These Companies Put Employees First During Pandemic

By Susan Ladika April 2, 2020
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Pepsi truck

​PepsiCo is among a growing number of companies across the country that are boosting pay for front-line workers, continuing to pay those who are unable to work because of COVID-19, and offering other assistance to employees who are impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Implementing such measures is important because employees "are the backbone of our company," said Patrick McLaughlin, chief human resources officer of PepsiCo Foods North America.

PepsiCo is giving at least an extra $100 per week to employees who produce, transport or deliver its products; providing full salary for 14 days for any employee who must be quarantined because of COVID-19; and, after those 14 days are up, providing at least two-thirds of regular pay for up to 10 weeks to those who are sick with the virus or caring for a loved one with the virus. Those sick-pay measures are mandated in the just-passed Families First Coronavirus Response Act, but the law applies only to employers with fewer than 500 employees.

Any employee who is unable to work from home but must care for a child who can't go to school or day care is also receiving at least two-thirds of his or her pay for up to 12 weeks.

Previously, PepsiCo didn't offer paid caregiving benefits. "It's a change in how we've done things historically," McLaughlin said. "We're being flexible where we can be."

PepsiCo is providing extra pay to front-line employees, McLaughlin said, because "we are very proud of them. We know they are putting in some very long hours and days and should be recognized for this."

Lorna Friedman, senior partner in the global health business at the consultancy Mercer, said, " 'People first' is the mantra we think is most important when it comes to leading the workforce" during the pandemic. She said of the organizations that provide extra assistance to their employees during this difficult time, "People will remember the goodwill and reputational value of trying to do the right thing."

A survey of more than 250 employers, released March 27 by the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, found that almost 75 percent of respondents were offering paid leave for those who were sick or quarantined because of COVID-19, and more than 20 percent were considering providing paid leave. About one-third were providing additional time off if needed.

"A great majority of employers are going to take care of their employees," said Michael Thompson, president and CEO of the alliance. Almost 60 percent of respondents were offering caregivers unpaid family leave, and more than 45 percent were offering paid family leave. "The caregiver burden is something that employers are recognizing," he said.

Given the emotional toll of COVID-19, more than half of employers polled said they were providing special emotional-support programs.



Suddenly Working from Home

At the Lehi, Utah-based company Canopy, which provides tax software for accounting, the workforce of more than 100 employees is currently working from home.

That has posed some challenges, "considering we're not a work-from-home workforce, so we just don't know what we don't know," said Camille Lewis, SHRM-CP, Canopy's director of people operations.

The company is making adjustments to processes as the need arises and helping employees make adjustments to their new workspaces. Canopy is reimbursing small expenditures, such as paying for a yoga ball for an employee to sit on or a houseplant to brighten up a new workspace.

One big issue with working remotely is the "mental and emotional piece," Lewis said.
"[Employees] are trying to adapt to the new dynamics within the team."

To help address that and encourage employees to "bond and stay connected through this challenge," Lewis said, Canopy employees have been invited to take part in a 30-day wellness program from The New York Times that focuses on physical, mental and emotional well-being.

At Truist Bank, created by the merger last year of SunTrust and BB&T, employees who earn less than $100,000 per year are being given a $1,200 pretax bonus to help offset financial pressures caused by the pandemic. Truist is also offering 10 days of paid time off for employees to care for children whose schools are closed, child care reimbursement, and increased emergency child care and elder care benefits. That includes paying up to $100 per day for child care services for employees who earn less than $50,000 per year and have children under age 13 or with special needs. The benefit is capped at $2,000 or 20 days, said Angeles Quinones, a spokeswoman for Truist.

For every $1 that Truist employees donate to the One Team Fund, which provides financial assistance to help employees recover from unexpected events, the company is contributing $4.

The extra benefits "will hopefully alleviate some of the financial pressures caused by this pandemic and help recognize our teammates' focus on our clients' needs, even as many of our teammates may be facing challenges at home," Quinones said.

As the pandemic unfolds, it's likely that the assistance organizations provide will evolve. "All of us HR professionals have to continue to evaluate where we are in the crisis," McLaughlin, PepsiCo's CHRO, said, and to employees, "we need to extend a lot of grace."

Susan Ladika is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.

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