business people running along giant pencil line over cliff These are strange and challengingtimes, but employers and employees may have more options than theyrealize. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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HR managers, benefits professionals and business owners aregrappling with a myriad of challenges brought about by the new coronavirus. But looking ahead, bothemployees and their employers will likely be focused on buildinggreater resilience, so that they are better prepared for toughtimes–if and when they come.

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As an employer or benefits manager, if you can offer employeesaccess to coverage options, as well as equip them with educationalresources to help them make smart decisions, you'll provide themwith value beyond their paycheck, making it easier for yourbusiness to attract and retain talent.

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Related: Employers changing policies, benefits as COVID-19hits

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That's where a holistic workforce benefits strategy comes in –one that takes into account a combination of both employer-fundedand voluntary benefits and resources for work/life balance. Theseofferings can provide additional support for both you and youremployees, both in our current environment and in the future:

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Disability income insurance

Disability income insurance programs are in the spotlight asemployers and employees comb through the options available toindividuals who may be unable to work due to a medical conditionassociated with COVID-19. While pandemic-specific sick pay programsare being implemented at both the federal and state level, thesedon't replace the broader coverage provided by private short- andlong-term disability income insurance plans.

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Having the right balance of both is critical in preparing forthe full range of possibilities. Short-term disability incomebenefits, which typically last for 13 or 26 weeks, are more common,but long-term disability income benefits can provide protection foryears. Both are essential parts of protecting your greatest asset:your employees.

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Leave policies and administration

The employers who meet the Federal Family Medical and Leave Act(FMLA) requirements are provided with specific job protectionguidelines. And more recently, these guidelines were restructuredto also provide a temporary financial component in response toCOVID-19. Additionally, more and more states are implementing leaveprogram regulations for businesses.

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Even if your business isn't subject to standard FMLArequirements, and even if you don't have employees in a state witha leave program, it's still a good idea to consider a structuredplan that provides a consistent process for all of your employees.This will help you ensure that you can continue to run yourbusiness effectively in the absence of your most relied-upon staffmembers.

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Employee assistance programs

While an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides a broadrange of resources to employees on a day-to-day basis, it's in atime of crisis – whether it's a personal or global one – thathaving a solid, easily accessible program is essential. And EAPsoften offer employer services as well, providing you with thesupport and guidance you need to make sound decisions quickly.

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Life insurance

Even in a strong economy, the research demonstrates that manyindividuals with dependents don't feel prepared to manage throughemergency financial needs without dire consequences. While never aneasy topic to discuss, the best benefits managers navigate it withsensitivity, mindful that offering life insurance through theworkplace is key to employees' ability to ensure their families arefinancially prepared against the loss of a steady income.

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Supplemental products

The group insurance marketplace has made several other types ofinsurance coverage available for employees. Products such ascritical illness insurance, which covers expenses associated withspecific conditions, and hospital indemnity insurance, which coversexpenses that may not be picked up by major medical insurance, canbe additional protection you offer to employees. If offered on avoluntary basis, you allow your employees to choose the productsthat make the most sense for their personal situations and theirfinancial planning needs.

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These are strange and challenging times, but employers andemployees may have more options than they realize. Taking controlof what you can and putting these measures into place now can bringpeace of mind to your entire workforce, and help toward ensuringyour business and your talent emerges from this more resilient thanever before.

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Ron Herrmann is head of protectionsolutions at Equitable. Equitable is the brand name ofEquitable Holdings, Inc. and its family of companies, including AXAEquitable Life Insurance Company (AXA Equitable) (NY, NY), MONYLife Insurance Company of America (MLOA), an AZ stock company withmain administrative headquarters in Jersey City, NJ, AXA Advisors,LLC (member FINRA, SIPC) and AXA Distributors,LLC. 

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