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"Essential" Workers Deserve Extra Support

Posted Aug 12, 2020 09:55 AM
For the past several months, many organizations have had to make difficult decisions regarding who should or shouldn’t return to their physical workspace.

Please review our discussion on what to do when crafting back-to-work policies for a refresher.

However, organizations that provide services that cannot be delivered remotely – such as healthcare, human services, food security, mental health, crisis response, domestic violence, etc. – face a unique challenge in how they support these “essential” workers. This is especially tricky because women and people of color are disproportionately in this category, putting them at heightened risk of exposure to COVID-19 and other dangers. Many of them are also working parents with few childcare options and the least positional authority/upward mobility. Add to that they are often paid less than their “non-essential” counterparts who can still work from home.

So what do we do to stop ourselves from perpetuating the very institutionalized problems we claim to be fighting against? Here’s what we can do:

  • Engage in dialogue with stakeholders most affected. Foster a dialogue with the people who will be impacted most by reopening. A commitment to equity means giving everyone a chance to have their voice heard. Expect discomfort and not having all the answers.
  • Invest in childcare, workplace health, and safety. Make sure your health and safety standards are caught up with current guidelines. You can pool resources with other organizations to collaboratively access limited PPE supplies. Shift your legislative advocacy activities to prioritize increased financial support for childcare providers and workplace safety for essential workers.
  • Rethink your fair compensation policies. Incorporate a true cost of living, income disparity, and living wage analysis into your compensation reviews. We must shift our thinking away from “nonprofit scarcity.”
  • Retool other benefits. Provide hazard pay, dependent care subsidies, and/or 100% employer-paid short-term and long-term disability insurance. Health insurance can be funded on a progressive cost-sharing model based on income tiers. You can offset high deductibles through employer direct payments into HSAs. Other ideas include a minimum 10% retirement match, professional development, mentoring, advancement opportunities, student loan repayment assistance, and tuition reimbursements.
  • Understand that this is a DEI issue. Ingrained in this discussion is the fact that staff who are socially disadvantaged will be the ones most affected by returning to work. This requires you to go beyond ensuring EEO compliance and addressing implicit bias and move towards affirmatively adjusting for historical (and current) socio-economic disparities to achieve fair workplace outcomes. Nonprofit leaders have a duty to step up their commitment to DEI work so that our organizations mirror the kind of society we want to create.
  • Listen to and believe the voices of staff from marginalized communities. Trust your team and your process by engaging them with humility, grace, and the willingness to change.

Learn more about incorporating DEI policies such as the ones outlined above by partnering with our HR Services team. Our HR Quick Consult services provide affordable assistance at $25 per 15-minute increment, with a 25% discount for organizations with budgets below $1.5 million. Email hrconsults@501commons.org to get started.