LifeLabs Inc.’s holistic well-being strategy led to its win in the Coronavirus and benefits category for an employer with more than 1,000 employees at Benefits Canada‘s 2022 Workplace Benefits Awards on Oct. 18.

In 2021, the organization recognized employees are likely to experience the coronavirus pandemic’s lasting impacts for months and years to come and turned its focus to the theme of flexibility. It introduced a $500 health-care spending account for its non-union members and allowed them to opt out of the company’s health and dental coverage — with proof of coverage elsewhere — and move to the HCSA. The option enabled employees to choose what suits their health-care needs, as they adapt to a world with the pandemic moving to an endemic phase, says Crystal Arnold, LifeLabs’ senior manager of wellness, retirement and group benefits.

Read: Who are the winners of the 2022 Workplace Benefits Awards?

From March 2020 to mid-2021, the organization implemented wellness days that employees can use at their discretion, as well as pandemic pay for frontline workers who were self-isolating due to contracting the virus. While a doctor’s note wasn’t required for the pandemic pay, a full process was developed as part of self-screening, which involved human resources and the company’s health and safety team.

The pandemic pay program was re-launched in December 2021 when new variants of the virus surged and LifeLabs expanded its parameters to ensure employees were paid, even if they were required to isolate at home due to someone in their household having symptoms. More than 2,000 frontline employees were able to use the program for a total of 90,100 hours of sick time and employees didn’t have to use their personal sick days.

“We wanted to ensure employees were supported and, since they were deemed essential workers, the concern is you don’t want someone coming in when they’re sick,” says Arnold. “Our employees do such important work, and the volume of work was so high because of the virus, so we wanted to ensure people understood the importance of staying home if they were exhibiting symptoms.”

Read: LifeLabs awarded for strengthening mental-health program in face of pandemic

LifeLabs also ran several virtual wellness campaigns to support employees, including pharmacy perks, virtual wellness weeks and internal/external webinars to help employees take control of their health and well-being. It’s also supporting its remote and hybrid workers by providing home safety/ergonomics checklists, computer equipment, collaboration and communication tools and a one-time $500 reimbursement for the purchase of a desk or office chair.

The organization launched a financial wellness campaign that included a new financial tools and resources page on its intranet, educational materials on decumulation and achieving retirement goals for its employees nearing retirement and, for its younger workers, information on the importance of being financially prepared for an emergency while saving for life’s milestones.

Earlier this year, LifeLabs also launched a mobile wellness application as part of its employee assistance program. The digital tool includes free access to a self-directed mental-health program, an on-demand health risk assessment for employees, as well as various relaxation and meditation exercises, a free fitness app, many perks/savings and access to more than 1,800 resources.

Read: LifeLabs adding resources to support employee mental health

The company also launched a virtual health-care platform, which provides employees with on-demand access to a physician at each visit without having to book an appointment. The wellness app and virtual health platform are 100 per cent paid by LifeLabs.

“There was such an observable increase in mental-health concerns over the pandemic and, with our employees being essential care workers, we really wanted to ensure they felt appreciated, recognized and supported,” says Arnold. “We want them to see that LifeLabs sees they are resilient, strong and dedicated to their work and we wanted to show up and let them know we’re here to support them.”