Employers are rethinking sick leave, work from home policies to protect COVID-19 ‘long haulers’

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to devastate the United States, many employers are reevaluating their sick leave, work from home and disability policies to accommodate their employees, especially those now known as COVID-19 “long haulers.”

Working from home has become the de facto policy of many white-collar job employers, but employees in blue-collar or essential jobs may still be required to show up in person. This has brought up complex and thorny questions about how employers should best protect their workers while on the job.

The novel coronavirus has also brought up concerns about companies’ traditional sick leave policies. At this time, if employees do get sick with the virus, they could turn out to be asymptomatic, they could get sick and then quickly recover or they could experience aggressive symptoms and need further care. Some may need more time to recuperate than the standard two weeks of paid sick leave allows.

Some people could experience symptoms for weeks or months, and could end up needing long-term disability coverage; these people are the ones now being referred to as COVID-19 long haulers.

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“The first concern of all employers should be for the health and safety of their employees,” said Dr. Sachin Jain, an internal medicine physician, the CEO of SCAN Health Plan and the former CEO of CareMore. “Employees who return to work too soon put both their own health and the health of their co-workers at risk.”

Different companies are choosing to manage these COVID-19 complications in different ways, and many are reconsidering their in-person work setups.

“Companies should encourage employees to track their symptoms, share that information with their physicians and take [medical] leave as appropriate,” said Dr. Asha S. Collins, the U.S. country head for country clinical operations at Genentech. “We still have a lot to learn about this virus.”

PHOTO: A doctor consults a patient in this stock photo. (STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images)
PHOTO: A doctor consults a patient in this stock photo. (STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images)

When an employee becomes a COVID-19 long hauler, employers should encourage him or her to stay home in isolation, so as to protect his or her colleagues and family members.

“If an employee has symptoms of COVID-19, their employer should work with them to ensure that they have the time and space they need to recover from their illness before they return to the office,” said Jain.

According to some experts, COVID-19 could be considered a chronic illness if a person has persistent symptoms.

“[They] fall into the same category as any chronic illness with lingering requirements to have persistent care,” said Dr. Ken Abrams, the managing director and chief medical officer at Deloitte.

Employers should be prepared for this, and — if they don’t already — make sure they have policies in place to ensure that those with chronic illness are not discriminated against, Abrams said.

“It is important for us to promote the importance of recognizing the difference between infectious versus recovered, and should not be discriminating against

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Quest Diagnostics and Catapult Health Provide Virtual Preventive Care Services for Employers During COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond

First collaboration of virtual care provider and national laboratory provider features self-collected at-home specimen collection and mental health care support to empower diverse workforces to access health care safely

Clinical encounter also evaluates patients for risk of COVID-19

SECAUCUS, N.J., Oct. 27, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Quest Diagnostics (NYSE: DGX), the world’s leading provider of diagnostic information services, and Catapult Health, the leading national provider of employer-sponsored Preventive Checkups, have formed a collaboration designed to help organizations facilitate virtual (telehealth) access to clinical services for their employees and adult dependents, with emphasis on reducing risks related to preventable chronic diseases.

Quest Diagnostics Incorporated logo. (PRNewsFoto/Quest Diagnostics Incorporated)
Quest Diagnostics Incorporated logo. (PRNewsFoto/Quest Diagnostics Incorporated)

The first-of-its-kind collaboration specifically focuses on helping employers create a highly convenient and safe way for employees to access thorough and guideline driven preventive care and mental health support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Research shows many individuals are reluctant to seek in-person health care due to fear of contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus, raising the prospect that untreated, preventable conditions will progress to more advanced disease.

“Social distancing and fear of contracting COVID-19 make it difficult for many individuals to access preventive care services from their healthcare providers. At the same time, employers recognize that at-home care, technology enabled options, including preventive care and screening, can be highly effective in enabling prevention and treatment of chronic diseases, supporting better workforce health and lower medical costs,” said Jay G. Wohlgemuth, M.D., Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, and head of the company’s Employer Population Health programs. “Quest Diagnostics and Catapult Health have complementary capabilities that, together, will improve the ability of organizations to support their employees’ health by providing a patient-centric service that meets them where they are during the pandemic and beyond.”

The collaboration pairs insights from Quest’s biometric screenings offered at-home via specimen self-collection, at Quest’s Patient Service Centers, and at the worksite with Catapult Health’s new VirtualCheckup™ solution. The VirtualCheckup includes a video preventive care checkup to allow for confidential analysis and consultation with a nurse practitioner. Each checkup covers personal and family health history, Quest’s lab test and biometric data, prescription drug adherence, depression screening (PHQ-9), and concludes with the creation of a personal action plan to include referral into employer health and benefits programs. The consultation also screens for potential COVID-19 exposure, and individuals identified as at-risk may be directed to COVID-19 diagnostic testing services provided by Quest.

Health plans typically reimburse Catapult’s preventive care checkups as a covered annual preventive checkup, reducing medical costs for employers and the need for employees to visit a doctor for the checkup.

“When people skip doctor visits, the consequences can be grave in terms of poorer long-term outcomes and higher medical costs,” said David Michel, CEO of Catapult Health. “Because they sponsor much of the nation’s healthcare, employers end up absorbing these costs to a great degree. Our unique virtual care model is designed to change that by taking preventive care into employee’s homes, thereby solving for access

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