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Returning to Work: How Telehealth Can Provide Peace of Mind

To say that the last few months have been a bit like riding on a roller coaster blindfolded might be something of an understatement. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, almost overnight, a good portion of the workforce went from working in the office to working from home. 

Kirsi A. Johnson

While we may have struggled initially, we eventually found our work-from-home stride. However, as bans are lifted and the workforce starts to trickle back into the office, we find ourselves once again needing to evaluate previous office procedures in order to implement a return-to-work plan that accounts for both the physical and mental health of returning employees.

Whether your return-to-work plan is already in place or you are still working to refine your procedures, it is particularly important to remember that the return to the office will need to be assessed from a health care vantage:

  • What steps should employees take if they experience symptoms or have other health concerns?
  • What should employees do if they aren’t feeling well but do not want to risk exposure by going to a doctor’s office or emergency room?
  • What options are available to employees experiencing mental health challenges as a result of the pandemic or the return to work?


Available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, virtual care is a convenient way for employers to provide their workforce with a benefit that connects them with health care experts who can respond to health care concerns and symptoms.

Implementing virtual care as a part of your return-to-work plan can help address the day-to-day health concerns of your employees and arm them with the ability to meet health care concerns head on. However, making virtual care a successful part of your plan requires more than simply investing in the benefit — embracing this benefit as an integral part of sustaining a healthy workforce requires action.  

1. Increase awareness. While COVID-19 certainly increased overall awareness of virtual care, a recent J.D. Power pulse survey reported that 54% of consumers indicated that they were not sure whether they had access to a telehealth (virtual care) benefit. That number is a good reminder that while investing in a virtual care benefit for your employees is important, making sure your employees are aware that the benefit is available is paramount.

With that in mind, consider how you communicate with your employees and how you can integrate education about this benefit into your communications ― promoting it is the key. Reach out to your broker or virtual care provider for materials to help elevate awareness of the benefit.

2. Empower employees. Part of the beauty of implementing a virtual care benefit is the ability to empower employees to take control of their health, both physical and mental. Day or night, virtual care allows an individual to get in contact with a health care professional who can respond to symptoms and provide guidance for next steps. Knowing that a doctor is just a phone call or online chat away allows an employee to take care of mild symptoms as they arise rather than waiting until those symptoms become serious problems.

In addition to physical concerns caused by COVID-19, nearly half (47%) of U.S. respondents reported to a recent Teladoc Health study that their mental health had been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. While we’ve made great strides over the last few years in our cultural response to mental health treatment, some individuals still feel a stigma regarding mental health needs/visits. Unfortunately, this keeps them from reaching out and receiving needed help. Virtual care provides individuals another option for proactively and privately connecting with the help they need.

3. Remove barriers. Finally, as you embrace the benefits of virtual care for your employees, you may also want to consider eliminating hurdles such as copays and deductibles. When these barriers are removed from a virtual care plan, employees are more apt to utilize the benefit as they notice symptoms or as health care questions arise.

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COVID-19 has left an indelible mark on this year and, at least for the foreseeable future, on the workplace. While there are hurdles we have yet to overcome, providing employees with effective and timely access to quality health care need not be one of them. As you put your return-to-work plan in place, consider how virtual care can enhance your workplace and provide the peace of mind needed to successfully traverse our new normal.  

Teladoc is the first and largest provider of telehealth medical consultations in the United States, and as an ALA member, you have access to access to it 24/7. The GLJ Benefit Consultants Unlimited Program has no copay and also provides ALA members access to Teladoc at a special member price. Visit to get more information about this benefit!

HR Feature Human Resources Management

Balancing Act

How to blend strength and flexibility into your employee handbook. 

Genovese Joblove & Battista, P.A., operated for many years with the same employee handbook. Two years ago, though, the firm decided their traditional manual had become ineffective and it was time for a change.

Phillip M. Perry

“We had been in the practice of adding addendums every year to the manual,” says Firm Administrator Paula J. Lawson, CLM. “Eventually we had added so many addendums — some of which seemed contradictory — that it became very difficult to explain or justify our policies to employees. When people began to interpret statements to mean different things, it became apparent that the handbook needed to be refreshed.”

Creating a handbook from scratch would require navigating a terrain shaped by several governmental levels of laws and regulations — a difficult task for a firm focused on Chapter 11 bankruptcy and commercial litigation. “Most administrators and HR folks are familiar with laws and regulations at the federal level and probably at the state level,” says Lawson. “But they may not be so aware of county and municipality laws that affect employment.” 

