Coronavirus Poses Dilemma for Workers Who Risk Losing Pay

www.wsj.com

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc across the world this week. Markets have dropped precipitously, conferences have been cancelled, and private market investors are talking about RIP Good Times 2.0. The ultimate impact COVID-19 will have on the global economy will not be known for some time. However, the effects are already being acutely felt by one group in particular: hourly workers in the services industry.

3.6 million U.S. workers with no access to sick leave would face a dilemma should they get sick during the coronavirus epidemic: stay at home and see paychecks shrink, or go to work and create health risks
About 86% of U.S. workers were employed in service industries last year, up from about 60% in the 1950s, as jobs in health care and hospitality have surged in recent decades.
Companies are evaluating sick-leave policies and focusing on prevention, including improving workplace hygiene and sending a message that ill employees shouldn’t attend work, said Scott Hamilton, global managing director at human-resources consulting firm Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. Mr. Hamilton said companies that knowingly allow an employee with an infectious disease, such as Covid-19, to work could be in violation of federal workplace safety laws. He also said the virus arrived amid historically low U.S. unemployment, making it likely that companies will be more flexible in enforcing any restrictions on sick time. “With the tight labor market, most employers do not want to have to replace existing employees,” he said. “I do suspect we will see an increase in flexibility.”

While it is easy for full time employees of large multinationals to adjust their schedules, limit travel, and work from home, hourly workers don't have the same luxury. Workers are forced to choose between missing work and losing the income and potentially losing the job, or going to work and risking contracting the virus. Some companies are committing to pay hourly workers at their already scheduled rates but it is not enough.

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