Coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread rapidly around the globe in the past two months. Recently, the World Health Organization declared the viral outbreak a pandemic.
Many employees are feeling anxious about the outbreak, but for hourly workers, those health concerns are magnified by concerns about the difficulty in taking leave due to potential quarantines. Roughly 24% of U.S. workers, or 33.6 million people, do not have paid sick leave benefits. Protecting the financial wellbeing of these vulnerable employees should be paramount for companies.
Here are three steps you can take to support hourly workers during a global health crisis.
One of the biggest concerns for hourly employees is financial — without paid leave, a quarantine scenario presents a devastating economic hardship. Many companies have decided to expand paid leave to their employees as a result.
Microsoft put out a statement on their blog asking employees in the hard-hit areas of the Puget Sound region and northern California who can work from home to do so. In the statement, Microsoft says, “We recognize the hardship that lost work can mean for hourly employees.” The company will continue to pay its hourly employees their regular pay despite the reduced service needs. Amazon has also announced that it will offer paid sick leave to all its employees—including part-time warehouse staff— affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and other companies like Walmart, Starbucks and Trader Joe’s are following suit.
Offering employees paid leave when mandatory quarantines are enacted or when the employee or a family member shows symptoms of the illness and being flexible with sick leave policies can provide essential financial support for your workforce during this difficult time.
Many jobs require employees to be on-site or on the shop floor, but others can be done virtually. If your employees can work remotely, now is a good time to make sure they have the freedom, flexibility and technology they need to telework.
Make sure your employees are equipped with everything they need to work from home such as laptops, access to work software and reliable internet service. Many hourly workers may not have the technology or resources to support remote work, so enact policies to help them secure the necessary resources now.
But even for traditional customer-facing roles, creative problem solving and strategic workforce planning could help reduce the number of employees and hours needed in face-to-face interactions. For example, increasing virtual customer service abilities and online shopping options could minimize the need for in-person interactions. Allowing employees to do tasks such as scheduling and paperwork remotely can also reduce their hours on site.
This is a stressful time for everyone. Keeping open lines of communication about everything from benefits to decisions about leave to remote work options is key to helping relieve employee anxiety. Educate employees about COVID-19 to ensure they understand the associated symptoms and recommended preventative measures. Make clear what they should do if they feel sick.
Encourage them to take advantage of all options available to them, and let them know that they will not be penalized for exercising sick leave benefits or working remotely. Reassure them that you are putting their safety and wellbeing at the forefront of your decisions.