April 22, 2020
Seven attendees from five companies participated in the call. Companies came from various industries, including retail, consumer products/apparel/household, manufacturing, technology and defense.
Purpose of Meeting
The Global Institute convened a 60-minute member conversation on health and benefits in South Korea. The content of the call was driven by attendee interests and included the topics listed below.
Companies were interested in discussing how they’re working to support employees and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In South Korea, most employers have all or some of its employees working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. One employer still has a limited number of country leaders and administrative staff that go into the office. The company has also directed all non-essential employees, regardless of their location around the world, to work from home. Country leaders only go into the office when necessary.
One company with numerous manufacturing sites across Asia still has a fully functioning factory despite country-wide lockdowns. The company takes the necessary safety precautions by conducting temperature checks on-site. Another company noted that it has about 30% of its employees working on-site in its manufacturing facilities, while remaining employees work from home.
Member companies are giving employees increased flexibility in South Korea while working from home. This is especially true for primary caregivers. Some employers offer backup child care, but it’s been very difficult to find providers open for business. To address this challenge, one company works with local country leaders and their teams in South Korea to locate backup child care. The company is also working with its competitors to collectively find resources that can be leveraged to help essential employees find child care.
One employer noted that it provides two weeks of crisis/pandemic leave for employees for COVID-19. From a pay perspective, COVID-19 has not had an impact on employees who work on-site in manufacturing facilities, since these sites are fully functional and open despite country lockdowns. Employees working from home get paid as they normally would, with no reductions in pay. Additionally, one company pointed out that it provides a “hardship PTO” allowance if an employee needs to stay home for a longer period. This allowance is available for employees worldwide.
Return to Work
Government regulations vary for employees who test positive for COVID-19. Most employers have a varied process, based on a country’s specific guidelines, for an employee returning to work. One company noted that it closely follows country restrictions and regulations to properly integrate an employee who may have tested positive for COVID-19 back into the workforce. Employees can also leverage crisis/pandemic leave if they are diagnosed with COVID-19.
Most companies on the call are taking a strong approach to addressing the mental and emotional health of their employees in South Korea and throughout the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region. One company hosts employee assistance program (EAP) webinars in Korean for available employees. The webinars cover topics related to COVID-19 as well as other mental well-being topics. The company also has a 24/7 hotline, so employees can call in for support. Another company provides similar EAP support for its employees and can set up 1:1 counseling sessions with a psychiatrist at any time.
One company is in the process of making EAP available to its employees in South Korea. The company recently had a call for proposals for an EAP provider and is launching in South Korea and Japan over the next 3 to 6 months.
Two companies noted that they promote EAP on a regional scale. One company hosts regional EAP webinar sessions and country-specific EAP webinar sessions. It also continuously promotes its EAP services on the HR intranet page, which provides regular exposure to employees of the services being offered. The other company provides similar country and regional webinars for its employees in local languages. This company also has EAP ambassador teams to represent each country in the APAC region. These ambassadors understand the local business and bring requests to the regional team regarding the support employees need. They have quarterly meetings to discuss the needs of local sites. The company’s EAP vendor also joins this meeting to share utilization rates and discuss any outstanding issues.
Most employers on the call had the same EAP provider. Offerings included in-person and telephonic options for employees. One company provides eight sessions that can be conducted in-person or over the phone. Another company allows up to five sessions per topic area for employees to discuss 1:1 with a counselor. If an employee is still having an issue after the fifth session, he or she typically seeks ongoing treatment.
South Korea has a heavily regulated market for benefits. Most members on the call provide competitive benefit offerings for their employees. One company said that it provides comprehensive insurance coverage, which includes medical coverage and disability. This company also provides a voluntary parent plan for its employees who are parents through a flexible benefit system offered locally in South Korea. Employees can use flexible points to purchase the plan or they can pay by cash through a payroll deduction. The parental plan is bundled into the company’s overall medical plan but is evaluated separately. The plan’s premiums are reviewed and quoted for pricing every year. All claims are separate from premiums, which is the standard in South Korea.
One company provides term life, accidental death and dismemberment insurance coverage, as well as treatment for cancer and health care, which includes nursing care, outpatient care and hospitalization. A challenge that some companies indicated was that their term life vendor defines COVID-19-related deaths as an accidental death claim instead of a term life claim. Both companies are working with their brokers to negotiate an exception, but they have not received information on how to resolve this issue with their local vendor.
One company shared that their benefits are harmonized throughout the region, which took approximately 2 years to complete. The company observed that throughout this process, the labor requirements varied, requiring them to be very careful not to reduce any of the local benefits. In South Korea, labor groups need to provide consent before a company can proceed with harmonizing any benefits. However, not all companies have a labor unit in South Korea. This company, however, has a labor management council, which is like a labor union.