While employee benefits remained largely unaffected during the lockdown, many employers implemented special measures for their staff. Unwinding these measure may not be as simple as it seems, explains Ben Rowntree.
Changes to pension contributions
Furloughed staff will have certainly felt the impact on, not just salary, but pensions contributions too. When returning to full pay, make sure the correct deductions and contributions are restored for the furloughed staff's employee benefits, particularly in respect of any salary-sacrifice arrangements.
Members on a pension payment holiday should also be encouraged to rejoin the scheme as soon as this becomes affordable to do so. This should be done through regular prompts to ensure pension take-up is as high as possible. It will also satisfy the regulators' requirement that employees are actively encouraged to be a member of the pension scheme.
Accessing private medical treatment
When the government announced that it had agreed to use private facilities to manage the burden on the NHS as a result of COVID-19, many diagnostic services and non-urgent operations became unavailable through private medical arrangements.
Now, as the coronavirus emergency eases, NHS England is allowing private hospitals to resume treatment of private patients this month, including urgent and elective surgery. It is anticipated there will be some regional variation between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the availability of private hospital services, and we are working closely with the private health providers to find out where, when and what treatments will be available.
If your members’ private treatment was cancelled because of the coronavirus, we suggest that now is the time that they contact their specialist or provider to find out when it can be rescheduled.
We have noticed claims trends reduce significantly across our portfolio of clients over the previous quarter. However, we would expect this to increase over time as members rebook appointments and undergo treatment. Like many services that have shut down, backlogs are highly likely, so members should be managed in this respect.
Keeping mentally fit
It is also important to provide mental health support throughout this stressful period. Let employees know you are free to chat to if they feel stressed or point them towards mental health champions or programmes that already exist within your business.
Schedule catch-up calls according to a schedule that best suits the individual and make sure these actually happen.
Keeping physically fit
Helping your employees maintain physical exercise is important and, furthermore, achievable. Offering health assessments and the health-based apps that provide insight into the physical activities and nutrition will support your team in staying healthy. Online step challenges also help motivate staff and team morale while keeping employees active.
Health assessment centres are open
Private health assessments were also suspended during the lockdown. A number of the key providers are now open once again, albeit in a slightly more restricted capacity with certain tests considered too high-risk to undertake. Any assessments already booked before March will be prioritised and new bookings should also be available so encourage your employees to contact your provider.
Meet the virtual GP
Over the previous 12 months, the use of virtual GPs has become more common, almost to the point of being essential. Often embedded in an insurance product, yet also available as a stand-alone service, virtual GPs provide medical appointments to eligible employees, typically within a few hours from the time of booking.
Employees not only have the opportunity to speak with a doctor by video call, they can also have prescriptions delivered to a local pharmacy for collection. Some virtual GP services can even refer an employee to its private medical scheme, when additional treatment is required.
Waiting lists for NHS appointments are likely to be exceedingly lengthy and we believe that for many who have used the virtual GP service, this will become a regular method of receiving medical advice.
Communication and technology
As we restore, it is worth reflecting on how effective your organisation has been in both its use of communication channels and technology to maintain employee engagement and focus. Is now the time to think about re-investment in this area of your business?
This may extend from the implementation of a more-robust wellness strategy, through to the use of an employee benefits portal personalised to your entire workforce. A flexible benefits portal enables employees to make their own choices when it comes to selecting benefits and is truly aligned to any diversity and inclusion strategy, if undertaken properly. It could also house other HR company policies, which will help reduce incoming traffic to HR and wellness teams, where they exist.
Employees will remain vulnerable during this time so continue regular business updates and don’t discriminate between home and office workers. Make sure you are maximising every last ounce of your employee benefits spend too.