. Pressure for this relief is expected to mount as shutdowns of non-essential businesses continue and more and more workers are laid off or furloughed.

Relief for HDHPs and HSAs

In another emergency ruling, the IRS said that HSA users with high deductible health plan coverage can use their coverage to pay for testing for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 pneumonia, without having to be concerned about satisfying the minimum deductible requirements common to HSA coverage. The same flexibility will now also apply to HSA account holders who need to use their coverage to pay for treatment of COVID-19 pneumonia. The IRS has cautioned that this guidance only applies to the COVID-19 emergency and does not void the other requirements governing High Deductible Health Plans and Health Savings Accounts. Since regulations and requirements regarding benefits for COVID-19 continue to evolve rapidly, plan members are advised to consult their health plan before seeking testing or treatment.

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How COVID-19 Is Transmitted

ebso-covid19-updateAccording to the CDC, the Coronavirus is thought to spread mainly through being close enough to an infected person to be touched by respiratory droplets discharged by coughing, sneezing or talking. These droplets can land in the mouth or nose or be inhaled into the lungs. Physicians suggest the virus can spread very easily between people, but not quite as easily by touching something that has the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine says the Coronavirus is detectable in the air for up to 3 hours, but that a very small amount can remain on cardboard for 24 hours and on plastic or stainless steel for as long as 2-3 days. The WHO says the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is very low and that catching the virus from a transmitted package is also very low.

While physicians on the Administration’s Coronavirus Task Force consistently agreed that masks were only needed by healthcare workers, authorities now recommend that masks be worn by all when going outdoors or to public places such as grocery stores, pharmacies, etc.

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Financial Wellness Growing

healthMetLife recently released a report showing that an increasing number of employers believe that personal finance has become the main source of stress for their employees. Lack of an emergency fund, student loan repayment and a need for advice top the list of concerns… and this was prior to the Coronavirus crisis. Knowing that no single solution can help every employee, employers are working to identify priorities and shape future offerings to include more education including self-help tools.

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Eye Exams Can Be Very Revealing

healthEveryone knows that a routine vision exam is important, but few may know that an optometrist or ophthalmologist can identify more 30 medical conditions, often before any outward symptoms occur. Heart disease, diabetes, liver disease and certain cancers are just a few of the serious conditions that are often detected early on by an eye care professional.

This is surprising to many, but the fact is that because our eyes are extremely sensitive organs, they are often one of the first areas affected by changes to our nervous or circulatory systems. And because the eyes and brain are so close to each other, an eye exam can often predict dementia and Alzheimer’s disease years before they begin to affect memory. If vision care is not a part of your current benefits plan, consider using your FSA or HSA funds to schedule an eye exam. Doing so just may help save your life or that of a loved one.

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Supporting Behavioral Health

woman holding headNearly 1 in 5 U.S. adults live with a mental illness. Since it has become virtually impossible to avoid a condition at work, here are some of the factors involved. First, professionals tell us that multiple cycles can impact health and productivity in different ways. Conditions can trigger at any time and while early symptoms can be mild, a supportive work environment is critical. Symptoms often increase during later phases, causing work performance to suffer. Mental health benefits and disability insurance will come into play as everyone works together to help the employee remain at work or return to work as soon as possible. Symptoms can become severe during advanced phases, making a disability leave, family leave or access to an EAP or in-network providers likely.

Because fewer than half the people who need help ever receive treatment, meeting the issue of mental health head on is very important. Having a general conversation or town hall about behavioral health can go a long way in creating a safe, healthy, supportive environment.

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Family Leave Programs Expanding

family-leaveEven though Labor Department reports show that fewer than 15% of private sector employees are covered by paid leave programs, more states are looking for ways to help employees cope with the difficulties of caring for family members of all ages. In addition to California, New Jersey and Rhode Island that have had programs in place for a long time, New York, Washington and the District of Columbia have passed similar laws.

While most private sector programs provide paid maternity and parental leave, more and more employers are looking for ways to help employees caring for elderly parents or family members facing serious health conditions. An increasing number of employers are providing on-site daycare facilities to reduce absenteeism. Those that lack the facilities are lowering stress levels for parents by helping to subsidize their daycare expenses.

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Prescription Drugs from Vending Machines

If Florida House Bill HB59 becomes law, Floridians will be able to use video conferencing technology to speak with a pharmacist and obtain prescription drugs dispensed by automated pharmacy systems or vending machines. The systems, manufactured by Canadian company MedAvail, are currently in use in hospitals located in Jacksonville and Miami, Florida.

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More Seniors Working

hcaa-aca-postAccording to a new Harris pole conducted for TD Ameritrade, more than half of Americans age 40 and older plan to continue working after they retire. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York adds that the number of workers 55 and older has been rising since 2000. While the percentages dropped for older workers, it remained above 50% for those 70 to 79 years of age. Financial need was important to most, but many over 55 cited a desire to remain sharp and avoid boredom as their main concern.

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Coping with Tragedy: Ways Your Company Can Help

Tragedy can strike at any moment and no community, business or family is immune. And whether the event impacts one employee, a group of workers or the community in which your business is located, getting life back on track is never easy.

Experiencing a personal tragedy teaches us that compassion can make all the difference, especially coming from an employer. A recent article described an employer who flew overseas to visit an employee recovering from a gunshot wound received in the 2017 Las Vegas shooting. While few employers can do that, everyone can pick up the phone and offer support and understanding along with details on available family leave or mental health benefits. In a world where company culture is so important, helping one employee at a difficult time can create long-lasting loyalty and more.

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