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Coronavirus and the Workplace: Rutgers Experts Available for Interview

PISCATAWAY, N.J. (March 6, 2020) – The coronavirus/COVID-19 outbreak is raising questions about internal communications, telecommuting, sick leave, and other policies. Workplace experts in the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations are available for interview on an ongoing basis about these and other topics at the intersection of work and health.

Ashley Conway is the former director of the Disease Surveillance and Response Division in Calvert County, Maryland. She coordinated the county’s Anthrax response in 2001 and took part in a national initiative to enhance preparedness and response to disease outbreaks in cities. She is an assistant teaching professor in the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, specializing in workplace health and safety. 

Conway said, “Delivering timely, accurate, credible information to your employees is absolutely vital. Even if you are just starting to develop a response plan, don’t wait to let your staff know that you are concerned about COVID-19 and that you’re working on it. If you aren’t sure about something, admit that you don’t know at this time. Never give misinformation. Enlist the help of experts when making difficult decisions with ethical implications. Lastly, give people something to do. Taking positive action is an antidote to fear. Ask employees to assist with cross-training and planning for widespread absences, encouraging others to stay home when sick, or implementing a messaging system to check in on sick or quarantined colleagues. Building and maintaining the trust of your employees is central to weathering any public health threat.”

Bill Castellano is a longtime HR executive and the former senior vice president of global staffing for Merrill Lynch and Company. He is a professor in the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations with specific expertise in flexible workplace policies, managing a global workforce, and human resource management strategies.

Castellano said, “A growing number of companies in financial services, pharmaceuticals, consulting, and technology are taking action on coronavirus. They are proactively giving information to employees about prevention, symptoms, and where to go for treatment, if needed. Some organizations are also revising their sick leave policies to accommodate a possible increase in usage. We are seeing more and more companies restricting international travel, postponing conferences, and expanding eligibility for employees to work from home. Typically, only designated positions with measurable objectives and limited personal contact with employees and customers are eligible for telecommuting. However, to accommodate the entire workforce, these organizations are opting for flexible scheduling, job sharing, and limited telecommuting.”

Debra Lancaster is the former chief program officer in the New Jersey Department of Children and Families. She managed healthcare initiatives for thousands of children in foster care during the swine flu outbreak of 2009. Lancaster is the executive director of Rutgers Center for Women and Work with expertise in care work and policies affecting working families.

Lancaster said, “Telecommuting is one way to prevent transmission of the virus, but it is not compatible with many low-wage jobs. Retail and food service workers, home health aides, nursing assistants, and many others have no choice but to go to work even when they’re sick. The alternative is not getting paid and potentially getting fired. Only about one-fifth of all states have paid sick leave policies on the books. The continued lack of federal paid sick leave and paid family leave policies means that millions of Americans cannot afford to stay home to take care of themselves or their loved ones, whether they have COVID-19, the seasonal flu, or any other illness.”

Yana Rodgers is an economist and faculty director of the Rutgers Center for Women and Work. She is an expert on the challenges facing low-wage workers and their families, including gender-based disparities at work and at home. Rodgers has worked regularly as a consultant for the World Bank, the United Nations, and the Asian Development Bank, and she was President of the International Association for Feminist Economics.

Rodgers said, “Since men hold many of the higher-level administrative and professional positions that are eligible for telecommuting, we could see relatively more men working from home and taking on more domestic chores and care work than they were doing before. The gendered division of work within the home has been slow to change, and the scale is still tilted toward women doing more of the work. Telecommuting as a result of the coronavirus scare may wind up acting as a major shockwave to change these gendered norms around who does the housework.”

Rebecca Kolins Givan is co-director of the Rutgers Center for Work and Health and an associate professor in the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations. She is an expert on labor in the healthcare industry and the specific issues facing nurses and their unions. Givan wrote the book, The Challenge to Change: Reforming Health Care on the Front Line in the United States and the United Kingdom (2016).

Givan said, “Healthcare workers have long demanded sufficient staffing and higher levels of preparedness, but too many hospitals were unwilling to invest in these areas. Unlike a new MRI scanner or surgical robot, preparedness has no direct impact on increasing profits under the current billing and payment system. As a result, investing in public health and employee safety is viewed as a competitive disadvantage in the U.S. healthcare marketplace. In a worst case scenario, we could see healthcare workers struggling to treat patients when there are insufficient staff. Healthcare workers will continue to contract the coronavirus themselves as long as hospitals cut corners, and staff shortages will grow ever more severe.”

Press Contact

Steve Flamisch, Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations

848.252.9011 (cell), [email protected]

About the School

The Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR) is the world’s leading source of expertise on managing and representing workers, designing effective organizations, and building strong employment relationships. 

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