Coronavirus (COVID-19): Surveys Show Huge Impact on Employers

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is the most disruptive event to hit the US economy in decades. A roundup of recent surveys shows the many challenges employers are facing as they try to find answers to adapt to rapidly changing business needs and comply with new federal, state and local requirements during the public health emergency.

HR Challenges

An April survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) of 2278 HR professionals looked at the top challenges employers are facing during the health emergency and what actions workplaces have taken to adapt to the evolving economic climate.

The survey found that 34% of employers did not have an emergency preparedness plan prior to COVID-19. Another one-third of employees had a plan but it did not include communicable diseases. Fifty-three percent of respondents reported that they are now revising their emergency plans.

Meanwhile, 40% of respondents reported that their organizations have shut down part of their operations and another 19% are considering doing so. And one in 10 businesses said they are facing a total shutdown. In addition, employers that are continuing to operate have had to make difficult decisions. For instance:

  • 50% have stopped hiring;
  • 50% have delayed start dates;
  • 31% have laid workers off, and 15% say cuts are permanent with no intent to rehire;
  • 38% have decreased employee hours; and
  • 19% have reduced pay rates.

Yet it is not all bad news: 14% of respondents report hiring more employees despite the pandemic, and 10% are considering additional hiring.

Not surprisingly, though, employers that have been able to continue operations report that it has not all been smooth sailing. The SHRM survey showed that the top challenges facing HR during the crisis include:

  • Struggling to adjust to remote work (71%), particularly for professional, scientific and technical services (83%);
  • Maintaining employee morale (65%);
  • More than three in ten employers struggle with:
    • Maintaining company culture;
    • Shifting communications for remote needs;
    • Managing employees unable to work remotely;
    • Changes in productivity; and
    • The time required to implement new leave regulations.

Operational Dilemmas

A survey by Littler of 912 employers from a wide range of business sectors reveals that employers have had to navigate operational challenges ranging from closures and staffing shortages to implementing safety and health measures for employees. They also have faced hard decisions related to compensation and providing leave to employees who are unable to work during the coronavirus pandemic.

The top concerns of respondents were:

  • Having to closing the office or facility (76% moderately to extremely concerned; 20% somewhat or slightly concerned);
  • Safety and health compliance (60% moderately to extremely concerned; 33% somewhat or slightly concerned); and
  • Pay and sick leave issues:
    • 89% of employers expressed concern about determining whether to pay employees during absences related to the coronavirus.
    • 85% reported making adjustments to their sick-leave policies or providing additional paid time off, or were considering doing so.

Worker Health and Wellness

Protecting employees health and safety as a top priority of employers is a theme across surveys. A recent Willis Towers Watson survey of 654 employers found that protecting the physical and emotional health and wellbeing is a primary consideration for employers.

The survey reports that many employers have increased employee access to virtual medical care and coverage of treatment:

  • 86% promote the use of telemedicine, a nurse line or virtual medical visits;
  • 58% have increased access to tele-behavioral health, and another 14% plan to do so; and
  • 41% waive out-of-pocket costs for treatment of employees who contract the virus.

In addition, 84% of the respondents report having policies that give employees flexibility to work from home if they are caring for a sick family member.

To provide easier access to prescription drugs during the coronavirus pandemic, 37% of employers have relaxed limitations on the amount of non-specialty drugs allowed and another 7% plan to do so. In other words, employers are allowing employees to get a 90-day supply of medications that normally would be restricted to a 30-day supply.

Finally, more than half of employers (55%) are providing salary continuation for a median of two weeks for employees who are self-quarantined due to exposure to COVID-19.


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