Skip to main content
Press Release

Majority of employers taking steps to safeguard returning employees, Willis Towers Watson survey finds

Yet only one in three has planned for second COVID-19 wave

Health and Benefits|Integrated Wellbeing
COVID 19 Coronavirus

June 24, 2020

ARLINGTON, VA, June 24, 2020 — As millions of workers begin returning to their workplaces, a majority of U.S. employers are moving to ensure their safety and wellbeing, according to Willis Towers Watson’s latest COVID-19 employer pulse survey. Atop the list of initiatives are screening workers on reentry, providing personal protective equipment (PPE) and reconfiguring workspaces. About one-third have a documented plan to address a potential second wave of the virus.

Nearly 40% of companies identified workplace safety as a top priority in June, compared with 27% in a survey conducted in April. Most employers (71%) have developed workplace safety and employee safety policies to prepare for the return of employees.

Companies are also protecting their employees by reconfiguring work areas to maintain six feet of distance (56%), providing PPE such as masks to employees (76%), and staggering shift changes and breaks (57%). “Companies want to make employees feel comfortable returning to their workspaces,” said Regina Ihrke, senior director and Wellbeing leader, North America, Willis Towers Watson. “To that end, employers are making employee safety and health a top priority with a wide range of actions to safeguard the work environment and minimize exposure to the virus.”

Indeed, more than half of companies will use employee questionnaires and thermal scanning to screen the workforce on reentry. Nearly three in four companies (73%) will require masks in public locations, and 24% will require masks at all times; however, only one in six (18%) plans to test employees for acute infection before they return to work.

“Testing until now has been scarce, expensive and often inaccurate. Most employers who test will do it selectively — for the highest risk workers or around an exposure. In the coming months, testing will likely play a larger role in keeping the workplace safe,” said Jeff Levin-Scherz, M.D., managing director and Population Health leader at Willis Towers Watson. “Safety measures overall will help alleviate employee anxiety about returning to work and also serve to prevent infection; create a healthier, safer workplace; and help boost emotional wellbeing.”

Preparing for a second wave of COVID-19 infections is another employer concern. Two-thirds of companies (67%) have a process for dealing with a workplace exposure. While only one in three (32%) has developed a plan for subsequent waves, an additional 50% of respondents plan to develop such a plan.

Employers are also giving special consideration to at-risk employees who are older or have a medical condition and whose jobs cannot be done remotely. Two-fifths of employers (44%) have accommodated at-risk employees by creating more flexibility, and nearly 50% more are planning or considering such actions. Nearly one-third (30%) of the employers who are accommodating at-risk employees are reassigning them to new roles that accommodate remote work or physical distancing, and many more plan to do so.

Other survey findings include:

  • 30% have developed policies and are providing tools and resources for employees who may work remotely longer term, and another 34% are planning to do so.
  • 27% have changed policies to encourage more remote work, and another 33% are planning to do so. Employers expect to have two-thirds of employees working onsite and one-third working remotely by the first quarter of 2021.
  • More than two-fifths of companies have used furloughs to manage their workforces, and more than half have made or plan to make layoffs over 2020.
  • Three-fourths of furloughed employees (77%) are expected to return to work by the first quarter of 2021; however, only a quarter (24%) of laid-off workers are expected to return to their jobs.

About the survey

A total of 543 employers participated in the Reopening the Workplace: Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey, which was conducted during the week of June 8, 2020. Respondents employ 5.3 million workers.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has 45,000 employees serving more than 140 countries and markets. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimize benefits, cultivate talent, and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas — the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential.

Contact Us