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How Employers Are Stepping Up to Combat the Coronavirus Crisis

If you are an employer, you are probably wondering what organizations like yours are doing to combat the coronavirus pandemic as well as what steps you should be taking to safeguard the future of your business.

If you are a global enterprise, our partner Mercer is collecting data via a live survey and publishing the results in real-time so that employers can react quickly and with confidence as the coronavirus crisis evolves. For example, published results from Mercer’s live survey in early March revealed that 71 percent of organizations are very concerned about the Covid-19 outbreak while less than 2 percent are not concerned at all. Thirty-one percent of companies have closed offices or plants while 54 percent are monitoring the situation closely. Of those with an office closure, 92 percent said that employees are now working remotely from home.

In addition, we have been collecting news stories about employers – including some PayScale customers – who have risen to the occasion and what they are doing to support their employees, customers, and community during the coronavirus crisis.

Free or Enhanced Technology for Remote Work

In order to flatten the curve and relieve the healthcare system from a sudden and overwhelming influx of patients with severe cases of the coronavirus, people are being advised to enact social distancing. This has resulted in many organizations encouraging – or even requiring – employees to work from home.

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According to PayScale’s 2020 Compensation Best Practices report, 48 percent of organizations already offered some degree of remote work opportunity in 2019 before the coronavirus crisis emerged. However, not every business was ready or equipped for this situation. To assist, technology companies are offering online meeting tools for free or with enhanced access for current customers.

For example, Microsoft is offering a version of its premium plan for Teams as a free trial. Google is offering Hangouts Meets to all G Suite and G Suite for Education users. LogMeln, which owns GotoMeeting and GotoWebinar, has made Emergency Remote Work Kits available for free for three months. Cisco is offering a free version of WebEx with no time constriction. Zoom, which already offered a free version of its video conferencing software, is removing time restrictions and participant limits while also increasing its capacity and reliability.

Technology companies are stepping up to assist during the coronavirus crisis in other ways too. From websites and chatbots to assist healthcare practitioners in screening patients to assistance with storing and analyzing data related to the coronavirus crisis, technology companies are finding ways to innovate and deliver useful services during a time of fear and hardship.

Wage Increases or Bonuses for Hourly Workers

Many retailers offering essential products and services, especially grocers, have been slammed with business since the coronavirus outbreak as shoppers flock to stores to load up on essentials to ride out the quarantine. Current employees are working extended hours and employers can’t hire fast enough to keep up with demand.

In response, retail chains Target and Costco announced increased wages for an extra $2 an hour for all hourly workers. Walmart has also offered some workers a $2 pay increase as well as special cash bonuses. Other grocers to offer a $2 raise so far include Albertsons (Safeway, Vons, etc.), Smart and Final, and BJ’s Wholesale Club.

Pennsylvania-based restaurant, gas and convenience store Sheetz has offered a $3 raise to its roughly 17,000 workers. Starbucks also announced a $3 pay increase to hourly employees as well as a promise to pay all workers over the next 30 days even if they don’t come to work due to the coronavirus outbreak. However, workers showed up before dawn to operate drive-thru-only experiences.

Some companies are giving bonuses in lieu of raises. Kroger has offered its workers an appreciation bonus of $300. Trader Joe’s has created a bonus pool to be paid out to employees based on hours worked.

Most recently, Amazon has offered pay incentives to warehouse workers willing to transition to grocery services, a practice known as labor sharing, as Amazon’s grocery service has been inundated with so many requests it has had to suspend Amazon Fresh services to focus on Prime Now, which is powered by Whole Foods.

Grocers also aren’t the only ones to offer pay increases. Campbell’s has offered a $2 hourly raise to production line workers as well as $100 in weekly premium payments to essential workers. U.S Bank is boosting employee pay by 20 percent for all front-line workers and call center staff. Tyson has committed to paying $500 bonuses to truck drivers.

Increased Sick Days and Other Benefits

Many companies are revisiting their sick day policy in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. Before the pandemic, 24 percent of civilian workers did not get any sick pay at all.

Many organizations are now stepping up to offer sick pay to hourly workers who didn’t previously have it. Some examples include Amazon (for workers who test positive for coronavirus), McDonald’s, Darden’s Restaurants and Apple (for retail staff).

However, it may not be enough.

The CDC recommends that people exposed to the virus self-quarantine for 14 days, especially after traveling. This is the incubation period needed to see whether the virus will manifest after exposure. This does not include the time that people who are actually sick and infectious need to recover. Unfortunately, recent research has shown that the coronavirus can live in the body for up to 49 days, though some people recover in as little as 7. To prevent the spread of infection, the CDC recommends that employees showing any signs of respiratory symptoms stay home until they have been without a fever for 72 hours.

Walmart has announced that it will offer two weeks’ pay to workers diagnosed with coronavirus as well as additional pay replacement for up to 26 weeks. However, this policy would only apply to people who are able to get tested.

