Coronavirus Is Transforming the Workforce: What You Should Know

Workstations in empty office
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Coronavirus (COVID-19) is rapidly transforming the workplace and how work is being done. From updated leave policies to asking all possible employees to work from home, employers are implementing a variety of strategies to manage the impact of coronavirus on the workforce.

Workforce Changes Due to Coronavirus

Here’s a guide to how coronavirus is changing today’s workplace and how it impacts job applicants, employees, and laid-off workers. 

Job Cuts, Layoffs & Unemployment

The unemployment rate was 5.4% and nonfarm payroll employment rose by 943,000 in July 2021. The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was about 3.4 million, accounting for 39.3% of the total unemployed.

The unemployment rates declined in July for adult men (5.4%), adult women (5%), Whites (4.8%), Blacks (8.2%), and Hispanics (6.6%). The jobless rates for teenagers (9.6%) and Asians (5.3%) showed little change.

Hiring Gains

Some jobs are booming despite the pandemic, and employers have ramped up hiring.  Job growth in July was led by gains in leisure and hospitality, in local government, education, and in professional and business services. 

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Workplace Initiatives

The federal and state governments and private sector employers are providing benefits to workers impacted by the coronavirus to provide a safe working environment and avoid economic hardship. Companies are also changing workflows to keep employees safe.

Employer Initiatives

Some companies, including Uber, Walmart, Instacart, Lyft, and Darden Restaurants, have expanded the benefits they provide by offering sick leave and paid time off to workers who otherwise wouldn’t qualify. Both ill and quarantined workers may be eligible, depending on the company.

Other employers, including Amazon, have set up relief funds for contractors and service partners who are impacted by COVID-19. 

State Initiatives

State Departments of Labor in highly impacted states are providing expanded unemployment benefits to laid-off workers and are relaxing the work search requirements for employees who are ill or in quarantine. States are also implementing measures to help businesses. 

For example, Washington state has adopted emergency rules to relieve the burden of temporary layoffs and quarantine on workers and businesses, including changes to unemployment rules and tax filings.

Federal Government Initiatives

The federal government has passed legislation that will expand leave benefits, ensure food security, cover coronavirus testing costs, and aid small businesses.

Legislation that provides two weeks of paid sick leave and up to three months of family and medical leave, free virus testing, and additional funds for food assistance and Medicaid has been approved.

The Department of Labor has issued new guidelines outlining flexibilities that states have in administering unemployment insurance (UI) programs to help workers affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

When You're Job Searching

This is the time to focus on online job searching if you’re not doing so already. Even though some industries have been impacted, others are continuing to hire.

There are strategies you can use to keep your job search moving forward during a pandemic.

Many companies are geared to handle the application process remotely, so don’t stop your job search. Companies are still hiring, and there may be less competition when everyone is in panic mode:

  • Keep networking, especially on LinkedIn, where recruiters are actively seeking candidates.
  • Don’t stop job searching—keep your hunt for a new job moving forward.

Focus on industries that aren’t as affected by COVID-19. For example, the travel, tourism, transportation, and recreation industries are freezing or slowing down hiring.

Some companies are stopping all in-person interviews, and conducting the hiring process remotely, at least temporarily. Take some time to brush up your video interview skills and phone interview technique, so you’re prepared to make the best impression. 

If you are attending an in-person interview or a meeting, shaking hands is on the “please don’t do” list.

Be careful what you touch. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends not shaking hands or touching high-impact surfaces in public places—elevator buttons, door handles, handrails, etc. Use a tissue or your sleeve to cover your hand or finger if you must touch something. Wash your hands frequently and bring hand sanitizer with you.

Remote Work Options

Many companies are recommending employees work at home when it’s feasible. Some companies are even making it easy for their employees to work remotely. Shopify offered workers a $1000 stipend to ensure a smooth transition to working from home.

If your company doesn’t have a work-from-home policy, you may be able to ask if you can work from home at least some of the time. Many employers are inclined to be flexible when there is a crisis.

If you're trying to juggle your family and remote work, here are tips for adjusting to working from home with kids during COVID-19.

When You Can’t Work at Home

Working from home isn’t an option for many employees, but there are precautions you can take to help ensure your safety. Check your State Department of Health website for the latest warnings before you head to work.

For example, the Florida Department of Health has a hotline to call for questions, information on the number and location of cases, and guidance for businesses.

Follow the CDC guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. 
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.

What to Do When You’re Sick

If you’re sick, the most important thing you can do is stay home and restrict activities outside your home other than getting medical care. 

The CDC recommendations for employers on how to handle sick workers should make it easier for you to call in sick if you need to. They are asking employers to:

  • Actively encourage sick employees to stay home.
  • Ensure that sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies.
  • Not require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness or to return to work.
  • Maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member.

Sick Time and Sick Pay

Eligibility for sick leave from work, paid or unpaid, depends on the state you reside in and your employer.

Federal-, state-, and company-provided sick leave benefits may be upgraded if new regulations are enacted because of the coronavirus. Check with your employer for guidelines.

Federal Sick Leave

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. 

The federal government has approved emergency legislation, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, that provides expanded paid sick leave and paid family medical leave for covered employees and self-employed workers due to the coronavirus.

State Sick Leave

Some states have laws that provide sick leave benefits. Benefits and eligibility vary by location, so check with the Department of Labor in your location for guidelines on what’s available. 

Company Policy

Check your company policy on sick leave. Because of the seriousness of the coronavirus, companies are being more flexible in order to keep their workforce safe. If you’re a contract worker, check with the companies you work for to see if they have implemented a relief fund for workers. You may be eligible for benefits.

Unemployment Compensation

When you’re out of work through no fault of your own, you may be eligible for unemployment. The Federal-State Unemployment Insurance Program provides unemployment benefits to eligible workers who are unemployed through no fault of their own and who meet other eligibility requirements of state law.

The criteria for unemployment eligibility is changing as the pandemic continues, so check frequently for updates.

The U.S. Department of Labor has given states the flexibility to amend their laws to provide unemployment benefits in multiple scenarios related to COVID-19. For example, federal law allows states to pay benefits when:

  • An employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19, preventing employees from coming to work.
  • An individual is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over.
  • An individual leaves employment due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member.

In addition, some states have expanded unemployment compensation programs because of coronavirus. Employers and workers should check the appropriate state government website to see if state-specific unemployment insurance guidance is available.

For example, California provides benefits if you meet eligibility requirements and are unemployed for reasons such as the following:

  • Your hours are reduced due to the quarantine.
  • You were separated from your employer during the quarantine.
  • You are subject to a quarantine required by a medical professional or state or local health officer.

In addition, you won’t be required to look for work each week. California has also waived the one-week waiting period for those who are unemployed or disabled because of COVID-19.

Even though it’s a federal-state program, benefits are managed by the State Unemployment Agencies. Check the website for your state for details on basic and coronavirus expanded benefits, if available. You should be able to apply online for unemployment compensation.

Key Takeaways

Stay Home. If you’re sick, don’t go to work. Check with your State Department of Health for guidelines on what to do and inform your employer.

Check Eligibility for Benefits. If you’ve lost work due to the coronavirus, check your eligibility for sick leave and unemployment compensation.

Stay Safe. If you are required to work, follow the CDC protocol for preventing the spread of COVID-19.

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law.