Menendez, Senate Dems Call on Employers to Offer Flexibility in Event of Coronavirus Outbreak

Menendez, Senate Dems Call on Employers to Offer Flexibility in Event of Coronavirus Outbreak

Workers should not be penalized for following guidance from public health authorities

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez today joined with 14 Senate colleagues in urging major U.S. employers to commit that workers will not be penalized for following recommended health procedures in order to protect the public from further spread of the coronavirus.

In a letter to major industry groups, which together represent thousands of companies employing millions of Americans, the Senators wrote: “As the United States mobilizes to respond to the recent outbreak and spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, we write to urge your member companies to prioritize their employees’ health, economic well-being, and security during this response. The companies you represent are some of the largest, most high profile companies in the United States.  The broader business community watches their actions closely and we believe they have an opportunity, and an obligation, to lead in this moment.”

“No one should be penalized by their employer or put in any financial duress for following CDC guidance,” the Senators continued. “To that end, we encourage your member companies to commit to ensure that any employees or contractors who follow novel coronavirus-related guidance from public health authorities can count on basic protections like preservation of their employment status and basic financial forbearance.”  

Specifically, the Senators called on employers to:

  • Ensure that workers will not lose their jobs if they are forced to self-quarantine or stay home to care for a sick family member;
  • Not require employees under quarantine to deplete sick or annual leave;
  • Offer flexible scheduling options, including telework and unscheduled leave, if employees are unable to report to work;
  • Ensure workers have access to financial assistance in the event of a sustained or widespread disruption due to coronavirus;
  • And work with insurance providers to ensure that workers can affordably access preventive care and treatment for coronavirus. 

In addition to Sen. Menendez, the letter was signed by Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tim Kaine (D-Va), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ben Cardin (D-Md), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

 

The letter is below and here:

March 5, 2020

 

Joshua Bolten

President & CEO, Business Roundtable

1000 Maine Avenue, S.W., Suite 500

Washington, DC 20024

 

Thomas J. Donohue

Chief Executive Officer

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

1615 H Street, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20062

 

Jay Timmons

President and CEO

National Association of Manufacturers

733 10th Street, N.W.

Suite 700

Washington, D.C. 20001

 

Dear Mr. Bolten, Mr. Donohue, and Mr. Timmons:

As the United States mobilizes to respond to the recent outbreak and spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, we write to urge your member companies to prioritize their employees’ health, economic well-being, and security during this response.  The companies you represent are some of the largest, most high profile companies in the United States.  The broader business community watches their actions closely and we believe they have an opportunity, and an obligation, to lead in this moment. 

As you may well know, the novel coronavirus has sickened more than 93,000 people around the world, and killed more than 3,200 people to date.[1]  While this situation is rapidly evolving in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said the potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is very high and the spread of the disease in other countries shines a light on the need for a whole-of-society response.[2]  Much of the U.S. response has been appropriately focused on access to testing and medical care, with Congress poised to allocate substantial resources to fighting this virus.  The Federal Reserve has also recently made a decision to cut interest rates in an effort to address any macroeconomic impacts.  It is now vital that the broader business community follow suit by assuring workers that their own family’s economic circumstances will not be negatively impacted by this crisis.

On March 3, 2020, the CDC issued an interim guidance recommending that specific community actions be taken to limit exposure to the virus[3], on top of  previously recommended community-based interventions in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak such as school dismissals, event cancellations, social distancing, and creating employee plans to work remotely.[4]  While the spread of COVID-19 is likely to affect different individuals, families, and communities differently, it is increasingly likely that a significant number of Americans will need to practice social distancing in some way.  No one should be penalized by their employer or put in any financial duress for following CDC guidance.   

To that end, we encourage your member companies to commit to ensure that any employees or contractors who follow novel coronavirus-related guidance from public health authorities can count on basic protections like preservation of their employment status and basic financial forbearance.  In particular, we are interested in understanding how your member companies will specifically make clear that:

  • Employees will not lose their job should they have to self-quarantine or practice social distancing, or because of family obligations, such as staying home to care for a sick child or family member.
  • People who are placed under quarantine and unable to work will not be forced to deplete their sick and annual leave or report for work when such leave is exhausted. 
  • Employees will have access to flexible scheduling options, such as telework and generous previously unscheduled leave, if they are unable to report to work. 
  • Employers should ensure employees have access to financial assistance to help meet their financial obligations in the event of a sustained or widespread disruption due to COVID-19. 

In addition, we ask that member companies work with health insurance providers to ensure workers can affordably access the preventive care and treatment they may need as a result of COVID-19.  Americans should be able to take recommended measures to protect their health and that of more vulnerable members of their communities without facing negative economic consequences. 

We look forward to hearing swiftly from you about what steps your member companies will take to support their employees and limit transmission of the coronavirus without fear of negative economic consequences.  Ensuring appropriate containment of COVID-19 is a community effort, and it is imperative that Business Roundtable’s member companies lead the businesses community in prioritizing workers’ mental and physical well-being.

Further, it is our hope that your companies will also step up to ensure your contractors and the companies in your supply chain are taking these important steps.  We must ensure that workers status leaves them particularly vulnerable know that they can do what is recommended to protect themselves, their families, and the public without fear of negative consequences. 

Thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this matter.  We are anxious to hear your response.

 

Sincerely,

 

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