General

  • Where can I send my employees for the most current, accurate information?

    Your employees are being bombarded with information—some accurate, some not—from federal and local government sources, politicians, the media, social media, friends, family, and probably every company they’ve ever done business with. But studies show employees are looking to their employers for information—and trust employers more than any other source.

    Understanding that your HR staff is probably overwhelmed and juggling other priorities at this time, here are some resources for your employees:

    • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC): https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html
    • Every state has its own coronavirus site at this point. Encourage them to search “your state” + coronavirus. They are typically updated daily.
    • Most local hospitals have set up hotlines.
    • Work with your partners. In addition to the DirectPath response line, many carriers and brokers have set up hotlines as well.
    • Other resources can be found at the end of this document.

    There are many types of human coronaviruses including some that commonly cause mild upper-respiratory tract illnesses. COVID-19 is a new disease, caused be a novel (or new) coronavirus that has not previously been seen in humans.

  • What changes can I make to my plans to support my employees as we cope with the pandemic?

    On May 12, the IRS announced that employers now have the option of allowing employees to:

    • Drop out of employer health insurance, if they have another option;
    • Enroll in employer health insurance, if they failed to do so earlier in the year;
    • Add more family members to their coverage;
    • Switch between plan options; and/or
    • Enroll in or change contributions to a health care or dependent care FSA mid-year.

    Note that in order to permit such changes, the employer must amend their plan no later than December 31, 2021 (the amendment can, of course, be retroactive).

    Further, employers can allow employees to use account balances left in their FSAs at the end of a grace period or plan year ending during 2020 to pay for qualified expenses incurred through December 31, 2020.

  • Will my employees have to pay for tests?

    The President has just signed legislation making the COVID test—and any office visit, urgent care clinic visit or ER visit that results in an order for the test or the test itself—free of charge to all, regardless of whether the patient has insurance or the type of insurance he or she has. (In other words, this will apply whether an individual is covered by a fully insured, self-insured, Exchange, or private plan, Medicare, Medicaid, tribal or military plan.)

  • We offer a high deductible plan with an HSA. Is there anything we can do?

    The IRS recently issued guidance (https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/n-20-15.pdf) that, if you choose, you may cover testing and treatment for COVID-19 as “preventive” care—in other words, they can be covered BEFORE a participant has met the applicable deductible for the plan, or at a lower deductible that the usual amount. Doing so will not negate the plan’s HDHP status; further, doing so does not invalidate the participant’s ability to contribute to their HSA.

  • We offer a catastrophic plan. What should we know?

    On March 19, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that it will not take enforcement action against any catastrophic plans that provide pre-deductible coverage with no cost sharing for COVID-19-related services for testing or treatment. It is encouraging states to take a similar approach.
    A link to the CMS FAQ on the subject can be found here: The link to the related FAQs can be found here: https://www.cms.gov/CCIIO/Resources/Files/Catastrophic-Coverage-of-COVID-19.pdf.

  • What benefits should I remind my employees they may be able to use during this time?

    This is an excellent time to remind employees about the programs, benefits and voluntary offerings you make available to support them. Specifically, remind employees about:

    • Telemedicine offerings. Note that if your plan does not currently include telemedicine, many insurers are waiving cost sharing for telemedicine screenings obtained “outside” the plan.
    • Employee assistance programs. In addition to the stress most of us are feeling due to the ever-changing situation affecting our jobs, lifestyles and daily activities, working from home or self-isolation may increase feelings of depression and exacerbate existing mental health issues.
    • Wellness Programs. These programs typically include access to great resources around disease prevention.
    • Nurselines. These programs can help field employee questions about COVID 19 in general as well as specific health-related questions. This may be particularly valuable if your employee does not have a regular doctor.
    • Disease Management Programs. These programs typically focus on participants who have, or are at risk of developing, chronic medical conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes—conditions which may increase susceptibility to COVID-19. Encourage affected employees to contact their coach or case manager to manage their health conditions.
    • Voluntary programs. If you offer voluntary programs such as hospital indemnity or critical illness coverage, work with your vendors to promote them (remember, if you take too active a role in promoting them they may become ERISA plans). You may also want to discuss an off-cycle enrollment period for such plans to give employees more peace of mind.
  • What are the compliance implications of COVID-19?

