The calendar says flu season is just around the corner. The national health emergency from COVID-19 ended on May 11, 2023, but the illness is still here. And RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is a concern at this time for certain demographics. How do these illnesses affect your business policies? Now is a good time to focus on this question.
The end of the national health emergency means that employers are no longer required to cover some services related to COVID-19 (such as diagnostic testing, including over-the-counter tests) at no cost to employees, but can still choose to do so. Additionally, some of the flexibility that was provided to extend the timeframes for participants for certain health plan-related deadlines, such as special enrollment, COBRA election and payment, and claims and appeals deadlines, lapsed on July 10, 2023 (i.e., they don’t apply from July 11 on).
Inform employees what their health plan does and does not cover (e.g., when they’ll have to make a co-pay). Also remind them of applicable deadlines for actions related to the plan now that the special rules expired.
Check state-level guidelines
Even if there’s no federal mandate for any action, you may still be subject to certain state-level regulations. For example, in California’s OSHA adopted regulations for non-emergency COVID-19 prevention, which run to December 15, 2024 (and could be extended). Among the requirements that employers must meet is providing face coverings and COVID-19 testing available to employees at no cost.
Prepare for respiratory infections in the workplace
In addition to COVID-19, the flu and RSV are respiratory illnesses that can easily spread among employees in the workplace. What can you do? The National Institution for Occupational Safety and Health has some suggestions:
- Check the ventilation in your building.
- Consider using ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) to kill viral, bacterial, and fungal organisms. Some businesses installed UVGI during the pandemic, but others can still do it. The cost of this equipment is tax deductible.
- Clean and disinfect common surfaces (e.g., areas in the break room; the copier).
This practice—the opposite of absenteeism—occurs when employees who are sick come to work. It’s been reported that 65% of employees show up even when ill. They can spread germs, causing other employees to become ill, and likely aren’t as productive as they would be if they weren’t sick.
One of the best ways to discourage presenteeism is to have a good sick day policy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 77% of the private sector workforce have paid sick time. There is no federal law requiring employers to pay employees for sick days, other than for federal contractors. (The federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which applies to companies with 50 or more employees, only addresses unpaid leave time.)
A number of states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia and a number of cities, have laws requiring paid sick days. Under sick paid laws, employees typically accrue sick days based on their hours worked (e.g., one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked), with a cap on the number of paid sick days per year. California recently increased the number of paid sick leave to five days. Paycor has a chart showing the extent of paid sick leave in the various jurisdictions.
Before the flu season becomes strong, look over your business policies and practices to decide what you can do to keep employees healthy…and help them financially if they’re not.