March 5, 2020

U.S. Senators Call on Employers to Offer Workers Flexibility in the Event of Widespread Coronavirus Outbreak

Reed & Whitehouse say workers should not be penalized for following guidance from public health authorities

WASHINGTON, DC – In the event that workers are directed on medical advice to self-isolate because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse are strongly urging major U.S. employers to commit that workers will not be penalized for following recommended health procedures to protect the public from further spread of the coronavirus.

In a letter to major industry groups signed by Reed, Whitehouse, U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) and 13 U.S. Senators, the Senators wrote: “As the United States mobilizes to respond to the recent outbreak and spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, we write to urge your member companies to prioritize their employees’ health, economic well-being, and security during this response. The companies you represent are some of the largest, most high profile companies in the United States.  The broader business community watches their actions closely and we believe they have an opportunity, and an obligation, to lead in this moment.”

The letter, which was directed to organizations that represent thousands of major companies employing millions of Americans, noted: “No one should be penalized by their employer or put in any financial duress for following CDC guidance. To that end, we encourage your member companies to commit to ensure that any employees or contractors who follow novel coronavirus-related guidance from public health authorities can count on basic protections like preservation of their employment status and basic financial forbearance.”

Specifically, the Senators called on employers to:

  • Ensure that workers will not lose their jobs if they are forced to self-quarantine or stay home to care for a sick family member;
  • Not require employees under quarantine to deplete sick or annual leave;
  • Offer flexible scheduling options, including telework and unscheduled leave, if employees are unable to report to work;
  • Ensure workers have access to financial assistance in the event of a sustained or widespread disruption due to coronavirus;
  • And work with insurance providers to ensure that workers can affordably access preventive care and treatment for coronavirus.

“Rhode Island state law provides five days of paid leave, but people could be out for longer.  That’s why we’re urging employers to be proactive, communicate clearly with workers, and be as flexible as possible because we are dealing with a lot of unknowns.  Corporate America needs to step up and put employee safety and the public health first.  If big companies don’t fairly compensate workers who are following the CDC’s advice, then the spread of coronavirus could intensify, lengthen, and cost everybody more in the long run,” said Senator Reed.

“We all have an urgent responsibility to protect the health of the larger community right now,” said Senator Whitehouse.  “That means, whenever possible, allowing workers to stay home without fear of losing their job or going without any income at all.  Most Rhode Islanders have five days of sick leave under state law, but we are asking businesses to lead in this crisis by being as flexible as possible beyond that baseline.” 

In addition to Warner, Reed, and Whitehouse, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Doug Jones (D-AL), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

Copies of the letter were sent to the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.



Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921