Coronavirus Is Transforming the Workforce: What You Should Know
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.
If you’ve lost your job or your employment status has changed, you may be eligible for COVID-19 unemployment or sick leave benefits.
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
Claims for unemployment are the highest ever and are expected to continue to rise, at least for the short-term. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that for the week ending May 16, 2020, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 2.43 million claims. The total number of unemployment claims for the last nine weeks was about 38.6 million, and the April 2020 unemployment rate was 14.7%.
Global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. reports that U.S.-based employers announced plans to cut 671,929 jobs in April 2020. This is up 202% from the 222,288 cuts announced in March. April is the highest month for job cut announcements since January 2002, when 248,475 cuts were announced.
These cuts are in the entertainment, transportation, and technology industries. More job losses are expected due to canceled events and conferences, travel cutbacks, and concerns about health and the economy.
LinkedIn reports that "Layoffs tied to the economic slump caused by the coronavirus pandemic are starting to appear across the workforce, with reports coming in from the shipping, retail, and travel sectors."
Some airlines, including United, American Airlines, and Delta, have implemented a hiring freeze, delayed training, or cut routes due to a decline in demand. However, the Wall Street Journal reports that “efforts to maintain business continuity might benefit job candidates with experience in videoconferencing, customer connectivity and other remote-work tools.”
Also on the positive side, Glassdoor reports that job postings are increasing rapidly for candidates with the required skills to contain and respond to the outbreak. The volume of job openings correlates to the states with the highest incidence of coronavirus.
Some jobs are booming, and employers have ramped up hiring. Online shopping and delivery services are adding thousands of new employees, and essential services like healthcare and warehousing are also rapidly hiring.
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.
Some companies, including Uber, Walmart, Instacart, Lyft, and Darden Restaurants, are expanding 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, are setting up relief funds for contractors and service partners who are impacted by COVID-19.
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 going to be freezing or slowing down hiring.
Some companies are stopping all in-person interviews, 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. According to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, at least 28 companies have taken some sort of action due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Sixteen companies have offered their workers remote work options, and others are testing the possibility.
Some companies are even making it easy for their employees to work remotely. Shopify is offering 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.
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.
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.
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.
SHRM. "Coronavirus: How Employers Around the Globe Are Responding." Accessed March 13, 2020.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Employment Situation Summary." Accessed May 8, 2020.
Department of Labor. "Unemployment Weekly Claims." May 21, 2020.
Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "April 2020 Job Cuts Report: Highest Single-Month Total on Record." Accessed May 7, 2020.
Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. "2020 March Job Cut Report: 222,288 Cuts Announced in March." Accessed April 2, 2020.
LinkedIn. "Layoffs Start Appearing." Accessed March 20, 2020.
ABC News. "Airlines slash flights, freeze hiring as virus cuts travel." Accessed March 13, 2020.
The Wall Street Journal. "Coronavirus, Market Woes Damp Hopes of IT Hiring Comeback." Accessed March 13, 2020.
Glassdoor. "U.S. Coronavirus Outbreak-Related Job Postings Triple in Last Week." Accessed March 13, 2020.
The New York Times. "Walmart, Uber and Others Tweak Sick-Leave Policies as Coronavirus Spreads." Accessed March 13, 2020.
CNBC. "Amazon launches $25 million relief fund for delivery drivers and seasonal employees amid coronavirus outbreak." Accessed March 13, 2020.
CareerOneStop. "Unemployment Benefits Finder." Accessed March 19, 2020
Washington State. Employment Security Department. "For Workers and Businesses Affected by COVID-19 (Coronavirus)." Accessed March 13, 2020.
Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House. "Pelosi Statement on Senate Passage of House’s Families First Coronavirus Response Act." Accessed March 18, 2020.
U.S. Department of Labor. "U.S. Department of Labor Announces New Guidance On Unemployment Insurance Flexibilities During Covid-19 Outbreak." Accessed March 19, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "People at Risk for Serious Illness from COVID-19." Accessed March 13, 2020.
CNBC. "Shopify is giving employees a $1,000 stipend to buy supplies while they work from home during coronavirus pandemic." Accessed March 13, 2020.
Florida Department of Health. "2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)." Accessed March 13, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Steps to Prevent Illness." Accessed March 13, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "What to Do if You Are Sick." Accessed March 13, 2020.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers." Accessed March 13, 2020.
U.S. Department of Labor. "Family and Medical Leave Act." Accessed March 13, 2020.
U.S. Department of Labor. "Sick Leave." Accessed March 13, 2020.
Congress.gov. "H.R.6201 - Families First Coronavirus Response Act." Accessed March 19, 2020.
National Conference of State Legislatures. "Paid Sick Leave." Accessed March 13, 2020.
U.S. Department of Labor. "State Unemployment Insurance Benefits." Accessed March 13, 2020.
U.S. Department of Labor. "U.S. Department of Labor Announces New Guidance On Unemployment Insurance Flexibilities During Covid-19 Outbreak." Accessed March 14, 2020.
SHRM. "States May Expand Jobless Benefits During Pandemic." Accessed March 16, 2020.
State of California. EDD. "Coronavirus 2019 FAQs." Accessed March 13, 2020.