    COVID-19 has implications for OSHA, FMLA, the ADA, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, HIPAA and the FLSA. You should contact your attorney as soon as possible to review your programs and policies to make sure they are in compliance. You may also want to funnel any employee calls through HR (rather than line managers) to ensure compliance requirements are being met.

    One particular area of concern is the ACA. For employers using the W-2 affordability standard for measured/variable hour employees, there is a risk that your plan may become unaffordable if employees are furloughed. Work with your broker or ESRR partner to determine how best to protect yourself.

    Note that you should let your plan participants know as soon as possible about no-cost-share coverage of testing and related expenses. A summary of material modifications is advisable; this must be distributed within 210 days after the end of the plan year in which the change is adopted. Given the importance of this information, we recommend an immediate announcement.

  • How can we protect our employees in the workplace?

    If your employees must come to a physical location to work, focus on prevention, protection and communication.

    Prevention

    Tell employees who are showing symptoms of a cold, flu or COVID-19 to stay home from work. If someone shows symptoms during the workday, send the home immediately. Post reminders about handwashing and sneezing/coughing protocols (into a tissue or your elbow) and reinforce the six-foot distances and no physical contact (handshakes, hugs, etc.) rules.

    You may want to ban visitors and non-essential personnel from the site to minimize the chance of exposure.

    Cancel all work-related travel and conduct meetings online—even if people are in the office. Let them participate from their work stations.

    Protection

    To support your employees in maintaining good hygiene, be sure employees have access to washing facilities, soap and paper towels; hand sanitizers and wipes for hard surfaces such as workstations, phones, door handles, light switches and countertops, etc.

    Arrange with your cleaning service for more frequent cleaning/deeper cleaning of the workspace each day.

    If your employees are still dealing with the public, you may need to provide additional protections under OSHA.

    Communication

    Employees are being bombarded with information from the government, news media, social media, friends and family and every company they’ve ever done business with. BUT, employees are turning to their employers for information, and a recent survey indicates that employers are one of – if not the most—trusted source of information about COVID.

    As the Harvard Business Review notes:

    “Dangerous rumors and worker fears can spread as quickly as a virus. It is imperative for companies to be able to reach all workers, including those not at the worksite, with regular, internally coordinated, factual updates about infection control, symptoms, and company policy regarding remote work and circumstances in which employees might be excluded from or allowed to return to the workplace.  These communications should come from or be vetted by the emergency response team, and they should be carefully coordinated to avoid inconsistent policies being communicated by different managers or functions. Clearly this requires organizations to maintain current phone/text and email contact information for all employees and test organization-wide communication periodically. If you don’t have a current, universal contact capability already, now is a good time to create this.”

  • How can we help our employees work successfully from home?

    Once you get your employees set up with the right tools and technology, there are some additional things you can do to help them transition to working from home.

    • Set clear expectations about work hours and accessibility. If employees do not normally record time, you may want to audit log in and log out times.
    • Remind employees of HIPAA and other confidentiality/privacy concerns. If your employees are working with HIPAA-sensitive material, they should already have their laptops encrypted—but you don’t want employees walking away from their desks with company-confidential materials up on their screens.
    • Provide a hotline number or email contact for employees struggling with technology. Not everyone is comfortable with call-forwarding software, encryption tools and other software/hardware they may be asked to use.
    • Encourage employees to stay in touch with their coworkers, whether through phone calls, video chats or even IMs. Explore group messaging tools like Microsoft Teams, Slack, Yammer, etc. Personal contact—even if not face to face—is more important than ever.
  • What should I tell our company’s supervisors and managers?

