The Questions Employees Are Asking During COVID-19

COVID-19 has been a huge disruptor to daily life. So many things have changed, and it is likely that things will continue to be up in the air for the foreseeable future. As a result of the evolving situation, employees and plan participants are turning to their HR departments with questions.

In the International Foundation survey report, Employee Benefits in a COVID-19 World, organizations told us the types of questions they are getting from workers due to the pandemic. Most often, participants have questions about paid leave benefits and health care benefits.

The Questions Employees Are Asking During COVID-19

The Most Common Topics for Employee Questions to HR

Paid Leave Benefits
Including those allowed under the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)

Just over half of the organizations surveyed told us they had seen an increase in questions about paid leave benefits. But this was especially true of public employers. Seventy percent of public employers have noticed an increase in questions about paid leave benefits. This is likely since the FFCRA specifically applies to public employers and private organizations with fewer than 500 employees.

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Health Care Benefits and Telehealth/Telemedicine Benefits

Access to health care has gotten a lot of attention in the past weeks; not only are people worried about COVID-19, but it also has become tricky to access medical providers for non-COVID reasons (routine medical visits, non-COVID illnesses or even a medical emergency). Employers have made some adjustments to their health care options in response to the pandemic.

Nearly nine in ten (83%) employers already had telehealth/telemedicine benefits in place prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and an additional 13% have added this benefit due to the pandemic. Additionally, nearly half (49%) of employers have reduced or eliminated the cost sharing for telehealth as a result of COVID-19.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)/Labor Assistance Programs (LAPs)

EAPs or LAPs are resources that provide employees access to a wide range of services, including mental health support, legal assistance and more. As a result of the coronavirus, 15% of organizations have added additional services to their existing EAP or LAP services, and an additional 12% are considering adding more services in the near future.

Mental Health Benefits

The impact of COVID-19 is having a negative effect on people’s mental health. In a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, about one in five adults reported that COVID-19 has had a major negative impact on their mental health. In response, 21% of organizations have added services to their existing mental health benefits. A small percentage of employers have made adjustments to their mental health benefit structure: 7% of organizations have relaxed or eliminated eligibility requirements for mental health benefits; 10% have reduced/eliminated cost sharing for mental health benefits and 15% have added telepsychiatry.

[Upcoming Webcast: Capping Medical Plan Costs and Improving Care in the Aftermath of COVID-19 | May 21, 2020]

The Most Common Questions Vary by Employer Type

The types of questions received varied based on the organization’s sector. The following figure shows the top ten topics asked of HR as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Top Questions Employees Are Asking Human Resources HR During COVID-19 Coronavirus

How Organizations Are Communicating With Their Staff

With so many policy changes and major disruptions in work conditions, it can be difficult to figure out how to best communicate with plan participants. Here are a few examples of how organizations are addressing staff questions.

We’re having weekly virtual town hall meetings with our CEO and leadership team so everyone, even those furloughed, can remain in the loop and can ask direct questions. —Large corporate employer in the South

Our CEO posts videos daily about how to stay safe and has even had a doctor answer questions for our team. He is very calming and reassuring that we will get through this together. —Large corporate retailer in the Northeast

Our President did a series of listening sessions that employees could join virtually; she gave updates and answered questions. They were very popular, and we are looking at doing them monthly. —Midsize technical college in the Midwest

Over the next months, the COVID-19 situation will continue to fluctuate. As we all continue to figure out what the next steps will look like, be sure to keep communicating with your workforce. One of the survey respondents put it best:

We have found more than ever that a transparent line of communications is critical.  There remain so many uncertainties for all people, and providing additional insight, communicating concern and understanding with your people, and finding ways to learn from these challenges while showing our people that we are all in this together could have a long term positive impact on our business . . . —Ken Gustin, The Bradford Hammacher Group

Learn More

Employee Benefits in a COVID-19 World provides data on a variety of benefits including health care, prescription drug, mental health and short-term disability, as well as retirement plans.

Employee Benefits in a COVID-19 World Survey Report

Visit the International Foundation Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources page to find even more resources for plan sponsors including these upcoming Foundation webcasts:

Rebecca Estrada
Research Analyst at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans

The latest from Word on Benefits:


Research Analyst at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans Favorite Foundation Product: I am biased, but I think all of the primary research that the Foundation does here is fantastic. We cover a large breadth of topics in great depth – I think it may be one of our most underused tools. Favorite Foundation Conference Moment: My first week on the job, I attended the “Essentials of Multiemployer Trust Fund Administration” class. I loved to see how much passion the attendees had for their job. They really want to help their participants. Benefits Related Topics That Interest Her Most: Mental health, health insurance, and benefits! (Who doesn’t love great benefits!) Personal Insight: Rebecca’s enthusiasm for data is contagious. Most days you’ll find her crunching numbers from the Foundation’s survey reports to shed light on the latest employee benefits trends. Rebecca applies her same enthusiastic approach to exploring her new state—Wisconsin. She’s a recent transplant from Washington D.C.

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