In response to COVID-19, many employers created pandemic-like policies to allow employees time off for COVID-19-related reasons such as quarantine, school closures, and vaccines. Now, these same employers are questioning what will happen to these policies when the pandemic has subsided. Will the policy be sunset? Will it be repurposed into a more permanent, ongoing pandemic policy? In this article, we examine feasible alternatives for employers to consider when evaluating their post-pandemic options.
As COVID-19 spread across the U.S., states and municipalities began to establish and/or expand upon existing sick leave mandates. Designed to support time off for COVID-19 and/or pandemic-related reasons, many of these mandates were also designed to sunset with the expiration of the federal emergency declaration. In response to these mandates, many employers were abruptly tasked with reviewing their existing time off policies to determine whether they were compliant with these mandates and what feasible opportunities existed to support employees during this time.
In June 2021, Pacific Resources conducted a survey and found that since the onset of the pandemic, 79% of respondents have implemented COVID-19 related pay/leave (paid or unpaid) policies. If you were one of the many organizations that created a pandemic-type policy, you may now be facing a decision of what to do with the policy. In our survey, Pacific Resources found that 79% of respondents plan to end their COVID-19 leave policies. What still remains unclear however, is when the program will end, with 83% of respondents reportedly still evaluating when their program will conclude. Responses also indicated that multiple factors may be driving the end date, including business needs, anticipated return to the physical workplace, mask mandates, and varying state requirements.
When asked whether a plan was in place to migrate existing COVID-19 leave policies into other long-term pandemic leave programs, 47% of respondents indicated they were still evaluating their approach and 26% of respondents indicated they were planning to develop and maintain a formal pandemic policy for use in the future.
With many organizations still evaluating viable options, there is consideration for utilizing 2020 data to evaluate the cost of such a program. For example, if reactive leave policies were put in place, how did those solve the needs of the workforce? If they didn’t solve the needs, what were the gaps? Were there segments (e.g., geographic or age-related) of the employee population that were more impacted than others? How does the workforce “work?” Meaning, were employees considered essential workers and in the physical workplace? Or did they have the ability to work remotely during the pandemic? Does the ongoing approach differ for these different segments of employees? Was there a need for time off related to one’s own health condition? And was there further need related to school and care closures?
A larger question remains to be answered: How do learnings from last year translate into future preparedness? An easy solution may appear to be adjusting vacation time, which is widely accessible across the majority of employer groups. Employers may be considering increasing vacation time to encourage employees to either take time off in 2021 or allow for greater carryover of time. However, many employees will likely not utilize this time and the addition of vacation time inherently comes with additional cost liabilities. When considering these alternatives, Pacific Resources questioned whether a greater opportunity existed in the form of a detached, togglable bank of time reserved specifically for similar scenarios: enter the Secure Sick Program.
The concept of “secure sick” leave is novel and aims to establish a planful approach to emergency time off by means of creating a bank of time that may only be used by employees for policy-defined reasons. It is not intended to replace statutory paid sick leave, but this may be a factor when considering the program design, as implications such as cost, amount of time, and access to time may impact the decision-making process. If you are interested in how secure sick leave may benefit your organization, contact your Pacific Resources consultant.