Employers Making Accommodations As Businesses Reopen

Remote work accommodations can help prevent early retirements for workers at risk, and employers need to adjust retirement planning communications for those who work from home.

Most employers are offering remote work accommodation options upon reopening, according to a new XpertHR poll.

As businesses slowly reopen across the country and employees return to the workplace, some workers are requesting accommodations for medical conditions that may put them at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. According to the poll, 92% of employers are offering a work-from-home option to meet accommodation requests, 77% of which come from at-risk employees.

The older an employee is, the higher risk they have should they contract COVID-19, says Robert Teachout, a legal editor at XpertHR. These uncertainties in the workplace can lead older workers to an early retirement.

“If returning to work safely is not possible under the circumstances, an employee with a disability or at high risk may request an accommodation, and an employer is legally obliged to engage in the interactive process to discuss a reasonable accommodation that will allow an employee to perform the essential functions of their job,” Teachout says in a statement to PLANSPONSOR. “Employers can offer accommodations such as telework, job reassignment or even a leave of absence. An employer is not required to wait for an employee to make a request to begin the engagement process if the disability is clear or the employer is aware of a potential disability.”

In responding to accommodation requests, beyond offering remote work options, 64% of employers are allowing modified work schedules or alternate shift assignments, 60% are providing personal protective equipment (PPE) or modified PPE and 58% are making changes to the work environment.

The survey shows that a growing number of employers are embracing remote work across the United States, especially larger white-collar companies responding to concerns of possible workplace outbreaks. A March survey by Gartner revealed that 74% of employers intend to shift at least 5% of their workforce to remote work indefinitely. Nearly a quarter of chief financial officers (CFOs) and finance leaders plan to move at least 20% of their staff to remote work permanent positions.

Even asset managers are getting in on the move to remote work. In June, BlackRock announced it would create an exchange-traded fund (ETF) tracking employers that specialize in remote working, learning and entertainment, named iShares Virtual Work and Life Multisector ETF. Later that month, Direxion launched a work-from-home ETF, tracking industries such as cloud technologies, remote communications and cybersecurity. The ticker? “WFH.”

“We’re witnessing the greatest acceleration in the shift to remote work than we’ve ever seen before,” said David Mazza, managing director at Direxion, in the initial launch coverage. “WFH meets the demand of investors looking to gain diversified exposure to firms providing the technologies helping to improve data security, facilitate on-demand access, enable virtual collaboration and empower digital connectivity.” 

Handling Retirement Planning While Working Remotely

According to Daniel J. Eck, a managing director of EY Personal Finance at Ernst & Young LLP, employers are turning to additional email and email blast communication strategies for retirement planning, along with sending more paper mailings to homes to catch the attention of employees and their spouse or significant other. Additionally, many organizations are leaning on social media platforms to promote their benefits or employee-led retirement discussion groups such as on Microsoft Yammer, a social networking service used for private communication within companies. 

There has also been a strong uptick in employers offering financial wellness services, including direct access to financial planners by phone and online self-service financial planning tools, Eck says.

“These comms highlight access to financial wellness services such as EY Navigate, 401(k) plan administrator tools, targeted action steps and employee assistance programs (EAPs) to manage stress,” Eck tells PLANSPONSOR.

Instead of weekly in-person meetings, employers and financial providers are setting up virtual get-togethers and one-on-ones via video-based technologies such as Zoom, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams. Eck notes that most of these financial education sessions are targeted at those directly affected by the pandemic, including through furloughs, severance, early retirement offers and pay reductions or freezes. These virtual meetings include information on benefits and retirement planning for employees.