How Are Employers Addressing Back-to-School, Leave-Related Concerns Amid the Pandemic?

Beyond telework, some notable strategies that employers should consider when managing back-to-school and other leave related concerns among employees include child care benefits and flexible work options, said David Weisenfeld, JD, legal editor and host of a XpertHR podcast.

Beyond telework, some notable strategies that employers should consider when managing back-to-school and other leave related concerns among employees include child care benefits and flexible work options. Moreover, accessibility to mental health services and changing the physical layout of the workplace to promote social distancing are also key to address during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, said David Weisenfeld, JD, Legal Editor and host of a XpertHR podcast, on post-reopening challenges for employers and employees.


The American Journal of Managed Care® (AJMC®): Hello, I'm Matthew Gavidia. Today on the MJH Life Sciences™’s Medical World News, The American Journal of Managed Care® is pleased to welcome David Weisenfeld, a legal editor and host of a new XpertHR podcast on post reopening challenges for employers. Can you just introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your work?

Weisenfeld: Sure, Matthew. So, as you noted, I host a podcast series at XpertHR, and we've been doing quite a number of programs on COVID-19–related issues affecting the workplace—not only affecting employers, but affecting employees as well. So, certainly a lot of things to discuss there and glad to be here with you.

AJMC®: Recently, XpertHR conducted a poll examining COVID-19 related challenges for employers. In their findings, some of the most significant issues listed were back-to-school and other leave related issues. How are some employers managing these concerns from employees who may now be tasked with a more caregiving role?

Weisenfeld: Well, certainly offering telework as an option is 1 key way that they can respond because what we're seeing, or what we're about to see as the kids go back to school in late August or early September, is something that's going to be quite different even from what we experienced in March through June because now some parents are back to work physically, but the kids in many cases are still going to be home either part or all of the time. So, an employer really has to navigate that and kind of be flexible in dealing with their employees and how they handle that. Having child care benefits, flexible work options, really, those are key elements.

AJMC®: Additionally found in the report were increases in adverse mental health outcomes, such as anxiety and workplace safety issues. As we alluded to before, the workplace is going to be different to promote safety. Can you discuss how employers are easing employees back into the workplace?

Weisenfeld: Sure. So, as we noted, in that broadcast you mentioned, the mental health numbers really were off the charts in May and June compared to what we were seeing pre-COVID-19 in terms of the number of employees who are experiencing not only anxiety but depression. So, employers really need to make sure that employees know where to go, that they not just have an employee assistance plan, but that it actually has some concrete steps for employees to know who they can turn to, who they can call if they need help.

Managers should be communicating regularly with employees, because it's very easy during this time to be distant and removed and assume everything's fine when it might not be. So, those are really steps that employers need to take and need to be on top of, and again, flexible work certainly is an option in keeping employees, hopefully reducing their anxiety.

AJMC®: A rising political issue is the use of masks, which may be further intensified when in the workplace. How are employers dealing with these concerns, especially those who refuse to wear a mask?

Weisenfeld: That's a tricky issue because there have been some stories of customers assaulting employees who confront them about not wearing masks and employers really need to make sure that their policies have teeth here. It's all well and good to have a policy, but—just like we saw with sexual harassment in the pre-Harvey Weinstein years—if you don't actually have enforcement, it doesn't really mean anything.

The same is true with the masks. So, if you're requiring low-wage employees to just be the frontline of defense and enforce those policies, that's really putting them in harm's way and could open the employer up to trouble later on, not to mention the safety of their employees. So, it's important to have managers out front enforcing the policies. It's also important to be consistent and make sure that it's applying across the board.

AJMC®: I know we alluded to some before, but what are some steps employers can undertake to address notable back-to-work challenges precipitated by the pandemic?

Weisenfeld: Well, certainly, as we noted, telework would be 1 way to address challenges, but there are others. So, obviously, certain employers, that's not going to be effective. As a practical matter if you're on the assembly line, it's not as easy to work remotely as with what you and I do; but certainly there are steps in even for an assembly line or construction that can be taken.

For instance, an employer could have staggered shifts. So, maybe only 50% of the workers are at the worksite at a given time, which can help in terms of not only the social distancing, but in terms of keeping the workers safe, and having A and B days could be 1 option, just like we've heard with the schools, employers can do that, as well, and some are already doing that.

Also, I would just add, kind of rethinking the physical layout of the worksite, and by that, I mean there's been such an emphasis in recent years on open floor plans and having us be close to our neighbors and that seemed great in terms of collaboration before, but that just doesn't work now, with the pandemic going on. So, thinking about things like a one-way corridor, so that your employees aren't bumping into each other going to the restroom or to break rooms. Limiting the number of people in the break room at a given time and having plexiglass, which we've already seen in grocery stores and other retail establishments, but even in an office building, either having that or higher cubicles are all things that employers can and should be considering.

AJMC®: Lastly, do you have any other concluding thoughts?

Weisenfeld: I would just say, Matthew, certainly we're seeing this trend already, but it's probably worth noting that we've seen some employers like Google say they're not going to go back to work until July 1 of 2021 and others have closed at least through the end of 2020 physically.

So, if you have a company where the work can be done remotely, it's certainly worth considering whether that can continue to be the case, at least for the near future especially as we're seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases in many different regions of the countries. That's certainly something to consider and of course, the flexible work options would be another thing as well.

AJMC®: To learn more, visit our website at I’m Matthew Gavidia, thanks for joining us!

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