Employers should be doing more to protect their workers’ well-being as the COVID-19 outbreak continues.
Millions of working parents are bearing the brunt of the outbreak as they attempt to do their jobs while scrambling to find childcare options. Company leaders have been accommodating, offering many employees the option to work from home as the situation continues to unfold. But this isn’t enough.
Employees are worried about protecting their physical and mental health, as well as their parents’ and children’s well-being. And with conflicting information, constantly changing recommendations, and a healthcare system expected to buckle under demand, they’re looking to their company leadership for a sense of stability.
CEOs need to step to the plate and institute policies that will help our country “flatten the curve” as it relates to the number of COVID-19 cases and the availability of doctors for face-to-face medical consultations.
It’s not just about being a good boss. CEOs can lead the fight against the coronavirus that is expected to sicken tens of millions of Americans.
I’m a physician, and I’m speaking directly to company leaders. Here are five things to ensure you’re doing all you can toward the health and well-being of your employees:
1. Broaden access to high-quality care
As an employer, you have the means to remove the barriers to high-quality healthcare for your workers. But you need to account for the fact that fewer people today can visit their local doctor’s office or hospital. The CDC and WHO have been advising hospitals to offer telemedicine options, and you should do the same.
Telehealth is not the latest tech fad. It’s simply a new way to connect people with physicians. It’s also a necessity, as our hospitals and health systems will likely soon be pushed beyond their capacity. The standard of care when one moves to telehealth should remain the same—it’s just the delivery mechanism that has changed.
Additionally, it’s time to waive copays for accessing medical care. People need encouragement to talk to physicians, not barriers. Encourage your workers to seek out care—just not in person, if it can be avoided.
2. Offer screenings for COVID-19
Our country doesn’t have the capacity right now to test every person who is experiencing symptoms for the coronavirus.
But this doesn’t mean your employees need to stay in the dark as we ramp up production and distribution of test kits. Screening for the virus goes a long way toward driving the type of behavior change that will be necessary in slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Millions of people want to know if their cough or fatigue is a sign of infection. In the absence of a test, a telehealth screening—where a doctor asks a series of questions about symptoms—can give patients important insights about what’s happening. If a physician deems a patient to be at high risk for COVID-19, he or she can steer the patient to a local testing center or even the hospital. This kind of triage is essential to flattening the curve.
3. Send a firm message on social distancing
Health officials worldwide are recommending—and in some cases mandating—that people keep a distance of six feet from others in a bid to slow the spread of the virus from person to person. Cities and countries have been enacting policies on distancing, and as a company leader, you should do the same.
In states such as California, New York, and Illinois, where stay-at-home orders have been issued, many workplaces are remaining open either because they are deemed essential businesses or because they are exempted from shutting down. These businesses may have fewer employees on-site, but people will be working together in person in even the hardest-hit areas.
Go beyond steering employees to the CDC’s website or the latest news story. Institute your own social distancing policies to keep as many employees at home as possible, and mandate a physical distance of six feet between the workers who still come in. Drafting a policy shows that you’re aiming to stay out in front of this crisis instead of merely reacting as the situation develops.
4. Relax company sick leave policies
As with waiving copays for medical consultations, relaxing sick leave policies is an immediate step you can take that will slow the viral spread. Many of your employees are now juggling work with childcare, and the extra effort—not to mention the anxiety that comes along with that—can break people down.
What we are facing will be a basic factor of work for months to come. So it’s time to issue new rules that will help all employees function well in a time that is anything but normal.
Employees who are afraid of using up sick days are more likely to come to work even with symptoms of illness—and that’s exactly what we need to avoid. Let your workers know you’re not just looking out for the bottom line, but also for their well-being.
5. Think beyond COVID-19
As you consider relaxing company policies to accommodate your employees during a crisis, think beyond the virus itself. Our society is being turned upside-down as events are canceled, businesses close, and schools tell students to stay home.
The burden of COVID-19 will be far-reaching, and so should your response. When waiving copays for consultations and treatments related to the virus, consider going a step further and waiving those fees for accessing mental health care. Many of your best and brightest employees are going to need it.
The telehealth tools that will be instrumental in fighting the virus will also help you make strides with preventive care and chronic care. Consider waiving the fees for those, and beyond the impact of COVID-19, consider using these tools to increase access to these categories of care.
Employers have an important role to play as our country tries to slow the spread of COVID-19. But employers will still have an important role to play in the health of their workers long after we’ve gotten a handle on the virus.
The tools to increase access to high-quality care—whether in an emergency or not—are at your fingertips today. It’s up to you to use them.
Ian Tong MD is chief medical officer at Doctor on Demand.