Archbright Insights December 2014



Flu, not Ebola, poses biggest threat to workplace productivity HR Advice and Counsel

Question: We have an employee who has been out with an L&I injury for much longer than we anticipated. How long do we have to keep paying for her company medical benefits? Answer: It depends. Typically, insurance carriers will allow the employer to keep an “inactive” employee on their medical plan for 30 to 90 days, but there is no obligation for the employer to pay for the coverage unless the employer is covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Employers with less than 50 employees can choose how long they wish to fund the coverage during a leave, but it is important to contact your insurance carrier to determine how long an “inactive” employee is permitted to remain on the employer’s medical plan and when the employee must be o>ered COBRA coverage. Employees may keep their health coverage by self-paying the entire premium through COBRA, however, generous employers may also pay the COBRA premium for a period of time should they wish to do so. If the employer is covered under FMLA (defined as employer with 50 or more employees) and the employee meets the FMLA eligibility requirements (has worked 1,250 hours for the employer in the previous 12 months), then the employer must pay its share of the medical premium for the first three months of the medical leave of absence. It is for these reasons that employees who experience an L&I injury and are out of work for at least three days should be given FMLA paperwork by the employer so they have an opportunity to receive the important health benefit protection a>orded by FMLA. So as a practical matter, it is important to issue FMLA paperwork to all injured workers who sustain an workplace injury which will require a leave that extends beyond the last day of the month or other period which normally triggers a loss of benefits for an unemployed worker. Under these circumstances, the maximum period an employer must pay for medical coverage is 12 weeks or three months. Source: Archbright™ HR Advice & Counsel

flu vaccination shots, and routinely disinfecting work surfaces. Most importantly, workers who suspect they are ill should stay home from work,” said Challenger. “While sick employees may think they are doing the right thing by ‘toughing it out’ and coming into work when they feel ill, they are only making matters worse. Whether it is motivated by job security or a desire to continue making a contribution in an overburdened workplace, presenteeism, as it has come to be called, only spreads illness to more workers and further damages the employer’s ability to maintain optimum business operations,” he added. “Beyond prevention, employers may also want to establish a plan for when it appears that the virus is spreading. For example, they may want to allow more workers to telecommute. They may also want to postpone all meetings or at least change them to conference calls.” Challenger o>ered some other steps employers might consider with flu season approaching: • Increase the number of shifts which will reduce the number of people working in the oece at one time. • If there is no need to gather large groups of workers in a confined space, then limit meetings. Conduct meetings via conference calls. Bigger companies may want to consider video conferencing. • Expand telecommuting by determining who can work from home or other locations. This will keep people o> of public transportation and out of the oece. • Allow sick workers to stay home without fear of losing their jobs. • Institute flexible leave policies to allow parents to care for an ill child or one who is home due to school closures. • Provide no-touch trash cans and hand sanitizer. • Encourage employees to wash their hands frequently, avoid handshaking, and take other hygienic precautions such as wearing a mask in heavily populated work areas. Source: Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

With the country’s attention focused on the Ebola virus, many Americans may overlook the fact that we are entering flu season. And while it is impossible to predict how this flu season will compare to previous years, one thing is certain: employers nationwide are likely to see millions of lost work days and billions of dollars in lost productivity. “Obviously, there is a lot of concern about the Ebola virus right now. While the anxiety is understandable, a widespread outbreak is considered by most experts to be unlikely. We are far more likely to see a flu outbreak, which certainly is mild when compared to Ebola. However, the impact on business can be anything but mild,” said John A. Challenger, CEO of global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. “Last year was one of the worst flu seasons on record, with more than two-thirds of states reporting that the flu outbreak had reached ‘severe’ levels. These outbreaks and the resulting workplace absenteeism can have a significant impact on a company’s bottom line, particularly in smaller companies where illness can spread quickly and incapacitate large portions of a workforce,” he added. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that, on average, seasonal flu outbreaks cost the nation’s economy $10.4 billion in direct costs of hospitalizations and outpatient visits. That does not include the indirect costs related to lost productivity and absenteeism. cites one study estimating that each flu season 111 million workdays are lost to flu-related absenteeism, which amounts to about $7 billion annually in lost productivity. Employers need to enter flu season armed with information, as well as with a plan on how to prevent the virus from spreading through the workforce. Employers should also consider ways to sustain business continuity in the event of an outbreak. “By the time most employers react to some type of outbreak within the ranks, it is already too late. Prevention is essential. For the most part, this entails some simple, common-sense measures, such as encouraging employees to wash their hands, o>ering free or low-cost


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