US businesses 'clamouring' for guidance on fast-moving Covid-19 crisis, survey finds

Flash survey of corporate America finds companies are scrambling for information on federal, state and local legislative updates
Sign at a California high school announces closure

A California school announces its closure from 16 March: companies are struggling to keep pace with the escalating Covid-19 crisis Shutterstock

US companies are clamouring for guidance on the federal, state and local government responses to the coronavirus pandemic as they implement a range of measures to mitigate its impact, according to research from US law firm Seyfarth.

The survey, which closed on Monday (16 March), found nearly 85% of the respondents encouraging employees to work from home in some or all parts of the country, and more than 65% taking steps to create an ability for employees to be able to work from home who do not normally do so. 

However, the research also revealed that companies were struggling to keep pace with the fast-moving situation, with nearly 70% of respondents continuing to require or newly requiring medical sign-offs for return to work, despite government concerns about overtaxing already busy medical offices with such authorisations.

And as schools and child care centres across the US shut down, just under half of companies said they were providing leave to employees who need to look after their children with a further 32% saying they were unsure of the legal requirements. A fifth of respondents said they are not providing leave in those circumstances.    

More than 550 companies took part in the study, with 19 respondents reporting that a US employee in their organisation had tested positive for Covid-19 before the survey closed.

'During these difficult and fast-moving times where every day holds unprecedented, wide-scale actions that demand immediate response from employers, many of the early answers likely would be different today,' the firm said in its commentary on the research. 'Even so, our survey serves as a brief snapshot in time that points to interesting insights and trends. 

'Perhaps most importantly, survey respondents indicated they were clamouring for guidance, including information on federal, state, and local legislative updates; policy and benefits guidance; crisis communication support; and benchmarking.' 

Just 36% of companies said they were actively encouraging all employees who are able to work remotely to stay at home in order to avoid or minimise contact with others. Some 42% of respondents said they would allow it, but only on a case-by-case basis, while 6% said they would allow it, but only if their employees were based in a Covid-19 hotspot. Another 16% said they were not actively encouraging employees to work from home.

Companies where employees are not usually able to work from home said they are taking steps to make that possible, with 67% of respondents already making progress and a further 23% indicating they are planning to do so in future. Only 10% said it was not practical or possible for their employees to work from home.

Almost three-quarters of companies said they were providing paid or unpaid leave to employees who are self-quarantining in response to the pandemic, while 19% said they were unsure of the legal requirements. 

In the event that Covid-19 causes work stoppages or quarantines, 41% of companies said they would or are already continuing to pay wages, even if not earned. More than a quarter said they are not paying wages in the event of stoppages or quarantines, with 13% saying they had not considered it. Another 19% were unsure of the legal requirements.

A small number of companies (12%) said they were planning to provide extra benefits to those employees impacted by coronavirus where work had slowed down or stopped, or during quarantines. Some of those benefits include donation of leave from other employees, increased sick days, paid parking and meals, and subsidised Covid-19 testing.

The survey was conducted between 12 and 16 March with responses from across the US with every 'imaginable industry' represented. Nearly 60% of respondents answered on behalf of employers with 500 or more employees.

Seyfarth is among dozens of firms across the world to have established a Covid-19 resource centre.

Further reading on the Covid-19 pandemic

Staff welfare, supply chain and privacy: the coronavirus-related issues keeping GCs awake at night

'I have realised how powerful technology now is': an Italian lawyer's take on Covid-19

Coronavirus risk may be unprecedented, but the fundamental principles of crisis response still apply

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