Local laws and regulations can present an especially confusing patchwork, says Lawson. “We have three offices located in the cities of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa. Each county and city may have different regulations relating to employment. For example, they differ on their paid time off requirements for jury duty. Creating a handbook that is accurate and not misleading can be tricky in that environment.”

The same handbook that helps veteran workers understand a firm’s policies can also be valuable as a tool for recruiting the best people.

Given the challenge, the firm sought third-party assistance. “We hired an outside employment law firm do work on our manual to ensure it had everything required,” says Lawson. “They took our existing handbook and merged it as best they could into their ‘must-have’ outline. Then they highlighted areas where they felt we needed to give some input.

“Once we received the text back from the outside law firm, I added firm-related policies, such as how to take sick and maternity leave and how to request paid time off,” says Lawson. “One of the equity partners and I tightened up the manual’s language and then circulated it to the other six shareholders for any final comments and approvals.”


Law firms revising their own employee handbooks may sympathize with the challenges faced by Genovese Joblove & Battista. Even so, if the process of creating a new manual seems tedious and time-consuming, legal managers seem to value the result.

“I am a big proponent of the employee handbook,” says Renée S. Lane-Kunz, Partner and Chief Operating Officer at Shapiro Sher in Baltimore, Maryland. In her administrative role, Lane-Kunz was in charge of redoing the firm’s manual earlier this year. “In my opinion it can be a very powerful tool, not only for the employer to effectively communicate its policies and shed light on the firm’s culture and management style, but also for the employee to better understand what the firm expects and how to navigate difficult situations that may arise.”

The same handbook that helps veteran workers understand a firm’s policies can also be valuable as a tool for recruiting the best people. “Many times the ideal candidate has multiple offers, and a handbook can tip the balance in an employer’s favor by communicating the benefits of joining your team,” says Richard Avdoian, an employee development consultant in St. Louis.

Once aboard, the new employee will use the handbook for assistance in getting acclimatized.  “The handbook communicates the firm’s mission, states expectations and outlines benefits,” says Avdoian. “And it sets the tone for a cooperative ‘we’ culture.” 


Most law firms are probably familiar with the many topics covered by the typical employee handbook. These include benefits, paid time off policies and procedures for determining pay and advancement. Some issues require special attention to obviate difficulties down the road, notes Bob Gregg, Co-Chair of the Employment Practice Law Group at Boardman & Clark LLC in Madison, Wisconsin. He points to two for special attention:

  • Email policy: Even if employees are allowed to use personal devices for firm purposes, they should understand they have no right to privacy regarding emails. “The manual should state that the firm owns all emails that goes over the organization’s system, even personal ones,” says Gregg. “Employees should not use the system for anything they do not want company management to see. They should also be informed that, even if they hit the delete key, the emails will be retained on the company hard drive or in the cloud.”
  • Privacy statement: “The manual should include a statement of the firm’s right to inspect computers, desks and telephones,” advises Gregg. “Without it, the firm can be sued for invasion of privacy for looking through what it considered company property.”

Still other topics have particular importance to law firms. One is the importance of confidentiality. 

“Staff members need to be made aware of the attorneys’ rules of professional conduct,” says Lane-Kunz. “Law firms may include a section regarding ‘moonlighting,’ for example, that requires management to be notified when staff members take additional jobs in order to prevent employees from accepting positions that may conflict with firm duties or which could negatively impact the firm’s professional reputation.”

Clear writing is the hallmark of good communication. And plain statements with plenty of detail can effectively reduce staff confusion about a firm’s policies. Unfortunately, restrictive language can also lock firms into operational straitjackets when confronted with real-world problems.

The firm should also remember to include a paragraph that clearly and expressly states that under no circumstances does the handbook create a contract of employment, adds Lane-Kunz. “And in furtherance to protecting the ‘at-will’ employment relationship, the manual should also prohibit the use of probationary periods that may be interpreted to imply a contractual relationship with the employee following the probationary period.”


The handbook is not a “set it and forget it” affair. Federal, state and local laws affecting employment are undergoing constant change, as are a law firm’s internal dynamics. The manual must change in sympathy. 

“Our firm tends to create a new employee manual every five years and to issue supplemental guidance in between,” says Jack Huddleston, Executive Director of Administration at Thomas Horstemeyer in Atlanta, Georgia. “I look at the manual annually to see if anything needs to be modified because of a change in the FLSA [Fair Labor Standards Act] or other law relating to employment.”

Some of the modifications relate directly to the nature of the firm’s focus on intellectual property law. “One change we made in our new handbook is a clarification of the bar rule that a legal assistant may not file electronic patents without a prior attorney review,” says Huddleston. “After all, if something goes awry, it is the attorney and not the legal assistant who is on the hook. In an extreme case, the attorney’s license might be at risk.”

