4 Takeaways from Weekly Total Rewards Action Call: COVID-19 Business Response


The coronavirus pandemic continues, with no clear answers as to when some sense of normalcy will return to our home and work lives. It will be a while before we truly see just how far-reaching COVID-19’s impact will be on the world of work. But we know it’s already having an impact on business in significant ways. 

During this week's call, which brought together total rewards leaders, we delved into how the pandemic is affecting rewards and compensation at their organizations, and how they continue to adjust, from rethinking sales compensation to offering premium pay for employees who come onsite to work, and much more. 

Some highlights: 

  • While not a large number of companies are currently offering hazard pay/premium pay for frontline employees, some organizations are beginning to strongly consider it, as evidenced by the conversation around today’s presentation from Kamil Kaczynski, rewards leader at Peloton, where employees receive hazard pay for continuing to carry out roles that call for customer interaction, such as delivering and assembling Peloton bikes at customers’ homes.

  • The results of one of last week’s pulse survey questions found few companies making changes to sales compensation (44%). However, another 40% said they are considering it. This seems to be gaining momentum, based on the conversation/questions during today’s call, where many attendees noted that they are looking into how to adjust sales compensation/incentives in the forms of lowered sales goals, reduced threshold payouts, etc.

  • Employers might be wise to consider providing relief to affected employees under IRS Section 139. Added to the Code after 9/11/2001, Section 139 allows employers to make qualified disaster relief payments to employees that would include payments to reimburse medical, personal, living, or funeral expenses, for example, incurred as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. These payments are typically deductible for employers and excluded from recipient’s income. Kamil noted the use of such payments at Peloton, which drew a number of questions from the group.

  • One of today’s live poll questions during the call asked if employers are providing any type of health screening for employees who are still working onsite. The clear majority (78%) are not, but others are considering it, by introducing temperature checks and/or other measures.


There’s uncertainty in all directions for business leaders at the moment, as the COVID-19 pandemic takes us all into uncharted territory. At the March 19, 2020 meeting of i4cp’s Total Rewards Board and other total rewards leaders, some of the broad-ranging challenges they’re facing at the moment were discussed. The topics ranged from how to compensate sales teams in the midst of the pandemic spread, to offering incentive bonuses for employees to come onsite to work, and how to relieve those employees for whom working from home isn’t a viable option. Some highlights: 

1.     COVID-19 is not yet significantly affecting companies’ approach to performance management, with most taking a wait-and-see approach. Our poll found 55% of respondents saying no, the virus has not impacted performance management at their organization. Another 23% said yes, they are delaying performance reviews, promotions and other talent decisions, with an additional 23% saying they don’t know how COVID-19 is affecting performance management within their company. 

2.     While the new legislation around paid sick leave does not obligate large employers to provide any sort of paid sick leave to employees in the wake of this pandemic, the majority of large companies are. Our poll saw 50% offering 14 days (the amount of time affected individuals are strongly encouraged to self-quarantine), and another 14% offering more. The remainder are providing less than 14 days (21%) and 14% not offering any paid sick leave at all. 

3.     Companies that haven’t already made changes to their compensation and rewards soon will, or are at least planning a strategy for moving forward. Some steps include adjusting comp for salespeople who are unable to travel, meet potential clients in person, etc., providing incentives for employees to come onsite to work, paying employees who are unable to come to work and also unable to work from home, for example. 

4.     Organizations are also starting to give serious though to retention strategies in the event that pay freezes or other cuts to compensation become necessary.


The discussion of the first virtual gathering of total rewards leaders covered the following compensation & benefits issues: 

  • How are organizations determining comp & benefits for consultants/contractors/ vendors?
    • Some are shifting to seeing contractors as employees
    • Leading orgs are now extending some compensation to contractors (i.e. Lyft/Uber)
  • Is your org doing anything to accommodate by easing travel ban, relaxing salespersons quotas or making payout adjustments?
    • Some are requiring a business case for going into the office in high-risk areas where we want people to work from home. What is a worthwhile reason?
  • Re: Salespersons quotas - reinforcing that this is your opportunity, no immediate changes to quotas; reluctance to relax quotas – travel/safety implications?
  • Voiding requirements on # of in-person meetings and allowing virtual meetings to count in place of those
  • At what point do we change policies?
  • Many clients are instituting policies that do not allow visitors (limiting in-person sales discussions, etc.)
  • How do we support employees who cannot afford to practice "social distancing” or work from home?
  • How do we work with compliance?
  • Help understand the impact and hard lines of in-person meetings/events
  • How do we adjust pay and PTO for mandated or volunteer 14-day quarantine time?
    • Most are paying individual quarantined for 14-day period
  • Have you made any adjustments to your health benefits, such as paying for testing?
  • Walmart - No penalty for those uncomfortable coming into work (even if not sick/under quarantine)
  • What does flex time look like?
  • Will moving to remote work now make this an ongoing part of the culture?
  • How do we address concerns about abuse of these new policies?
  • Extend trust to employees in the face of health crisis
  • Handle issues from WFH on a case-by-case basis
  • Potential lower productivity for those WFH with children at home (school cancellations)
Long-term Impact
  • How are you adjusting performance management practices?
    • Be sensitive & empathetic
    • Create teams to check-in on how people are adjusting/feeling
  • How do we mitigate expected impact and crisis mgmt.?
  • How should we treat higher-risk populations within our workforces?
  • Encourage people to listen to doctor’s advice
  • Placing the responsibility on the employee to take care of their health
  • Keep in mind the importance of abiding by the policies and guidance of local law enforcement, hospitals, client policies
  • Agility and flexibility - Leaders need to set the tone that they are making decisions based on what they know today, but will update as new information becomes available; anticipate tough adjustment for workforce
  • Providing online real-time platform with latest updates and messaging from business leaders (“Reach out to your HRBP for more information”)
  • Importance of tracking region-specific information
  • Health Insurance Carriers (IRS Guidance) – What co-pays should be waived for employees on corporate health insurance plans?
  • Next Practice - “Learning as a Reward” – How do we identify and reward the leaders that continue to drive performance, collaboration (and well-being) throughout this crisis and virtual platform?
  • Virtual leadership as a performance metric
  • Investing in the workforce – What is the mix of our workforce investment (stock compensation, etc.)?
  • Considering impact to company valuations

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