The call gave employers the opportunity to share the challenges they face, not only in terms of supporting grieving employees, but also in terms of benefits administration. It also raised questions on a myriad of issues, from military leave and travel policy, to time and attendance and retirement plan administration.
Issues to Face
Representatives from Hewitt Associates noted that their clients were struggling with five issues:
- how to assist those directly affected by the attack, missing or injured employees or family members,
- how to assist employees with industry relationships to those affected by the attack, be they clients, suppliers or partners,
- how to assisting employees in counseling their children,
- being supportive of counselors in the EAP or HR, and
- how to deal with employees directing their rage at people of a certain religious or cultural background
The efforts of some companies was heartening, from on that has set up a payroll reduction service whereby employees can directly contribute to a disaster relief fund, to others who have expanded their military leave policies, in terms of compensation and benefits, for employees called up for military service.
One attendee noted that the company’s CEO had sent out a memo following the attack reminding employees that they were all part of the same family, in efforts to diffuse rage against employees of middle eastern decent.
An emerging issue was the suspension of all business travel. One employer had placed all employee air, road and rail travel on hold indefinitely, an announcement that served to ease the pressure on supervise who were debating whether or not to encourage their staff members to attend off site conferences and training courses.
One attendee noted that 401(k) account activity had been light over the week, as participants focus on more important issues such as the safety of those involved in the tragedy.
Another stated that a message had been placed on their company’s 401(k) Web site on how to handle investments in times of crisis.
One firm that still relies on paper statements faces the challenges of sending statements to people who may be displaced, while an attendee from Hewitt’s Woodlands facility said that one of the group’s clients has discussed not holding an open enrollment this year, due to the logistical challenges.
Conference call attendees also discussed the restrictions that insurance companies my place in terms of paying out claims and questioned whether claims could be denied as a result of the type of event.
Representatives from Hewitt noted that many companies were disregarding insurance provider policy and paying for medical claims regardless. It was also pointed out that many insurance carriers had expressed the desire to pay these claims and have expressed that inclusions will not be enforced.
Attendees were most vocal on the subject of military leave and questions were raised as to whether employers will continue compensation and benefits for reservists called up to serve.
And while Hewitt noted that many of their clients who don’t have military leave policies tend to put these in place in times of national crisis, such as they did during the Gulf War.
A telecommunications firm noted that the company had expanded their military benefits to 26 weeks of full pay, while another said that the company would make up the pay differential for 180 days of military service and that medical coverage would be extended to spouses called up for military service.
Time and Attendance
Many brought up the issue of paid time off, and questioned how to handle the subject. While some have relaxed their time and attendance polices and moved to more liberal leave policies, others have dealt with the issue on a case by case basis.
But the observation that put the subject in perspective, were the views from one firm that noted, “we had an office in the center and we are still trying to find all our employees. We don’t yet have a view on matters such as retirement plans and benefit programs. Having leased space during the World Trade Center bombing several years ago, our leadership is very aware of the trauma experienced by employees.”
The firm has a family counseling and bereavement program in place and have set up a toll-free number for employees to report their safety.
– Camilla Klein firstname.lastname@example.org
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