When Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, I was working at the Estee Lauder Companies. I remember receiving an email inviting employees to contribute to a fund that would help fellow team members who had been impacted by the storm. “What a great idea!” I thought. And it was – I witnessed the true impact of this fund when my boss at the time applied for funding. She had severe damage to her home, and after stating what had been damaged, received a sizable check several weeks later that helped her get back on her feet.
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, that was my first encounter with employee assistance programs (EAPs). Fast forward to today – where over the last two months, I have been fortunate enough to assist the team that leads our work in EAPs at Global Impact. It has been so interesting to see how the COVID 19 crisis has affected these programs, as there are many global considerations, challenges and options at play. This has compelled Global Impact, and many of our corporate partners, to approach the program structure and implementation in innovative ways.
EAPs can take many formats – from offering free counseling services, to providing funding for employees during a crisis. With COVID-19, Global Impact has been most active in supporting companies with the latter EAP format – employee assistance through financial support. Typically, an EAP of this kind consists of three parts: a process for raising money to build the fund, an application process for affected employees to apply for grants and the distribution of the funds to eligible employees.
Building a fund
The first step to developing a financial support EAP is to gather money to actually build the fund. To do this EAPs typically tap employees who want to help by making a tax-deductible donation.
When a disaster like Hurricane Sandy strikes, employees who have not been affected are often willing to give generously to help their colleagues who suffered losses. Our current situation is more unique – COVID-19 has a much broader reach and a lot more fluidity than Hurricane Sandy did. More employees are unable to give like they normally would – perhaps because their family has had income loss of their own, they’ve been sick or they are worried about their future job security.
Because of this, companies are contemplating whether to ask employees to give at all, while some are only asking certain groups of employees, such as those in leadership roles.
In light of the situation, we are seeing another strategy rise – companies stepping up and offering generous grants to fund their EAPs. For example, a foundation of one of our partner organizations put $5 million into their EAP, kick-starting the fund for employees to apply and receive support.
Applying for funding
The second part is the application portal where employees who were personally affected by the crisis can apply to receive funds. Companies usually let their employees know about the program through an email, a posting on their intranet or through printed flyers. The application asks for basic personal information including name, employee number and work location. Additionally, the company wants to know how the employee was affected by the crisis. They might include questions about medical bills or dependent care costs.
In most cases, disasters occur in one location or region, so online application portals usually target these specific locations. However, because COVID-19 is affecting all of us worldwide, many companies are trying to help their employees in different countries. This means they may have to translate the application into multiple languages or consider how a low-wage worker in a developing country might fill out an online application. Recently, we helped one partner translate their application into 14 languages so that global employees could easily understand it.
Distributing to employees
The final piece is getting the funding to employees. An organization sets eligibility criteria before the launch of the application, and all employees who apply and meet the criteria will receive funding. Again, because COVID-19 is a global crisis, there are a few additional steps companies may want to consider.
- Will this program be open to employees in every country, just those in the U.S. or in a small number of countries?
- If global, will the award amounts be weighted based on cost of living? And will currency adjustments be made from country to country?
- Are there tax laws that need to be taken into consideration?
- What is the most efficient method of distributing the funds in various countries, to ensure the funds reach foreign bank accounts without being rejected and to avoid incurring unnecessary bank or wire fees?
Global Impact can help you navigate through these and other challenges of an EAP — even those that are unique to the global nature of COVID-19.
If your organization does not already offer an assistance program, you might want to consider setting one up. For organizations that are already offering a COVID-19 assistance fund, there are a few options for continuing your program. For example, you could convert it into an ongoing hardship fund so employees can apply for year-round for a variety of different reasons. Alternatively, the fund could be switched on and off as disasters and other emergency situations occur.
During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, I saw first-hand that EAPs are a lifeline for employees in need. They are also a great way for companies to show they care. Want to develop an EAP for your organization? We can help! Learn more on our EAP page or contact us.