George Karavattuveetil, Psyched LLC
Human Resources Strategic Partner
Transparency and trust with employees is always important, but in crisis it’s critical. Your most important resource is your people. Identify the stakeholders and think about these two questions: What do you want them to know? Consider the facts and realities you can communicate that will provide stakeholders with useful information. Let stakeholders know what they can count on from your as their employer. Then, how do you want your employees to feel after the communication? Leaders want to instill feelings of confidence, safety, and that they are not alone while facing challenges.
As new information becomes available, good or bad, that new information must be shared with stakeholders. In these times, situations can change on a weekly or even daily basis. This will probably include updates about pay, benefits and other kinds of support. When sharing information with stakeholders, also attach an expected time frame for the duration of that promise and when the update will be re-evaluated.
Lastly, help employees take control of what they can. Lack of control can cause depression and anxiety. As a leader, help your employees understand what is still in their control. This could be anything from personal health and safety to financial and beyond.
Benefits are top of mind right now. All COVID-19 testing will be covered by insurance without copayment or deductible expense when it is medically necessary (told by a doctor, or has symptoms, had exposure to the virus). If someone wishes to take a test due to anxiety or those who want to be proactive, their test will likely not be covered.
Many employees and employers have questions regarding downsizing: furlough, layoffs and employees working less than 30 hours a week. United Healthcare will allow employees to stay on their health plan as long as they make the same contribution to the health plan that they were as a full-time employee (ex: employee pays 20% and employer pays 80%). Employees working under 30 hours a week would usually not be eligible, but this exception has been put in place as long as the contribution remains the same. We expect other insurance companies to follow suit with this policy. There are opportunities to continue insurance for reduced hours and furloughed employees, but layoffs and termination are COBRA events and people will be expected to pay for their care themselves. If an employer wishes to keep employees on their insurance plan after layoff, it should be discussed with legal counsel.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) will relax their eligibility requirements through April 30, 2020. BCBSIL certainly appreciates that COVID-19 has created unique pressures on employers. In response to their needs, they advise the following:
Employers can maintain employees on the plan even though they may not meet the eligibility definition. This includes reduced work hours, furlough, or layoff. Extension of Benefits provision will begin on May 1st. This does not create a scenario whereby employees that previously waive coverage can be added to the plan. This only pertains to employee presently enrolled. The employer does not need to do anything. No paperwork or email is needed. Premium payments are still required on a timely basis.
Mary Beth McLean, Private Vista LLC
Investment Management and Financial Planning Strategic Partner
Many are wondering – what do I tell my team about their 401k right now? The best thing to do is to not let emotions overwhelm us to create panic. Think about why you are investing in the first place and remind yourself of the long term goals you hope to achieve with your investment. Many of those goals are a decade or more away and you will have time to recover. We've faced tragedies and downturn before, and we will get through this. Always keep in mind that diversifying your portfolio and rebalancing your portfolio are best practices. We’re weathering the storm and must remain calm.
With the majority of employees working remotely, it’s important to consider what will you tell your people regarding how to clock their time while working from home. The need for clear communication is essential. At our firm, we have non-exempt employees (wage and hour employees) working from home. This creates wage and hour challenges, for example with hourly employees receiving overtime pay. When at home, there are other tasks that need to be done throughout the day. They may need to make lunch for their family or run an errand. We also wanted to be clear with professional staff that though we’re all available 24/7 at home, it’s important maintain the average workday routine from 9am – 5pm. We also communicated that the non-exempt workforce should not be contacted outside of normal hours unless it was an exceptional circumstance. We then set the expectation of what on the clock versus off the clock meant while at home. Clocked in does not only apply to when an employee is working on task. It also applies when they are available to work on a task, at their computer and able to respond to communication. Very carefully adhere to the wage and hour guidelines for your hourly employees to avoid excessive overtime claims.
There are many questions surrounding layoffs, time off and sick leave. The law does not require that employers pay any form of severance unless it is guaranteed in an employment agreement or disseminated in a company-wide policy. It is permissible to require employees to utilize PTO during the Stay at Home Order. For essential businessnes, employees do not have a right to stay at home unless they fit within one of the six eligibility criteria for emergency paid sick leave. Employers can allow them to use other accrued PTO or they can discipline or discharge let them for refusing to come into work.
Dave Stolarek, Porcaro Stolarek Mete Partners LLC
Technology Strategic Partner
We're all virtualized now and that means we’re adapting to new communication tools. I recommend leveraging some kind of enterprise grade solution (Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams) to help manage security issues. There are many tools out there to help us but there are significant security concerns when working remotely and/or using subpar tools. In an office environment, there is often a robust firewall in place. We do not have that same level of security on our home internet connections. This is a breeding ground for hackers who want to capture your critical data. There are a few things you can do immediately: Deploy 2 factor authentication on your devices and platforms, and deploy web-based firewalls.
Many companies are looking at where they can cut costs. For IT costs, we recommend assessing your telecom systems. PSM can do a free assessment, and on average we find a way to reduce 30-50% of telecom costs. Consider what can be outsourced and virtualized.
You do have more time to file and pay your individual taxes – the extension goes to July 15. If you're expecting a refund, get returns filed quickly to get that cash in your pocket. We’re also looking at payroll tax credit for companies providing paid sick leave or medical leave.
Managing cash flow right now is very important. Maintain good communication with lenders and customers. Consider what a 3-4 month plan looks like with your cash, including payroll needs, rent requirements and more. Work to free up resources and see what lines of credits you have. It will be a rough stretch, but communication with stakeholders will be critical.
Mike Moran, Fifth Third Bank
Banking Strategic Partner
Most people are wondering about cash flow. We’re highly recommending a 13-week cash flow analysis. Start with current cash, then look at weekly inflows and outflows. You can start to make assumptions on where the shortfalls may appear and where adjustments should be made. I can provide templates for these via email.
Share these forecasts with your banker and what can be done about any identified problem areas. If you have a credit line but haven’t used it in a long time, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do a token advance and test those waters. If the cash flow forecast is showing a negative and you don’t have enough in a credit line, you may discuss going to interest only or other measures with your banker. Keep in mind that a credit line will cause more interest costs. Be honest with yourself and ask: Is the credit line acting as a bridge, or is this just adding to a debt from which it will be difficult to bounce back?
Additionally, there are brand new SBA disaster loans and many of my clients are putting in applications. This may be a great option for many so put all of your options on the table. Lastly, cyber crime and check fraud are still out there – be vigilant and stay stafe!
Patty Rioux, ODEA
Marketing Strategic Partner
Conversation is around communication right now. We all have different comfort levels and abilities to be transparent, but communicating outward is as important as communicating inward. Keep telling your brand’s story. Your stakeholders, vendors, prospects and team all want to hear from you in times of uncertainty. None of us are in this alone.
Keep marketing! There has been a 50-60% increase in media consumption while people are staying home and working remotely. When other companies go quiet online and on social media, your share of voice goes up significantly. Your audience will see you and hear you.
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