This week, big tech announced that it would pay its hourly workers their regular rate during the novel coronavirus outbreak, even though there might be reduced service needs in their offices.

This week, big tech announced that it would pay its hourly workers their regular rate during the novel coronavirus outbreak, even though there might be reduced service needs in their offices.
Photo: Gerard Julien (AFP via Getty Images)

Various big tech companies announced this week that they will continue to pay hourly employees that provide their offices with much-needed services, such as food catering, security and cleaning, even as an increasing number of tech giants ask their full-time employees to work from home to contain the novel coronavirus outbreak.

According to the Verge, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Google and Twitter have all confirmed that they will continue to give their hourly employees their regular pay. This is important considering that many of these employees could see their work affected because big tech companies have asked their full-time employees to work from home, which could lead to reduced work hours and staffing requirements.

Microsoft publicly announced these measures in a blog written by its president, Brad Smith.

“We recognize the hardship that lost work can mean for hourly employees,” Smith wrote. “As a result, we’ve decided that Microsoft will continue to pay all our vendor hourly service providers their regular pay during this period of reduced service needs. This is independent of whether their full services are needed.”

As an example, Smith said that in the Puget Sound region in Washington state, the 4,500 hourly employees that work in its facilities would continue to receive their regular wages even if their work hours were reduced. Microsoft is encouraging its employees based in Seattle and San Francisco to work from home until March 25.

In a statement to TechCrunch, Facebook said that it was working closely with its vendors to ensure its team’s health and safety.

“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,” company spokesperson Chloe Meyere told the outlet.

This week, Facebook notified its 5,000 employees in the Seattle area that a contractor based in one of its offices had been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The company is encouraging all employees in the area to work from home for the rest of the month.

Amazon, meanwhile, said in a statement to Axios that it would continue to pay all the approximately 10,000 hourly employees that work at its offices in Seattle and Bellevue. The company also had an employee test positive for COVID-19 in its Seattle offices and is recommending that employees there, as well as those in the San Francisco Bay area, that are able to work from home do so until the end of the month.

“We will continue to pay all hourly employees that support our campus in Seattle and Bellevue – from food service, to security guards to janitorial staff – during the time our employees are asked to work from home,” Amazon said.

Amazon added that it would subsidize one month of rent for local small businesses that operate in its buildings to support them during this period.

The move by big tech is an important one, and is something that should be emulated by all companies that can afford it. There have been many questions and concerns about whether hourly employees in the U.S. would go to work even if they presented COVID-19 symptoms, not because they wanted to work, but simply because they couldn’t afford not to work.

There is no guarantee that employees will be paid if they show COVID-19 symptoms and are asked to stay home. The New York Times notes that federal law requires that hourly workers only be paid for the time they work. Meanwhile, salaried workers, managers and executives will usually, but not always, be paid during a business disruption.

“We appreciate that what’s affordable for a large employer may not be affordable for a small business,” Microsoft’s president said in the company blog. “But we believe that large employers who can afford to take this type of step should consider doing so.”

They should, indeed. This is by no means a perfect solution, but it’s a start. At this point, we need to ensure that people have the financial security they need in order to take a sick day if they don’t feel well—for all our sakes. Nonetheless, it’s sad that we had to wait for something like the novel coronavirus outbreak to start considering and helping those those that quite literally can’t afford to miss work, even amidst a global health crisis.

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