Staffing firm Aquent extends paid sick leave to gig workers

The new policy, spurred by the pandemic, is unique in covering temporary and gig workers—who historically have missed out on workplace benefits.
By: | April 10, 2020 • 2 min read
(Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)

Staffing firm Aquent is extending paid sick leave to all of its workers—including gig and temporary workers that it places at big clients like Apple, Facebook and Disney—as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Boston-based company had considered making paid sick leave available to the more than 10,000 workers it employs annually, but the pandemic spurred it to make a move quickly, as “it’s simply the right thing to do,” says Aquent CEO John Chuang.

Read more on coronavirus and its impacts on benefits.

For employees working in the 37 states with no current sick-pay requirements, Aquent says it will apply Massachusetts’ sick policy, which gives most workers the right to earn and use up to 40 hours of job-protected sick time per year to take care of themselves and certain family members. Workers will accrue one hour of earned sick leave for every 30 hours worked. The company says it will retroactively apply the standard to Jan. 1. For workers in areas that already have sick-pay requirements, the company will follow the existing law in those jurisdictions.

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Leave policies will be permanent, Chuang notes.

Paid sick-leave benefits have taken the spotlight as thousands of employees get sick from coronavirus, yet have no paid sick-leave offering from their workplace. Roughly 33.6 million people, or 24% of U.S. civilian workers, do not have access to paid sick leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The access rate to medical care benefits for part-time workers was 22%, according to a 2019 report.

Some workers at Instacart and Amazon, for instance, have organized walkouts in demand for better pay and benefits, like paid sick leave, during the pandemic.

Other employers, including CVS Health and Kroger, have extended paid sick-leave programs or rolled out specific coronavirus emergency-leave policies as a result of the pandemic. But Aquent’s new policy is unique in that it covers temporary and gig workers—a group that historically has missed out on workplace benefits offerings, despite their large presence in the U.S. workforce.

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“The problem with many gig companies is they want to avoid paying payroll taxes and so they misclassify their workers to avoid paying benefits,” Chuang says. “The issue at large companies is that, while many of them provide extensive, high-quality benefits to their full-time employees, contingent workers who are performing the same tasks as full-time employees have access to far fewer benefits or none at all.”

Read all of HRE’s coronavirus coverage here.

Chuang says Aquent has provided its temporary employees health and dental insurance and 401(k) retirement plans since 1993. He suspects more employers might address shortfalls in benefits coverage, including paid sick leave, as, he says, “the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the great benefits disparity that exists within our American workforce, especially as it relates to sick pay.

“Companies need to step up and be leaders in benefits equality because it allows them to retain the very best workers as well as remain competitive,” he says.

Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at kmayer@lrp.com.