While COVID-19 has forced some businesses and positions to transition to remote workplaces, many people are still required to endure a daily commute to their worksite. In 2017, most commuters traveled by car, truck, or van, followed by public transportation. Due to COVID-19, commuters are recommended to avoid public transportation if possible, as being in a confined space with numerous people can increase exposure and spread of the virus. So what are some alternatives for commuters and how can employers assist their employees find safer ways to commute?
Post-COVID Commuter Safety Tips
If public transportation is the only reasonable way to commute to work, individuals should practice:
- Carrying hand sanitizer and/or hand wipes
- Wearing a face mask
- Avoid touching anything on the public transport vehicle
Employers may assist by providing hand sanitizer stations, face masks, and other helpful sanitizing products to ensure their employees are adequately equipped for their commute. Another way to help commuting employees is to provide some financial assistance, such as public transport passes or qualified parking. Additionally, flexible scheduling may help commuters avoid peak times or take less busy routes to reduce high-volume travel times.
Carpooling with co-workers not living together should be discouraged. For those who use rideshare services, employers should encourage employees to ask drivers about cleaning procedures and practice physical distancing where applicable and good hygiene (i.e., washing hands, using hand sanitizer or wipes, and avoid touching eyes, nose, mouth, and frequently touched surfaces).
Employees who live close to the workplace may opt to walk or bicycle to the office as an alternative. Employers should consider accommodations for these employees, as well as how these means of transportation might change due to local climate or geographical factors.
Developing a Commuter Assistance Program
A great option for employers is to develop a commuter assistance program. Some benefits of a commuter assistance program include:
- Benefit for recruiting employees who may be wary of commuting costs
- Can increase employee morale
- Qualified transportation benefits are not taxed so employees can utilize pre-tax income to pay for commuter benefits
- Usually a low cost to the employer
- Easy for employees to use
- Great for employers in large metropolitan areas where public transportation and parking fees may be expensive or smaller areas where longer commutes may be more common
Steps to Develop a Commuter Assistance Program
- Explore available commuter benefit options, such as budget and plan design.
- Survey your employees to identify preferred transportation and budget for commuting.
- Once you have solidified an appropriate commuter solution for your employees, promote the benefit to your employees.
- Enroll employees who elect to participate and set up payroll deductions, if required.
- Order appropriate vouchers or passes for employees and distribute accordingly.
While the commuter assistance program offers an abundance of benefits, employers should also consider:
- Effective since 2018, employers may no longer deduct taxes for qualified transportation benefits.
- If outsourcing the program through a third-party provider, there may be additional oversight requirements to ensure proper interaction with your employees.
- It is the employer’s obligation to maintain compliance with tax regulations, such as statutory limits, plan design, and eligibility to sponsor and participate.
For more information on Commuter Assistance Programs, visit IRS Publication 15-B, Employer’s Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits or contact Harbor America. Our employee benefits specialists can provide you great alternatives to boost employee engagement and morale.
HR Insights: Commuting Post-Coronavirus
Benefits Insights: Commuter Assistance Programs