    In times like these, its particularly important that your front line managers are prepared to answer employee questions and that any information is accurate and presented consistently and without spin.

    Have them direct employees with general COVID-19 related questions to pre-approved resources (such as the DirectPath COVID-19 Employee Helpline, the CDC’s website, state and local health hotlines and websites, etc.). Questions regarding leave, desire to work from home, etc. should be directed to the HR department, to avoid any conflicts with regulatory requirements. Supervisors should also be told who to contact if any of their direct reports are exposed—and how to protect the privacy of affected employees.

  • We offer a catastrophic plan. What should we know?

    On March 19, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that it will not take enforcement action against any catastrophic plans that provide pre-deductible coverage with no cost sharing for COVID-19-related services for testing or treatment. It is encouraging states to take a similar approach.

    A link to the CMS FAQ on the subject can be found here: The link to the related FAQs can be found here:

    https://www.cms.gov/CCIIO/Resources/Files/Catastrophic-Coverage-of-COVID-19.pdf.

  • One of my employees called in sick with intestinal problems. What are my options for when s/he returns to work?

    You cannot ask your employee if s/he has coronavirus. And it’s entirely possible that the employee has something completely unrelated to COVID-19. You can, however, ask him/her—or any employee–to leave the workplace if they are showing signs of respiratory distress—and to stay at home until they are symptom free.

    Keep in mind that it might be difficult for an employee to get a doctor’s note OKing a return to work, so you may want to rethink that requirement for the foreseeable future.

  • What if I have an employee who’s afraid to come into work? Is s/he eligible for sick leave?

    No, an employee’s concern for contracting the virus is not included within the six allowable reasons for leave. The employee, however, may be eligible for leave under another employer policy (such as a leave of absence, accrued vacation, etc.) as per the requirements of that policy.

    If an employee’s fear, however, is related to a serious health condition, they may be eligible for traditional FMLA leave. Normal notice and certification procedures would be followed for that determination.

  • Can I tell employees if a co-worker has tested positive for the coronavirus or other communicable disease?

    No. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) privacy rules restrict employers from sharing personal health information of an employee. Employers should inform employees that possible exposure has occurred in the workplace without disclosing any identifying information about the individual who tested positive.

  • Can I take employees’ temperatures to ensure they don’t have a fever when reporting to work?

    Because the CDC and state/local health authorities have acknowledged community spread of COVID-19, employers may measure employees’ body temperature. As with all medical information, employers must maintain the confidentiality of employee temperatures and other symptoms as required by the ADA.

COBRA

  • Can I continue health coverage for my employees who are furloughed?

    Maybe. It depends on the eligibility provisions in your plan document. If there is a minimum hours requirement, you should talk to your insurer/stop-loss carrier to determine if they will agree to your continuing coverage for those employees.

  • Can I subsidize COBRA coverage for my employees?

    Yes but you may run into nondiscrimination issues if you are self-insured and the subsidy is not broadly offered.

  • What should be aware of as I consider continuing coverage for furloughed, laid off or reduced hour employees?

    A few points to keep in mind:

    • Consult with your attorneys regarding whether your plan documents and SPDs must be amended for any changes you want to make. A summary of material reduction may also be required.
    • Talk to your insurers/stop loss carriers about whether they are willing to extend coverage based on your plan’s current (and amended) eligibility rules.
    • Remember that part-time employees in a stability period remain eligible for coverage as full-time employees even when on furlough.
    • If you are extending coverage, determine how employees will pay their premiums (recoup at rehire/prepay/pay as you go) and work with your insurers and payroll vendors to facilitate.
    • Discuss conversion/porting of coverage with your life and disability insurers.

    There are a lot of moving parts and compliance minefields with respect to continuing/ending coverage during the COVID-19 crisis. Reach out to your consultant, broker, attorney and insurance partners to make sure you are following the letter of the law and making the best decision for your ongoing operations and your employees.

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