As COVID-19 started to spread rapidly last March, benefits specialists advised employers to follow guidelines posted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, encourage workers to take advantage of telehealth services, and use wellness programs to instruct workers about hygiene and disease prevention.
[SHRM resource spotlight: Coronavirus and COVID-19]
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law in March, strengthened unemployment insurance and provided loans and grants to businesses to deter layoffs. But this sweeping measure also altered the rules for employee benefits, affecting health coverage, retirement savings and student loan assistance. While some of these changes were temporary, others are permanent.
[SHRM Express Request: CARES Act: Employee Benefits Plan Provisions]
As the virus began to cause steep economic losses to businesses across the U.S., it became apparent that workers paid hourly would bear the brunt of pay losses. Employers that were financially able to do so took steps to mitigate the pain, such as by paying workers for missed shifts and extending flexible scheduling and paid-sick-leave benefits.
[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: How Does the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) Impact Employers?]
Apart from COVID-19, the other story dominating the news this year was protests over racial injustice. SHRM Online looked at the scope of the racial pay gap in America and how employers can examine their pay policies to root out inequities.
[SHRM resource spotlight: Overcoming Workplace Bias]
Employers faced a dilemma about how to address employees' reluctance to take time off during the pandemic, as limited vacation options kept many employees at their physical or virtual workstations. A related challenge was how to conserve cash when workers sought the payout of unused vacation time.
[SHRM resource spotlight: Paid Time Off]
In May, the IRS released notices allowing employees to make changes to their health plan enrollments throughout 2020 and to adjust pretax contributions to health or dependent care flexible spending accounts (FSAs) during the year—a significant departure from the rules that typically limit these actions to open enrollment periods for the forthcoming year.
[SHRM members-only sample form: COVID-19 Midyear Election Change Attestation]
Work from home became the norm for many office workers in 2020, raising challenges for employers and workers alike. Among them: If a business has employees working in a state different from where the business is located or operates, the business could face unexpected state and local taxes. Remote workers also could find that they'll need to pay income taxes to more than one state in 2021, depending on the relevant state tax laws.
[Need help with legal questions? Check out the new SHRM LegalNetwork.]