How Employers can Support Essential Workers During a Pandemic

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It is not easy to be a front-line worker these days and their employers face challenges as well. Employers who have essential workers must find a way to keep their staff safe and healthy while continuing business operations. Here are a few things employers can do to address this by focusing on when and how employees get to work during and after quarantine ends.

Re-thinking driving: Why driving alone is not the best solution

While the desire to encourage driving seems to be the easiest solution to maintain social distancing, there are also parking limitations both in the number of available spots as well as the cost borne by employees. Furthermore, not all employees own or have access to vehicles to drive to work. As a result, many continue to rely on other forms of transportation such as public transit or active travel (walking, running, scooting, cycling) for their commutes.  

Looking into the future, as non-essential workplaces re-open, many transportation experts expect that there will be a surge in congestion as more workers opt to drive instead of using other ways of getting to work. We at pointA have done a lot of work understanding the environmental, economic and health impacts of congestion caused by driving and encourage both employers as well as those returning to work to explore alternatives to driving alone.

However, until we have better scientific evidence that helps us better understand how we can effectively prevent the spread of the virus, employers have a few options to support their staff that balance the need for physical distancing with the need to come into the workplace.

Rethinking time: Flex time, changing shift times, and compressing workweeks

Given the uncertainty around daily commutes, the main factor that employers can control is when employees are expected to start work. Some workplaces require that employees start work at a certain time and tardiness can have serious performance implications. Relaxing these strict start times and giving employees either the flexibility to determine their own work hours or a wider range of times when employees can start work is a great way to support employees during this unprecedented time.

For those who have shift times, increasing the number of shift times can reduce the number of employees who show up at any one time and allow employees to come to work outside of rush hours, which reduces the spread or risk of contracting COVID-19. For example, if there are three standard shift time starts between 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., perhaps you can now stagger employees so that a new shift time begins every 15 minutes. This means there are fewer employees coming into work at the same time, possibly sharing the same space, and makes it easier to implement any health and safety measures.

Finally, organizations can also consider introducing compressed or variable workweek policies, taking the lead from the Canadian government. Employees can work longer hours while in office and take the rest of the time off. This reduces the number of people who are working in office at any one time and as such, the risk of exposure and spread of the virus. A reduced workweek would allow typical 40-hour workweek employees to work 10 hours a day for four days, taking the fifth day off. Employees can further compress their workweeks as long as they adhere to the Canadian Labour Standards Regulation.

Rethinking incentives: Financially supporting front-line workers

One of the most practical ways employers can support front-line employees is financial in nature. Employers can consider providing a taxable benefit to their essential staff to reimburse them for their travel expenses. Such a benefit can also be tied to specific outcomes, such as encouraging the use of sustainable transportation and can be measured so that employee efforts count towards corporate sustainability goals. We can help you design a solution that works well through the Smart Commute program.  

If this poses a challenge financially, employers can provide teams with personal protective equipment such as facial masks and gloves as they travel to and from work. This is a tangible way to show that your organization cares about the health and safety of employees as they continue to work.

All of the supports listed above can be easily implemented and do not necessarily cost a lot more but they help you show your appreciation and support for your team in tangible and overt ways while also ensuring that operations can continue and meet the sustainability goals that you may have.

We are working on developing new ways to help support employers and their staff through the Smart Commute program as they navigate the realities of operating a business during COVID-19. Contact us to learn more about how we can help.

Photo by Makenna Entrikin on Unsplash

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