The COVID-19 outbreak is prompting many employers to re-think their policies. Here are our thoughts for implementing a Paid Time Off policy that kicks in with a pandemic declaration.
Most employers have a Paid Time Off (PTO) policy, whether they track vacation/sick time separately or combined. Some may have an added provision for emergencies, such as snow days. But not many have a Pandemic PTO policy, which would kick in when employees are quarantined, their children’s schools are closed for weeks, or the business is not able to remain open. With the World Health Organization categorizing COVID-19 as a pandemic on March 11th, employers should be reviewing and possibly bolstering their PTO policies.
Review Current Policies
Typical PTO policies were not designed with a pandemic in mind and are woefully inadequate in the event an employee is diagnosed with coronavirus or is quarantined. With a better-late-than-never perspective, it’s important to analyze current policies through the lens of the amount of PTO each employee currently has available. In addition, it’s important to review other programs that may come into play. Does the Short Term Disability policy have a waiting period? Will Worker’s Comp cover an employee who contracts the disease during a business trip? What if some employees would qualify for state paid family & medical leave while others would not? Will state unemployment insurance cover employees due to business slowdowns or closures?
During a pandemic, employers may wish to expand their PTO options. If providing additional PTO days, they will need to spell out if current PTO balances must be exhausted first. The policy itself may be easy to implement, but there are other factors to consider. For example, if allowing an “advance” of PTO, will payroll systems be able to track negative PTO balances? Coordination of other potential benefits should also be addressed. It should be spelled out clearly that if other benefits are payable (STD, Worker’s Comp, etc.) either PTO will not be available at all, or a percentage of PTO could be available to make the employee whole. Of course, any additional PTO days or advanced PTO will need to have caps specifically outlined.
What Qualifies for PTO
Whether additional PTO days are provided during a pandemic or not, an employer will still need to spell out what situations will qualify for PTO use. Some situations are obvious, such as being diagnosed with the illness or having a Public Health Order requiring quarantine. Others aren’t as clear. What about employees who self-quarantine due to exposure or being medically vulnerable (pregnant, immune compromised, have an underlying health condition)? Or those taking care of a medically vulnerable family member? There is also the possibility, during a pandemic, of forced closures of buildings, businesses, and schools – as we are currently seeing in the Puget Sound area. Some jobs will be able to be performed from home, in which case pandemic PTO would not be triggered. Unfortunately, many jobs do not fall into that category.
Businesses looking to add additional PTO options for employees should take a measured and realistic view of their current policies, employee population and job requirements. We have put together a checklist of considerations and questions to guide a sound pandemic PTO policy.
We have created a sample Pandemic PTO policy you can download here.
The Bottom Line
While late to the game, employers should be looking at their PTO policies now, before additional employees are subjected to quarantine and more schools shutter their doors for weeks. They’ll need to provide a comprehensive summary to employees so that employees will know what is available under the myriad of circumstances that come with a pandemic: illness, quarantine, business closures, and more. Better to have a policy in place before needing one so that employees can look to their employers for some stability during the chaos.
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I love numbers. I'm a math geek. I read benefits industry articles and periodicals for relaxation (but, honestly, I'm still a fun gal). I also like to share what I've learned and you'll find it all here.