When you consider that laws governing travel and social distancing vary from state to state, with a couple having no such laws at all, determining how your organization will regulate and discipline off-duty conduct is very challenging. And when an employee travels to another state that has different laws, which take precedence? Some experts have compared this debate to employer’s efforts to regulate employee use of social media, but it seems that how you regulate social media activity is much different than carrying out your responsibility to keep employees and working conditions safe during a public health emergency.
Given the fact that states have established their own guidelines, an example of an employee who traveled out of state to participate in a large public gathering can present a big challenge. While one employer might decide to quarantine the employee upon return because the gathering violates laws where the person lives and works, another might prefer to act in accordance with a less restrictive law that exists in the state where the gathering took place. Given the complexity of the COVID-19 pandemic, many will likely look beyond the laws and act in a manner consistent with their duty to keep their workplace safe for all employees.
One thing most employers and attorneys seem to agree on is that like so many employment issues, determining an appropriate course of action in matters such as these often comes down to whether or not your organization has a policy in place and how that policy has been communicated to employees.
Guidance recently released by the FDA outlining conditions for approving a Covid-19 vaccine includes a 50 percent benchmark, meaning that any vaccine must be at least 50 percent more effective than a placebo in preventing the disease. This is the same benchmark used annually to approve flu vaccines. In the announcement, Commissioner Stephen Hahn told a Senate panel that the FDA would not approve a vaccine for the general public without clinical evidence that it is both safe and effective.
In accordance with established FDA guidelines, an emergency authorization can move much quicker than a typical full approval, but would still require the vaccine maker to show through clinical studies that the vaccine produced lower levels of disease. Several clinical studies are underway, with one manufacturer having just initiated clinical testing by 60,000 adults.
There is little doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the mental well-being of many Americans. In addition to dealing with fear of the virus and social isolation, economic pressures have continued to grow. Many who have continued to work have been forced to balance working remotely with caring for children who would normally be in school.
A survey by telemedicine giant Teladoc recently showed that nearly half of American workers say their mental health has been negatively impacted. The more disturbing statistic is that only 27% say their employers are taking steps to provide help.
What Others are Doing
While larger employers have long made employee assistance programs available to those in need, the expansion of telemedicine has enabled employers of all sizes to provide access to behavioral health professionals. These appointments traditionally were held by phone, but many are now conducted by video using computers or smart phones.
As the pandemic has continued, onsite employers’ clinics have shown a significant increase in mental health and stress-related cases. Some health systems have placed mental health providers inside workplaces to provide quicker access to treatment. For more information or to strengthen your health plan in this critical area, contact your account representative today. systems have placed mental health providers inside workplaces to provide quicker access to treatment. For more information or to strengthen your health plan in this critical area, contact your account representative today.
If you’ve had COVID-19 in the past, or suspect that you have, you may want to get an antibody test, which tests your blood serum to check for your body’s response to an infection. If you decide to proceed with an antibody test, make sure the test is authorized for FDA emergency use and speak with your doctor about the results. If your antibody test is negative, you probably were not infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the past. If you test positive and have no symptoms of COVID-19, you likely were infected with SARS-CoV-2, especially if you had common COVID-19 symptoms in the past.
Rules governing which tests can be given and who can take them vary from state to state. It is wise to check with the department of public health in your state and also ask your doctor to determine if a test is appropriate for you. With reports of false positives growing, many physicians are recommending that patients wait until experts can better identify which tests are performing best.
A new report released by financial services firm Alera Group shows that few, if any, sectors of our economy have avoided damage by COVID-19. One area that has suffered terribly includes food growers, packers and suppliers that typically serve restaurants, schools and other commercial facilities. Other sectors hit hardest include construction, higher education, healthcare, hospitality and gaming, manufacturing and restaurants.
With summer comes outdoor activities and plenty of fresh air. But really, how fresh is the air we breathe if we’re wearing a mask? When asked this question in a recent Facebook Live event, a specialist in charge of infectious disease at a Midwest-based healthcare system said wearing a mask outside is fine and there’s no reason to be concerned about breathing too much of your own carbon dioxide.
While this is one of several myths circulating on social media networks, Dr. Robert Citronberg said there is no scientific evidence showing that wearing a mask can be harmful, even for long periods of time. He went on to confirm that wearing a mask is still one of the best ways to stop the spread of COVID-19.
There are many concerns that cause top executives to lose sleep, but the events of the past couple months have tested business owners and decision makers in ways that can only be described as unprecedented.
The uncertainty surrounding the Coronavirus coupled with a burning desire to get back to business have created an increasingly dynamic and stressful time. From manufacturers scrambling to provide healthcare workers with PPP to non-essential businesses that have had to furlough workers, most CEOs are faced with the biggest challenges of their careers. And while employees are able to share their concerns, leaders must have the courage to hide theirs. Real leaders are able to endure intense pressure while making sure the people around them don’t sense it.
Ensuring Safety & Access to Care
The reality is that in the face of this pandemic, true leaders are preparing rather than panicking. After taking steps to keep people safe, they’re thinking and planning for a future that will likely be very different. Leaders know that staying calm is critical to sound decision making. Clear thinking helps them communicate with confidence and listen in a way that calms other’s fears. In a crisis, taking the time to listen can make all the difference to a worker finding it really difficult to cope.
While some insurance carriers are waiving member copays, co-insurance and deductibles for COVID-19 diagnostic testing and treatment, some states are mandating it. While state mandates don’t apply to self-funded plans, some plan sponsors have chosen to provide COVID-19 patients with first dollar coverage. These actions require the approval of your stop loss carrier since related claims may exceed your stop loss deductible. A written and executed plan amendment is also required. As always, we stand ready to help with these requirements as well as the expansion of HDHP, HSA and FMLA benefits included in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. We hope you will contact us if your plan is facing any of these issues.
When President Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act into law in mid-March, employers with fewer than 500 employees became responsible for providing paid leave to certain employees through Dec. 31, 2020.
The benefit extends to employees unable to work or telework due to the need for leave to care for a son or daughter under the age of 18 that has been impacted by the closing of a school or place of care as a result of a federal, state or local emergency declaration. According to the law, the first 10 days of this leave may be unpaid but provided with pay after 10 days at a rate no lower than two-thirds of an employee’s regular rate of pay. Paid leave is not to exceed $200 per day or $10,000 in aggregate and employees cannot be required to use available paid time off before receiving the benefit. This expansion applies to employers with fewer than 50 employees even though they are not currently subject to FMLA.
Uninsured 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.
According 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.