The nation faces an unprecedented public health crisis, businesses are grappling with how to support their workforce, implement emergency policies and sustain their businesses amidst economic uncertainty. As of millions of workers especially frontline workers paid low wages are facing dire extremes: either experiencing layoffs or reduced hours, or working under demanding and often unsafe conditions. Many workers lack emergency protections and benefits to meet the needs of this moment.
We must encourage companies to adopt multiple practices and focus on applying them as broadly and equitably as possible, to help ensure a safe and healthy workforce and in turn a safe and healthy community. We also encourage companies to listen and respond to workers’ concerns, since workers are on the frontlines and can help employers identify health and safety gaps and other workplace issues. There is a clear business case for investing in a company’s workforce—to improve retention, productivity and morale and because workers, customers and communities will remember companies that met the challenge of this moment and invested in their workers. Ensuring a safe and fair workplace is also a racial and gender justice issue, as the health and economic consequences of COVID -19 continue to devastate Black, Latinx, American Indian, and immigrant communities and women of colour who are less likely to be able to work from home and who are overrepresented in COVID-19 fatalities.
Working people are facing an unprecedented need for paid sick time during this pandemic to recover from COVID-19, to quarantine when exposed, and to care for family members who are sick. It is in the interest of businesses and the public that workers use sick time to reduce the spread of COVID-19. More than 1 in 4 private sector workers—tens of millions of people—do not earn a single paid sick day. And among those who can, most do not earn enough paid sick time to quarantine for the recommended 14 day duration or to recover from COVID-19. Others have to accrue paid sick time and therefore may not have the amount they need available to them. Companies should provide at least 80 hours of emergency paid sick time to full-time workers to be used during the pandemic (whether through compliance with applicable law or through the company’s own policy). This time should be immediately available for use (not accrued), and it should be pro-rated for part-time workers and provided to contract workers. The paid sick time should cover at least 14 consecutive calendar days—the typical length of a quarantine. The time must be able to be used for all relevant COVID-19 related purposes, including: 1. A worker experiencing symptoms of, seeking testing or treatment for, or recovering from COVID-19; (Because of the nationwide testing shortages and difficulty in obtaining tests and medical care, employers should not require that a worker test positive for COVID-19 or obtain a doctor’s note in order to utilize paid sick time.) 2. A worker providing care to a loved one or family member experiencing any of the above circumstances or a worker providing care to a loved one or family member because their school, child care, or other care provider is closed or unavailable due to the public health emergency; and 3. A worker self-quarantining due to possible exposure to COVID-19 or because they were advised to quarantine or shelter in place by a public health official or health care provider due to their location, risk factors, or other relevant factors.
Throughout this public health emergency, some working people will need longer-term leave to recover from COVID-19 or care for someone who is recovering. Workers may also need longer-term leave to provide care to children because of school and child care closures that have affected tens of millions of families. With many workers juggling providing care and instruction to their children while maintaining their jobs, paid family and medical leave policies allow them to take time away from work to meet these needs without losing their pay checks or their jobs. These policies also ensure that companies can retain experienced and talented workers and better protect the health and productivity of their workplace. Companies should immediately provide at least 12 weeks of job-protected emergency paid leave to be used during the pandemic (whether through compliance with applicable law or through the company’s own policy). This paid leave should be pro-rated for part-time workers based on the percentage of a full-time schedule that they work and it should also be provided to contract workers. While on paid leave, workers should receive full replacement of the workers’ typical wages (calculated based on typical wages before the COVID-19 outbreak), particularly for workers paid lower wages. Companies should guarantee job protection, restoring individuals to the same or an equivalent job when they return from leave. Companies should consider providing additional job-protected unpaid leave beyond the duration of paid leave for those workers who may be faced with more serious medical or caregiving needs. The leave should be available for relevant pandemic-related purposes, including:1. A worker who needs weeks to months to recover from COVID-19 or is hospitalized due to the virus (including for secondary infections or conditions);2. A worker who needs to provide care to a family member recovering from or hospitalized due to COVID-19 and 3. A worker who needs to provide care to a family member because their school, child care or other care provider is closed or unavailable due to the public health emergency.
People are facing unprecedented challenges in their daily lives, ranging from caregiving for relatives and children, to managing their own health, to commuting and working in unsafe conditions. Companies should implement emergency measures to increase flexibility for all workers, regardless of job type. These may include but are not limited to:1. Providing the ability to work remotely to as much of the workforce as possible, including part-time, seasonal, and contract workers, so that they can reduce their risk.2. Consider how to implement flexible work schedules for both hourly and salaried workers. For example, allow workers to modify the starting and ending time of regular shifts or workdays, schedule-swap with other workers (in addition to providing paid sick days), or work a condensed work week to account for increased health needs, personal demands and unpredictability outside of the workplace. Companies should provide reasonable accommodations beyond what is required by law to support workers at higher risk and pregnant workers.
The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted how our communities have always relied on workers—such as health care workers, delivery drivers, so-called gig economy shoppers, warehouse workers, grocery workers, restaurant workers, child care providers, and homecare workers, to name a few and rely on them even more during the pandemic. In addition to establishing safe workplaces, companies should provide workers in these job categories, who are more likely to be exposed to health hazards, “premium pay,” as compensation for the additional risks they are taking. This should be extended to relevant contracted or “gig” workers. Premium pay can be calculated by adding an additional 25%-50% an hour (based on a worker’s typical hourly wage), and it can be structured progressively to provide a higher percentage to lower paid workers.
Work sharing (also referred to as “shared work” or “short-time compensation”) is a type of unemployment benefit that provides employers with an alternative to layoffs when they are faced with a temporary decline in business. Instead of laying off a portion of the workforce to cut costs, an employer may reduce the hours and wages of all workers or a particular group of workers. Workers with reduced hours and wages are eligible for pro-rated unemployment benefits to supplement their pay check. Because work sharing is voluntary, employers can make decisions about participation in the program based on their unique circumstances. Employers should explore a formal work-sharing plan in the states that allow for it before resorting to layoffs.
Businesses that need to downsize due to the public health emergency should furlough workers (rather than lay them off) and should maintain as many benefits as possible during the furlough period, including health insurance and life insurance. While employers can continue collecting employee contributions to insurance premiums, employers should strive to cover part or all of these premiums during the furlough period due to the worker’s loss of income.
Workers affected by the pandemic – whether furloughed, laid off or receiving reduced hours or alternate work assignments -should be notified when hiring resumes and provided first right of refusal for re-established (or equivalent) positions within the company or organization. As employers re-hire, they should also prioritize equitable and inclusive recruitment and hiring, reaching those most affected by historic, systemic disenfranchisement and those most impacted by the current pandemic. One important step is instituting a “fair chance” hiring policy that allows workers with conviction histories to be considered. Employers should continue providing emergency paid sick days and paid family and medical leave measures as well as increased flexibility measures to re-hired workers throughout the duration of the pandemic.
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