The government, having become dismayed at the economic havoc caused by deserted city centres, is now keen to get as many people as possible back to work in their offices – albeit with relevant COVID-19 safety measures in place.
But, whether someone has been contemplating their navel on the sofa whilst being furloughed or working flat out from the comfort of their home office, the transition may not be that straightforward. So, HR must be fully tuned into coping with a host of inevitable mental and physical health issues.
Snapping out of a safe bubble with a slower pace of life that has been mercifully free from school commutes and juggling social invites is likely to be challenging, and many returning employees could be feeling stressed and anxious about health, financial or other issues. They may even require trauma and bereavement support if they have lost loved ones.
Post-lockdown anxiety can manifest itself in everything from feeling tired and having difficulty with sleeping or concentrating to problems with sweating and stomach cramps. It can also result in amplified fears holding people back from doing things they would normally do.
Additionally, a returning workforce is likely to have its fair share of musculoskeletal problems caused by unsupervised exercise during lockdown and poor postures resulting from make-shift working conditions.
But the good news is that employers with private medical insurance (PMI), health cash plan and group risk schemes should be well placed to cope.
The fact that private medical facilities which had previously been helping the government tackle COVID-19 are now opening up again is especially important, and members of PMI schemes who need inpatient or outpatient treatment or consultations with specialists should be encouraged to have them.
Remember as well, that health cash plans, even though they primarily cater only for minor medical expenses, will typically cover the costs of initial consultations. They may also pay for sufficient physiotherapy, osteopathy or chiropractic treatment to correct a straightforward musculoskeletal problem.
Furthermore, health cash plans, along with many group income protection and group life schemes, often include employee assistance programmes (EAPs) – which can provide employees suffering from anxiety and stress with telephone-based and (normally also) face-to-face counselling.
Some healthcare providers are offering special COVID-19 support services as well. These can be flexible, based on a company’s needs.
For example, Bupa provides an online return to work risk assessment which involves online questionnaires completed by employees being assessed by expert occupational health practitioners, who provide guidance on the suitability of a return to work. Should employees be considered fit and ready to return, the service then helps employers understand their needs and the support they require.
The Bupa package also includes a range of temperature checking solutions and two types of testing – antigen testing to see if employees have the virus and antibody testing to see if they’ve already had it.
Chase de Vere can bring you up do date with exactly which facilities you already have available within your employee benefits range to help with employees returning return to work and advise on whether others could be usefully added.
We can also keep you informed about whether you are due any premium rebates or other refunds from your provider to reflect that employees have been unable to obtain full value from their schemes during lockdown.
Not only have many private medical treatments simply not been available but, even if they had been, employees may not have been able or willing to access them. For example, a health cash plan is of limited use if you can’t risk seeing the dentist, optician, chiropractor or physiotherapist.
It therefore seems reasonable that PMI and health cash plan providers might consider making some form of reimbursement to employers to reflect this. But, although some have made initial noises, we may not see official stances being finalised until renewal, once they have had a chance to analyse claims patterns.
Additionally, we can advise on other tax-efficient benefits employers can promote to encourage a safe return to work. For example, because users are outdoors, Cycle to Work schemes involve less likelihood of contracting COVID-19 than using public transport. Cycling is also playing a key role in the government’s plan to tackle obesity – a major risk factor for those with the virus.
Content correct at the time of writing and is intended for general information only and should not be construed as advice.