“We also strengthened the language about confidentiality,” Huddleston adds. “A good part of the reason is the nature of our work, which concentrates on patents and inventions.”

Other firms report similar needs for interim changes. “One thing we added this year was two weeks of paid ‘bonding leave’ for a nonbirth spouse [or domestic partner],” says Lawson. “That term refers to someone who may have adopted a child or may be a member of a same-sex marriage. Our new manual also better explains our paid time off policy.”


If regular revisions of the employee manual serve a valid purpose, is a new handbook every few years sufficient to deal with modern society’s rapid rate of change? Most administrators seem to say no, and that’s where interim additions come in.

“Intermittently, we issue updates that reflect policy changes or new state-specific laws,” says Lane-Kunz. “For example, the recent passage of the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act broadened the sick leave currently available to certain employees. Also, Baltimore City passed an ordinance that employers need to provide lactation rooms.” 

The handbook needs to be read by all of the staff attorneys and to go through multiple edits. That vetting can help ensure not only that the text will obviate problems down the road but that everyone will support the document’s positions in real-life scenarios.

It’s critical to confirm that all staff members have been notified of the updates, says Lane-Kunz, who communicates them to staff members by email. “We keep copies of the correspondence to establish electronically that we sent the email messages, and sometimes we use return receipts to show that the messages were received,” she says. “We also create a page that we insert into the employee handbook until a completely revised version is published, and we post the changes on our employee communications board.”

The same need for communicative closure exists when the updates are consolidated into newly issued handbooks. “When a new employee handbook is issued, we have employees sign written receipts that they have read it and agree to abide by its policies,” says Lane-Kunz. “We keep those receipts in the personnel file. They can be useful if future disagreements arise.”


Clear writing is the hallmark of good communication. And plain statements with plenty of detail can effectively reduce staff confusion about a firm’s policies. Unfortunately, restrictive language can also lock firms into operational straitjackets when confronted with real-world problems. As a result, the most effective employee handbooks walk a fine line between specificity and flexibility. 

“While a handbook cannot be so loosely written that it creates ambiguities, it also should not be so tightly written that it disallows some discretion on the part of the employer,” says Lane-Kunz. “There are often extenuating circumstances in employment scenarios. A law firm would want some flexibility, for example, in applying a progressive discipline policy.”

Careful editing can introduce that flexibility, notes Lane-Kunz. “A manual’s wording might say something like ‘your failure to correct these deficiencies may result (rather than shall result) in further disciplinary action.’”

No matter how careful the linguistic balance, law firms will on occasion need to bend the rules. “We look upon the handbook as a blueprint, but not a bible,” says Lawson. “A policy that might be good for most of the group will not apply to someone in a special situation. For example, a handbook might specify two start times — 8:30 [a.m.]  and 9 [a.m.]. Well, maybe someone has a childcare issue and needs to come in at a different time. If it’s OK with the attorneys and it does not cause a huge business interruption, we can make an adjustment for that person.”


The handbook needs to be read by all of the staff attorneys and to go through multiple edits. That vetting can help ensure not only that the text will obviate problems down the road but that everyone will support the document’s positions in real-life scenarios.

“One of the mistakes law firms and other employers make is to issue handbooks that are poorly written or vetted,” says Lane-Kunz. “As a result, the firm fails to follow its own published procedures. That may place the employer in a difficult legal position and often creates turmoil among employees when rules are applied inconsistently.”

And even a handbook that is well-written and vetted requires management-level commitment. 

“Management has to agree to abide by the document,” says Lane-Kunz. “The worst-case scenario is an employer who provides a handbook but then manages its business on an ad hoc basis. If an employer chooses to manage that way, it is best to not have a manual at all.”

Smaller law firms that have never used employee handbooks may well face awkward situations when issuing one for the first time. Will employees feel they are being force-fed a whole new slew of office regulations?

The secret is to take a positive spin, introducing the handbook as a new tool for enhancing the working environment. “I would introduce a new employee handbook as part of a morale-boosting celebration of the progress being made by the firm,” says Richard Avdoian, an employee development consultant. He suggests distributing the handbook at a company luncheon, for example, using words such as these:

“Thanks to everyone in this room, we have grown to the point where we can further fine-tune our firm. We are now distributing an employee handbook. Most of you already know about our benefits, but perhaps you have forgotten some of them. This handbook includes all of them in one place and outlines the company’s expectations for the future.”