How employers handle today’s crisis will matter in the long-term

Employees and future candidates will remember the response.  
By: | March 27, 2020 • 2 min read

As panic over the coronavirus reaches fever pitch, employers are going to great lengths to ensure their worker remain healthy, both physically and financially, throughout the outbreak. A growing number of organizations are encouraging or mandating their employees to work remotely, while those industries that require on-site workers have revised their sick-leave policies to accommodate employees affected by COVID-19.

Target, Walmart, Apple, McDonald’s, Starbucks and others have implemented emergency paid leave, “quarantine pay” or “catastrophe pay,” guaranteeing continued income to those who contract the virus, are required to quarantine due to exposure or, in some cases, are simply most susceptible to succumbing to it. Other employers, like Yum! Brands, parent company of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, have pledged to pay workers for their regularly scheduled hours at company-owned stores that get closed due to the virus. To better accommodate parents whose children are suddenly not in school or daycare, Target announced the availability of back-up family care for all employees.

Read all of HRE’s coronavirus coverage here.

According to a new survey by Willis Towers Watson, 72% of employers plan to continue paying hourly workers who test positive for the virus, while 54% will do so if the workplace is forced to close. Just over half (51%) will pay workers suffering cold or flu-like symptoms who voluntarily stay home.

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While employers are currently focused on doing whatever it takes to help employees make it through the outbreak as unscathed as possible, the actions they are taking have raised questions about the long-term implications.

“It will be interesting to see what happens in terms of the expectations people have from employers and how that may change,” says Susan Haberman, senior partner and US Career Business Leader in the Chicago office of New York-based Mercer. “I think we will see not only people expecting more flexibility, but the nature of work itself will change. People will find they need to travel less and be able to have that connectivity in a more remote and virtual way.”

The impact on retention and recruiting is likely to be significant, says Haberman, as current and potential employers take notice of those organizations that hold firm to their core beliefs and leverage resources to protect jobs.

“This is the time for companies to show what they’re really all about,” says Haberman. “What they do now says a lot about who they are as a company and what they stand for.”

Julie Cook Ramirez is a Rockford, Ill.-based journalist and copywriter covering all aspects of human resources. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.