Benefits and Compensation, Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Rethinking Your Employee Benefits for Post-COVID-19 World

COVID-19 had an immediate impact on the workplace back in March 2020, shifting employees from the office to the home office. As active numbers continue to be monitored, we’re seeing the pandemic may have a lasting effect on the workplace and how, where, and when people work. The crisis also has opened up new opportunities for employees to work remotely. With current labor shortages in mind, you may want to revisit your benefit plans and decide whether to expand them in the post-COVID-19 world to retain and attract new talent.

Here are some benefits you may be thinking about or may want to consider.

work remoteChoosing Where and When To Work

During the COVID-19 outbreak, many employees were forced to work from home in response to government shutdown orders. Now that the orders have been lifted, some members of your workforce may prefer to continue working from home to (1) avoid a commute, (2) attend to childcare, elder care, or other home obligations, or (3) simply be more productive. In fact, in a recent survey by Blind, a majority of employees (about 64 percent) at top-tier companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook would opt to continue working from home over receiving a pay raise.

Telecommuting is just one type of flexible work arrangement. Others may include a compressed workweek, flexible scheduling, or a hybrid home/work arrangement. Employers considering flexible work arrangements should:

  • Decide which types of arrangements are conducive to which jobs; and
  • Establish a policy for employees to know which positions are eligible for flexible work arrangements and the process to apply for one.

Once the arrangement is approved, the best practice would be to have a flexible work agreement with the individual employee, clearly setting forth your company’s expectations.

Refitting the Home Office

Employers allowing employees to work from home will likely provide them with the general tools necessary to do their jobs remotely, such as a computer, printer, and other office supplies. But, what about those other items they may need to work more efficiently and effectively from home, such as an ergonomic desk and chair or upgraded WiFi?

In North Dakota, employers are required to compensate employees for everything they spend as a direct consequence of their job, except for expenses incurred to buy or rent equipment the individual also can use outside the scope of employment. So, if they incur costs directly related to doing the job and don’t use the items outside of their employment, the expenses must be reimbursed. For all other expenses for items they can benefit from during off-hours, reimbursement is optional.

As part of any flexible work arrangement policy or agreement, you should consider whether to offer employees reimbursement up to a certain amount for expenses they may incur to improve their home office space.

Don’t Forget About Fido

Pet adoptions experienced a significant boost during the COVID-19 outbreak. The animals helped individuals cope with the pandemic’s stress and provided much-needed companionship when people were confined to their homes. Employees now may be concerned about protection for their new “pandemic pet” and looking to your company for assistance.

Pet health insurance is a growing trend being offered by employers. The coverage can be incredibly attractive and helpful for some workers, given the hefty cost of veterinary care. You may want to look at your current benefit package and decide whether to add the insurance coverage. It may be a great way to keep employees happy and bring in or retain desirable talent.

After spending nonstop time together, employees returning to the office also may be concerned about separation anxiety for their animal pals. Consider whether your workplace might become “pet-friendly,” allowing people to bring their trusty companions to work. Some workplaces may be limited from doing so because of health and safety regulations.

If your business is considering allowing pets to enter, you should put a plan in place. Some suggestions include:

  • Designating pet-free zones for employees with allergies;
  • Requiring all pets to be current on vaccinations and free of parasites;
  • Ensuring employees understand (1) they must clean up after their pets, and (2) any disruptive or distracting behavior may lead to the animal’s removal; and
  • Requiring employees to sign a liability waiver and indemnification agreement.

Takeaways For Employers

The COVID-19 pandemic may be waning, but it will have a long-lasting impact on the workplace. As you plan for the future, take a hard look at your current employee benefits and consider whether to make any adjustments for the postpandemic world.

Vanessa L. Lystad is an attorney with the Vogel Law Firm in Fargo, North Dakota. You can reach her at vlystad@vogellaw.com