As Covid-19 cases surge and what is normally the year’s most-traveled holiday approaches, many employers are inquiring about workers’ Thanksgiving plans and urging them to celebrate with caution. Bosses say they worry family get-togethers could lead to more infections in workplaces and staffing crunches—though employment law limits how much say companies have on workers’ off-duty time.
Those legal restrictions haven’t stopped some companies from taking measures to encourage employees to limit their Covid-19 exposure over the holiday and to safeguard workplaces. Some are offering workers paid time off for potential post-Thanksgiving quarantines, while others are asking employees to sign pledges stating that they’ll keep celebrations small. Many others are issuing memos and corporate videos reminding workers of guidance from public-health authorities on avoiding large gatherings and extensive travel.
Even so, employers making such moves say that there is only so much they can do to influence employees’ Thanksgiving plans and that they will largely have to trust them to take health precautions.
“I can’t mandate what people do outside,” said Lisa Buckingham, chief people, place and brand officer at Radnor, Pa.,-based
Lincoln Financial Group.
She has been using her weekly internal videos to push for small Thanksgiving gatherings and compliance with safety recommendations. “I’m worried that we’re going to let our guard down, and this is not the year to do that.”
XPO Logistics Inc.,
a trucking and logistics provider based in Greenwich, Conn., posters in work areas remind employees that the safest way to enjoy Thanksgiving is with those in their immediate households.
Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.
is giving talking points to restaurant managers to stress in pre-shift meetings the importance of limiting the size of Thanksgiving gatherings. Outdoor apparel maker Patagonia has a travel policy that requires employees to speak with their managers to develop a return-to-work plan; some may need to quarantine for 14 days, depending on state and local requirements.
NorthShore University HealthSystem, a five-hospital system in the Chicago area that employs roughly 13,000 people, has asked staffers and community members to sign a voluntary safety promise on its website to, among commitments, keep social gatherings small. The goal, Chief Executive J.P. Gallagher says, is to encourage solidarity in safety. “It’s one dimension of our overall efforts to keep our organization well and safe, as well as being a voice in the community,” he said.
Mr. Gallagher has opened up to his team about the shift in his own Thanksgiving plans, calling off a gathering with family from Minnesota. During a Zoom meeting with 800 of the hospital system’s front-line managers this week, he urged them to be safe over Thanksgiving, though he said he trusts staff to make smart decisions. “We’re all human, and I don’t think our team members need to be lectured,” he said.
Bosses are typically within their rights to informally inquire about employees’ Thanksgiving plans but can run into legal pitfalls if they monitor employees’ social-media activity or take punitive measures based on how someone spends the day, says Todd Logsdon, co-chair of the workplace safety and catastrophe practice group at law firm Fisher Phillips. “You have to be careful about what kind of action you take,” he says.
owner of 63 local television stations, has asked staff to notify a manager if they plan to host or attend a Thanksgiving gathering not in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. