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Employee Health During A Covid Pandemic

Employers can make proactive changes to benefits; especially during a pandemic. 2020 brought many of us, including employers, some challenging moments. More than fifty percent (50%) of employers realized that allowing flex working hours, accommodating school needs as well as child and elder care, were critical for employee retention. Since the start of the pandemic, some employers even offered financial assistance for dependent care and tutoring. Employers are making proactive changes to benefits, especially after surviving the pandemic through 2020. Over 50% of employers allowed the flexibility in work hours to accommodate education needs as well as dependent care.

While the pandemic brought new workforce situations requiring new solutions to the forefront of daily lives, providing innovative and proactive employee benefits can address some of these current challenges. In today’s environment, there are newer benefits being offered for today’s diverse worker populations. These may include a wide range of proactive benefits, while employers recognize their employee needs and concerns, especially during such stressful times. Some of these emerging benefits help employers retain key talent; and flexibility is one, while many employees juggle job and family responsibilities. Employees can still be productive, if not, even more so.

One new benefit starting to emerge is referred to gender-affirmation benefits. These benefits would cover physician visits, gender affirmation surgery, mental health counseling and pre and post surgery, as well as prescription drug therapy. It was recently ruled in the US Supreme Court that non-discrimination on the basis of sex under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes nondiscrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. We may even find that this type of benefit may gain more attention in 2021 and beyond.

In addition to the gender-affirmation benefits, we may start to see fertility benefits. In 2020, there was a jump in almost 30% for this type of benefit. The most commonly offered fertility benefit is coverage for fertility medications and for in-vitro fertilization (IVF). Nine percent (9%) offer egg harvesting and freezing. Fertility clinics are reporting that egg harvesting and freezing happened more than usual in 2020 because women were putting off having babies, and even dating, during the uncertainties of the pandemic. Fertility benefits can be highly valued by talent no matter their gender identity or relationship status.

Another issue that’s been exacerbated by the pandemic’s lockdown, unfortunately, has been domestic violence. The benefit here is paid or unpaid domestic violence or “safe” leave for an employee who is a victim themselves, or if their family or household member is a victim. The time off is used to move, meet with law enforcement and/or lawyers, receive medical and/or mental health care, and to handle child care issues. There are some state and local mandates in place for this type of leave. Some employers make this leave available without a mandate.

While mental health benefits and employee assistance programs are closer to being a core benefit, the need for this type of care and service is even more critical now, during the pandemic and after. Fear, social isolation, physical health challenges, financial insecurities, grief, caregiving stressors and the like can cause anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions. We found that 25% of surveyed employers reported having enhanced the mental health benefits they provide to workers due to the pandemic, and 20% have added services to their employee assistance program (EAP).

As we know, there is no employee benefit that is “one size fits all” or “one size fits most”. We have to strategically think that will these new benefits fit our organization’s culture; or will these benefits utilized be valued or even support the employees’ well being. For more information on Employee Benefits, please reach out to your trained employee benefits broker at HRBC.

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