The fact is that they often do. Some are locked in the mindset that a
good soldier shows up no matter what—common cold or stomach bug be damned.
Tough it out. Do whatever it takes to get the job done.
Or, in some cases, it’s much more of a financial concern. There are
plenty of workers—think those in the hospitality and food service industries,
for example—who simply don’t get paid if they don’t go to work. And some literally
can’t afford to take time off without pay.
This was an issue long before COVID-19 became a pandemic. But its
lightning-quick spread has hit workers in these and other service-oriented
who can’t work from home—disproportionately hard. When hotels, restaurants,
bars, and other public meeting places go dark, these workers can’t just log in
on their laptops at home.
bill that was just signed into law could be a step toward providing relief
to some, but not all, employees affected by the Coronavirus.
No permanent solution, but a start?
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provides up to two
weeks of paid sick leave to employees who are being tested or treated for COVID-19
or have already been diagnosed with the virus. Employees under doctors’ orders
to stay home after being exposed or experiencing systems would also be
The bill that passed the Senate calls for these payments to be capped, however,
in addition to limiting the amount that employees with affected family members
and/or dealing with their children’s school closures would receive.
And far from all U.S. workers will be eligible for these benefits. In
fact, there are some fairly large loopholes.
For instance, the bill limited eligibility for 12 weeks of paid family
leave only to parents who are caring for children whose schools have closed as
a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. And small businesses under 50 employees
would be exempt from paying sick leave.
For that matter, larger organizations—companies with 500-plus
employees—aren’t even addressed in the bill. The U.S. Labor Department reports
that close to 90% of workers at such companies are afforded some type of paid
sick leave. The average duration, however, is eight days; barely half of the
two-week period that those exposed to the Coronavirus are being told to
Setting an example
So, large employers aren’t obligated to provide paid sick leave in the
midst of this pandemic. But that doesn’t mean they can’t. Speaker of the House
Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin have strongly urged
them to do so.
Some have already acted. Consider:
which has already announced that quarantined workers will receive up two weeks
of pay, with additional pay for those not able to come back to work after 14
who have taken a similar step, providing employees with up to 14 days of
“catastrophe pay,” available to workers who have been diagnosed with COVID-19,
or have been exposed to someone who has.
Restaurants, parent company to Olive Garden and operator of Longhorn
Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze, and Yard House, is offering 40 hours, or roughly
five days a year, of paid sick leave to hourly workers who previously did not
have access to such time.
- All Amazon
employees diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed into quarantine will receive up to
two weeks’ pay, in addition to unlimited unpaid time off for all hourly
employees through the end of March. The company is also establishing the Amazon
Relief Fund, with a $25 million initial contribution focused on supporting the
company’s independent delivery service partners and their drivers, Amazon Flex
participants, and seasonal employees under financial stress during this time, according
to an Amazon statement.
Mark Englizian, senior strategy advisor for the Institute for Corporate
Productivity (i4cp) and chair of i4cp’s Total Rewards Board, calls the FFCRA
legislation “desperately needed,” but also wonders if other large employers
will follow these examples.
“Will [paid sick leave] morph into a convention that becomes permanent
for most companies? A best practice?” asks Englizian, who is also a former CHRO
of the Walgreen Company. “What are the unintended consequences? Who is left
behind with this legislation? And, more importantly, how do the pillars of
power shift going forward—the government, labor unions, the business
Indeed, there’s still much that remains to be seen, with regard to COVID-19
in a broad sense, and with this legislation that’s intended to mitigate its
impact on thousands of U.S. employees. But the crisis still presents an opportunity
for American employers to step up and take care of their workers, says
“We need to come together, and business leaders large and small are in
a prime position to lead the way.”