Uber and Lyft have also made announcements offering sick pay or financial assistance to drivers and delivery service workers, but only those who have been asked to self-isolate by a public health official.

This type of policy is controversial as it is currently dangerous and often impossible for anyone without a severe case or who does not fall into a high-risk group due to age or pre-existing conditions to get a test for coronavirus.

SHRM recommends that employers consider extending paid leave benefits for employees who have contracted the virus but can’t work remotely. The alternative is to encourage contagious employees to return to work to infect other employees and customers.

Recent polls show that 95 percent of Americans support sick pay for coronavirus victims.

Assistance to Our Healthcare System

The healthcare system has been hit hard by the coronavirus and the situation is only looking to get worse in the near term, especially in populous areas such as New York City. Overburdened hospitals are short on critical life-saving medical devices – such as ventilators – as well as PPE equipment (masks, gloves, surgical gowns, etc.) to keep healthcare workers safe from infection while treating patients.

However, American manufacturers have stepped up to assist the healthcare system. 3M, the world’s largest manufacturer of N95 filtering face masks, has doubled production with a pledge to make more than a billion respirators by the end of the year. Recently, Honeywell has also announced a commitment to increase production of N95 masks. Ford is partnering with 3M to mass produce face shields using 3D printing.

Apparel retailers are also jumping into the action. The Gap, L.L. Bean, Ralph Lauren, HanesBrands, Joann Fabrics in partnership with Nieman Marcus, and Eddie Bauer are all shifting production to create N95 masks, surgical masks, and hospital gowns. Under Armor has pledged to produce 500,000 face masks.

Luxury outerwear fashion retailer Canada Goose is producing scrubs and surgical gowns that will be donated. Eddie Bauer, based in Seattle, will also be donating its inventory to healthcare providers in Washington State through the Department of Enterprise Services as early as next week.

Organizations are also stepping up to produce ventilators, including GM in partnership with Ventec Life Systems, Dyson, and Tesla in partnership with Medtronic.

Just yesterday, Medtronic released its IP on ventilator production to help combat the shortage.

THE IMPACT OF A PREPARED STRATEGIC RESPONSE

One company has received particular acclaim for its response to the coronavirus crisis: Texas grocer chain HEB.

Headquartered in San Antonio with operations throughout Texas, HEB has been working on a pandemic disaster response plan since 2005 when H5N1 was a threat overseas in China. They tested the plan in 2009 when H1N1 (swine flu) came to the United States and refined it into a general pandemic response plan.

HEB started looking into the coronavirus in the second week of January. As the situation evolved, they started proactively preparing, including gathering intelligence from retailers in China, Italy, and now Spain to stay ahead of the curve and learn from grocers who had already experienced it how the coronavirus impacted business operations, supply chains, shopper behavior, and employee health and absenteeism.

In early March, when the first coronavirus case was announced in Texas, HEB limited the amounts of products customers could purchase at one time as well as reducing store hours to give employees more time to stock inventory.

HEB also thought strategically about compensation and benefits, giving employees a $2 hourly raise on March 16th, a week before most other grocers. They also extended sick leave for employees and created a dedicated coronavirus hotline for employees to call if they needed information or assistance.

To protect employees from infection, HEB installed plexiglass sneeze guards at cash registers, a move that other grocers are now emulating. They also enforced the six-foot distancing recommended by the CDC by placing tape marks on the ground to indicate the appropriate distances shoppers should stand from each other. Finally, to relieve the burden being placed on employees working overtime, HEB asked their corporate employees if any of them wanted to volunteer to take shifts in the stores and warehouses to relieve the burden on their retail workers.

They had 800 volunteers.

What More We Can Do

Times of fear and uncertainty are also opportunities to show leadership, take bold action, and come together as a society for the benefit of all.

Acts of humanity and generosity beget more acts of humanity and generosity, building trust between members of a community. In addition to the actions taken by employers to help employees and healthcare workers, we have also seen an outpouring of donations to the relief effort. Many executives have also made headlines by announcing to forgo their own salaries, with some pledging not to issue layoffs or furloughs in 2020.

Other companies are finding innovative ways to adapt their business models to the situation in order to provide the value people need now, such as setting up drive-through grocery pick-up services for consumers or delivering lunches to hospitals.

We don’t know exactly what the future will bring, but we know that the impact the pandemic will have on individuals and families as well as businesses and the economy can be far-reaching. Some have compared it to being at war and have called the coronavirus pandemic the greatest challenge to the world since World War Two. This kind of adversity calls for creativity, compassion, and camaraderie.

However, if we work together, we can lighten the load on those hit hardest. The actions of employers, both publicly and among their own staff, can have a remarkable impact, both practically and in terms of morale. Hopefully, companies will continue to find new and creative ways to step up and help out.

If your organization is doing something innovative to combat the coronavirus crisis, especially as it concerns compensation and benefits for employees, we’d love to hear from you.

 

Amy Stewart
Sr. Content Marketing Manager at PayScale
Read more from Amy

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