Benefits & Pensions
Health & Safety
Rethinking health benefits through the COVID-19 pandemic
By Ron Minken
Six months have passed since Canadians began to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Non-essential services were ordered to be shut down, Canadians made the immediate shift to working from home, and life as we knew it was over.
Employers across the country have been required to constantly revamp their policies and practices to ensure they are in compliance with the various provincial emergency orders and to ensure their employees were receiving the adequate care they needed to remain safe and healthy during the pandemic.
Health benefits are not immune to change during COVID-19.
Employers should consider providing the following, in order to ensure the continued safety and well-being of their workers:
Virtual health care
Since COVID-19 resulted in an immediate need to work from home, health services correspondingly transitioned online.
Canadians are now able to schedule appointments with their health-care providers over the phone. Moreover, psychotherapists now offer mental health services virtually, either through video conferencing or through a telephone call.
As such, employers may wish to consider health and benefit policies that afford employees the opportunity to access health care virtually.
This will ensure that employees are afforded the ability to access vital health-care services in a safe and accessible manner.
Flexible work-from-home options
When the pandemic first struck, employers immediately scrambled to shift workers from on-site to remote work.
Although it may have been difficult for certain employers to do so, the pandemic has demonstrated that remote work is a viable option for many employees who are unable to come into work, due to self-isolation or mandatory quarantine, or as a result of taking care of a loved one who has contracted the coronavirus, or school closures where no other child-care options are available.
However, these situations are not specific to COVID-19.
For example, taking the day off work in order to stay home to care for a loved one who befalls a mild illness — such as the common cold or flu — is something employees faced prior to COVID-19.
Yet, many employees did not have the option to work from home and were instead required to take a sick day or personal emergency leave day.
Moreover, school closures frequently occur throughout the school year, in the form of professional development days or March break.
For parents of young children, having the flexibility of choosing to work from home in the event of a school closure ensures that they do not need to be absent from work if they are otherwise willing and able to work.
As such, offering the flexibility of a work-from-home option is another benefit employers should consider providing to ensure that their employees have the ability to remain safe while performing their work.
Greater emphasis on well-being
COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the mental health of many Canadians.
Some may have found that COVID-19 exacerbated their pre-existing conditions.
Now, more than ever before, an employee’s mental health is paramount to their overall well-being.
Therefore, in addition to providing health and benefit policies that incorporate access to telehealth services, employers should consider incorporating health benefits that go beyond an employee’s physical health.
For example, services that contribute to an employee’s overall well-being include access to mental health, fitness plans and ergonomic assessments as a response to the physical demands that working from home can have on an employee.
Obtaining a health and benefits package that places a greater emphasis on overall well-being is crucial to ensuring the safety and health of one’s employees.
The way forward
The pandemic has had detrimental consequences for both employers and employees — some more than others.
However, a positive takeaway from this otherwise devastating time is access to improved benefits.
If employers should adopt the aforementioned benefits, not only will employees be provided with accessible treatments and services — such as virtual health care — that will better their mental and physical health, but employers will be able to rely on a stronger and healthier workforce amidst the ongoing pandemic.
Ronald S. Minken is the founder and managing lawyer at Minken Employment Lawyers in Markham, Ont. Tanya Sambi assisted him in the preparation of this commentary, which appears in the fall issue of Talent Canada magazine.
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