COVID-19: Support In-Person & Hourly Workers

By Jamie Brancazio

Many of us in the People Ops and executive communities aren’t just worrying about our employees’ health, we want to do what we can to ensure people’s job security too. This is particularly the case if your business is highly dependent on foot traffic and has in-person employees and/or hourly workers who are not able to do their work remotely.

While we don’t have control over how much our businesses will be impacted and for how long, we do have the power to support our organizations during this time of uncertainty. Below, we offer guidance on how to face these issues head on and be as prepared as possible.

1. HEALTH AND SAFETY

First and foremost, take steps to protect employees and hourly workers who have to work in-person. While public health is not our area of expertise at LifeLabs Learning, we have crowdsourced ideas from over 400 People Ops leaders for steps you can take.

Communication: Create a steady, predictable cadence of communication to create as much certainty as possible and prevent rumors and speculation. Send email communication at least weekly, and pick a specific day of the week and time. If possible, hold town halls or office hours for people to ask questions. 

  • It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers. Nobody does right now. Consider using the know/don’t know/will know framework: “Here’s what we do know, he’s what we don’t know, here’s when we will know or update you.”
  • Don’t rely on top down communication alone. Engage your team to generate ideas with you. For example, some companies have set up a Slack channel or suggestion email where staff members can submit ideas to cut costs, reduce risk, and support team members and/or customers.

Reminders: Post visible nudges to wash hands with soap and water and cough into your elbow. As simple as it sounds, these cues have a major impact on behavior.

Education: Share tips and resources for how to stay healthy (even tips on healthy eating and sleeping habits can help) and what to do if you or someone you have been in close contact with is feeling sick or has tested positive for COVID-19.

Disinfecting: Make hand sanitizer and disinfectant surface wipes ready available, especially at entrances. (Here is a DIY recipe provided by WHO, if needed). Clean surfaces often and thoroughly. Consider a deep clean when your business is closed.

Distancing: If the nature of your business makes it possible, restrict onsite visitors either completely or send a message and post signs at reception asking visitors to reschedule if they are feeling sick, have recently travelled, or been in contact with someone who is feeling sick or who travelled in the past 14 days. If possible, stagger shifts so fewer employees come into contact with one another at any given time.

Accommodations: Decide what types of accommodations you can offer individuals who are at-risk (e.g., immunocompromised or a caretaker for someone who is at-risk). For example, some companies are offering reimbursement for taking a Lyft/Uber to avoid public transportation, offering start/stop work times that are less crowded, coming up with alternate responsibilities that can be done remotely, or offering paid leave, leave with benefits, or unpaid leave that maintains job security.

Sick leave: The CDC recommends that those who feel sick stay home, but we also know that many hourly employees would rather power through than take an unpaid day. Do what you can to broaden your policies. For example, offer more sick days (some companies have even switched to unlimited paid or unpaid sick time off), extend paid sick leave to cover the recommended 14-day quarantine period, and educate employees about their short-term disability options.

2. JOB SECURITY

When we experience a drop in business demand, even if it’s temporary, feelings of anxiety and fear are inevitable. As with physical health, when it comes to financial health, we just have to stay focused on what we can control, which includes knowing our options and having a plan. Every business is different, but below we’ll list the job security options shared in our People Ops and executive community working sessions.

Reassigning and retraining: If staff members are heavily underutilized, look for opportunities for them to add value in other areas. Ask what projects or tasks can support your organization. Consider surveying employees who may be very busy to ask where they can use support, then provide temporary reassignment and retraining for on-site and/or hourly workers.

Pay continuity: If your organization is in a position to do so, consider offering pay continuity for a specific period of time, even if employees and hourly workers are not working their usual hours. 

Reduce or stagger shifts: If there isn’t enough work to go around, find ways to reduce shifts or stagger them for minimal financial impact on each employee. 

Furlough: If a reduction in hours isn’t possible or sufficient, consider granting a leave of absence (i.e., furlough), when possible, with benefit continuity.

Financial and work resources: If you are taking actions that impact your team financially, consider offering free services to support them like financial counseling or training, resume review, and interview training.

Business community: If your team’s jobs are at-risk, reach out to your business community to find out who in your network might be in need of part-time or contract help or who is hiring. 

QUESTIONS TO DISCUSS WITH YOUR EXEC TEAM:

To make sound and aligned decisions, partner with your executive team to answer the following questions:

  • Keeping in mind the public health risk and business risk if our employees get sick, how much budget can we set aside for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and providing hand sanitizer and other protective supplies? What triggers will we use to re-evaluate this decision (e.g., end of month, change in city’s CDC status)?
  • What kind of distancing is possible given the constraints of our business? Can we ask people to work in shifts without impacting their pay? Can we ask on-site visitors to postpone visits or switch to virtual?
  • Where do we have too few people resources in the organization? Can we reassign and retrain some of our on-site staff or hourly workers to add value in this area?
  • What are three scenarios (best case, realistic case, worst case) we can anticipate and plan for? For example: 10%, 30%, 80% revenue impact scenarios as well as 10%, 30%, and 80% drop in available staff if people are temporarily out sick.
  • Keeping these scenarios in mind, what options do we have to make accommodations for at-risk individuals? What options do we have to expand sick leave? What are the risks to the business if we do not offer enough leave? 
  • Keeping these scenarios in mind, what are our options for pay continuity? How about shift/hour adjustments? What decision criteria will we use to decide if we’ll need to offer furlough options? To make these decisions, let’s also consider the length and cost of hiring and onboarding and the impact on our culture and our employer brand. 
  • If needed, how can we leverage our network and community to find other work options or income sources for our team members? 
  • What options do we have for getting more access to cash or for saving money? Is any support available from government agencies, our investors, banks, or grants? How can we engage our team in generating ideas to help?

The topics listed here are the epitome of tough conversations and decisions, but the sooner they are addressed, the safer your business and your people are. This is the time for thoughtful, creative, and compassionate leadership. Our mantra here at LifeLabs Learning has been: cool heads, warm hearts, clean hands.

We’re all in this together! We are consistently holding working sessions with the People Ops, HR, and executive communities and co-creating resources for everyone to use.

Here is our COVID-19 prep guide: lifelabsworksheets.com/prep 

And here is our complete playbook for remote work: lifelabsworksheets.com/remote

If you have additional ideas or resources to recommend, please contact tania@lifelabslearning.com.