For many employers open enrollment season is coming soon. After the COVID-19 pandemic affected all of us in the spring, employers will need to take additional measures when conducting open enrollment in these upcoming months. Open enrollment can be daunting and stressful in the best of times. Now, due to various aspects of the Covid pandemic, employers will be faced with a number of additional challenges with compliance as well as ensuring both the safety of their employees and the success of the open enrollment process. While some employers are still trying to recover from the first wave of coronavirus experts are predicting a second wave this fall. This means that employers with fall and winter open enrollment periods will have to start planning and prepping now.
So what can employers start to do now in order to adequately prepare themselves and their workforce for a potential second wave of coronavirus and open enrollment?
The first step is to start communicating with staff now to let them know that open enrollment will be a little different this year because of the pandemic. Typically open enrollment meetings are conducted through onsite educational meetings and paper enrollment forms. Employees may not feel comfortable returning to work for a large educational meeting at this time though, so what will the alternatives be?
Start internal conversations with management and other stakeholders to discuss possible strategies for the upcoming open enrollment process. Get insights and ideas from people within the organization as well as from your service providers and partners.
Once a plan has been established communicate with management in all departments to let them know what you're doing to ensure safety and success, though enrollment may be quite different this year.
One thing that most employers should seriously consider is virtual open enrollment. Virtual open enrollment can be broken down into two categories. The first is video conferencing for educational purposes and the other is online enrollment platforms that allow employees to elect which benefits they want to enroll in.
Educational video conferences can be pre-recorded and posted on your platform of choice to describe the plans that are being offered as well as how to best utilize those plans.
With video conferencing it is important to make sure the platform has mobile connectivity and a recording feature as there could be some employees who are not able to make the scheduled meeting. If you record the meeting you can email the video out to those not in attendance. Choose a moderator, some brokers will fill this role, and test the software a few times before use so you are comfortable with the platform.
For those employers who have never done virtual open enrollment before there are many platforms in the market to use. Some brokers use their own platform to streamline enrollments for their clients so you might want to start there. Employee education can include pdf’s, handouts, videos, etc. Regular communication will help prep the staff and ease the anxiety that always accompanies open enrollment and will surely be amplified by the uncertainty due to the pandemic.
If video conferencing and online enrollment are not options then an excel spreadsheet could be the next best idea. Staff will have to email you their elections and you will have to keep track in an organized file. Excel seems to be the go-to for many employers who don’t have the capability for online enrollment.
None of us knows what the fall and winter will look like but it is essential to start preparing now to ensure a successful open enrollment for employers and employees alike.