In the first days of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses scrambled to adjust to what many expected would be a short-term disruption in the workplace. For companies, the early challenges included setting up remote workers and establishing new safety protocols for workers who remained on-site or in the field. Employee challenges included setting up a functional home “office,” adjusting to video conference meetings, and, in many cases, trying to do their jobs at the same time they were parenting and homeschooling their at-home children.
Now, nearly half a year later, COVID-19 is still disrupting business, and the cumulative effects of the health emergency on the economy have created new and even greater challenges for companies and employees. Many businesses have been forced to reduce their workforce, furlough employees or cut back hours. Affected employees find themselves in a financial crisis. Even if your company has been able to maintain a full workforce without cutbacks, your employees could be feeling significant financial pressure because the income of a spouse or partner has been affected. In addition to concerns about paying bills, parents are contending with another round of daycare and schooling challenges. As the new school year begins, many communities are making homeschooling mandatory or optional—and others have yet to decide. That uncertainty, and the fact that many workers who had the latitude to stay home at the end of the previous school year are now being called back to the office, the plant, the shop or the field, makes the situation even more difficult. And as COVID-19 continues to spread, there’s also the possibility that employees or family members could become ill, which might mean weeks of missed work or school and perhaps unanticipated medical expenses.
If helping your employees cope was important in March, it’s even more important now. Some companies are responding by offering direct medical assistance—such as free telemedicine consults, coverage for virtual doctor visits, and new or expanded offerings to support physical and emotional wellness—and free paid caregiver leave for relatives of persons ill with the coronavirus caregiver assistance. Others are providing employees with emergency funds. Among the 301 largest companies in the United States, 31% have instituted or increased sick leave and 14% have begun or supplemented backup dependent care.1 Another 29% are offering some kind of special financial assistance.2 (Among the top 100 largest public employers, that figure goes up to 38%.3)
Financial help can take several forms. Some companies have increased compensation, either as a one-time cash bonus or as a temporary hourly wage increase or hazard pay. A few, including AT&T, Chipotle, and Target, have offered both bonuses and hourly wage increases.4 Sixteen percent of businesses have improved or supplemented employee financial hardship and grant programs.5 TIAA is offering 100% COVID-19 medical coverage, including a waiver of deductibles and coinsurance costs for testing, doctor visits, and hospitalization.6
With a new school year beginning, one of the most pressing employee needs is help with childcare and homeschooling for the approximately 48 million American children aged 12 and under.7 TIAA has enhanced its backup care benefits by $35 per day through the end of the year.8 Another company, Ally, now offers to cover the cost of emergency childcare and eldercare support in the event an employee’s usual provider becomes unavailable.9
An Emergency Expense Reimbursement Account (EERA) can help your company help its employees with these challenges. Your company funds the account at a level of its choosing. It also can decide what kinds of emergencies the fund covers. Among the options are financial assistance to furloughed employees, helping employees pay for unexpected daycare needs, helping fund tutoring for employees’ children, and money for COVID-19 health care.
Helping employees in their time of need isn’t just the right thing to do—it’s a great way to build loyalty and dedication and reduce turnover. An EERA lets you do it with maximum flexibility, since you decide how much money to commit and how employees can use it, and because the account can be modified or discontinued, if you wish, at the end of the plan period.
Editor’s Note: TASC offers an Emergency Expense Reimbursement Account (EERA) benefit from more than 50 benefit offerings that can be instantly configured into custom plans that meet employee needs – where they are in life. Talk with TASC to set one up.
1 “The COVID-19 Corporate Response Tracker,” JUST Capital, July 2020: https://justcapital.com/reports/the-covid-19-corporate-response-tracker-how-americas-largest-employers-are-treating-stakeholders-amid-the-coronavirus-crisis/#the-covid-19-response-tracker
4 “Here’s What Companies are Doing to Protect the Financial Security of their Workers…,” JUST Capital, July 2020: https://justcapital.com/reports/heres-what-companies-are-doing-to-protect-the-financial-security-of-their-workers-during-coronavirus-and-what-good-looks-like-in-the-long-term/
6 “8 Employers Supporting Mental Health During COVID-19,” Mental Health America, May 2020: https://www.mhanational.org/blog/8-employers-supporting-employee-mental-health-during-covid-19
7 “Many schools aren’t reopening in the fall. Now what?” Vox, July 2020: https://www.vox.com/2020/7/18/21324068/covid-schools-reopening-open-science-coronavirus-pandemic
8 “8 Employers Supporting Mental Health During COVID-19,” Mental Health America, May 2020: https://www.mhanational.org/blog/8-employers-supporting-employee-mental-health-during-covid-19
9 “How One Company is Taking Care of Employees During COVID-19,” Forbes, April 2020: https://www.forbes.com/sites/alankohll/2020/04/06/how-one-company-is-taking-care-of-employees-during-covid-19/#7ba0fd0c488d