The emergence of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, requires organizations take steps to protect their entire workforces as much as possible and to train them to help prevent the possible spread of illness. Including contingent workers in these actions is important for everyone’s health and safety.
This is a good time to review polices with your staffing suppliers to ensure that you are both on the same page with regard to what is best for your contingents. There are those contingents who work in the warehouse, others in the office — but the polices need to be in the best interest of both the business and the workforce regardless of worker classification.
Here are some provisions for buyers of staffing services and their suppliers to ensure contingent workers stay healthy.
Office hygiene. Staffing buyers should display vantage-point posters that remind temporary workers of proper handwashing and respiratory hygiene, including coughing into a tissue or an elbow. They should also supply stands with hand disinfectant and provide disposable disinfectant towels for workers to clean their work surfaces, advises Kirk Pelikan, a partner with the law firm of Michael Best & Friedrich LLP.
Additionally, contingent workers bring the same concerns as in-house workforces regarding recent travel to possible coronavirus hot zones. “If you’ve got an individual who has been [to a place experiencing an outbreak] … it may be the instruction is, ‘we don’t want that worker during the incubation period,’” Pelikan explains. In the interests of keeping the organization safe, that might be something to bring up with your staffing provider, even if the worker in not infected. Further, details on how to handle that situation might not be in your contract, so consult counsel.
Work from home opportunity. Encourage employees with signs of illness, or possible exposure to coronavirus, to stay home and away from the workplace. Many firms are requiring all workers to telecommute, and similar precautions could be appropriate for contingent workforces.
Microsoft, for example, is asking employees to work from home, if possible, and plans to pay its vendor hourly service providers their regular pay despite reduced needs for their services, according to a blog post by Microsoft President Brad Smith. Hourly workers include those who staff cafes on Microsoft campuses, drive shuttles and support on-site tech and audio-visual needs. The policy focuses on the Puget Sound area in Washington state and Northern California, but the company is looking at how to best move forward elsewhere.
“We appreciate that what’s affordable for a large employer may not be affordable for a small business, but we believe that large employers who can afford to take this type of step should consider doing so,” Smith wrote.
Facebook appears to be following suit, TechCrunch reported.
“We are working closely with our vendors to ensure we prioritize our team’s health and safety,” Chloe Meyere, a Facebook company spokesperson wrote TechCrunch in an email. “Facebook will pay contingent workers that cannot work due to reduced staffing requirements during voluntary work from home, when we close an office, when we choose to send an employee home, or when they are sick.”
On-demand, human cloud workers. Uber and Lyft plan to compensate drivers affected by the coronavirus for up to 14 days, CNBC reported. On-demand, human cloud firms Postmates and Instacart have unveiled “no-contact” food delivery. DoorDash, meanwhile, is letting customers leave in-app instructions if they prefer orders left at the door. Amazon Flex, which taps independent contractors to make deliveries, doesn’t have a policy to compensate drivers and is instead addressing issues on an “individual, case-by-case basis.”
Review contracts carefully. But what can you do if the work requires an on-site presence, such as production-line or assembly work? This creates “unique challenges,” according to Pelikan, and necessitates a clear contract. “If an employee is in a field where it is not really possible to do that work from home, then you are not really getting that piece done,” he explains. So, buyers are turning to their suppliers to fill the gaps to get the job done.
For the staffing buyer, it also becomes a supply chain issue. Examine existing contracts as they relate to non-performance or late performance. Do these types of impacts fall into the standard insurance ‘Act of God’ type of exclusion under the contract?
“It doesn’t affect the immediate need of the worker, but we anticipate that those service contracts are, at some point, going to get back into the legalities of them and whether or not a breach of contract occurred,” Pelikan explains.
Whether or not this situation can qualify as that act of god and excuse lack of performance is still to be determined. Like coronavirus, it’s still a moving target.
SIA’s website has a list of relevant links for information relating to COVID-19 from reputable resources.
In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to help companies respond to COVID-19. The guidance provides suggestions regarding employee communications, screening and monitoring sick employees, travel, environmental cleaning, the development of business continuity plans and other topics.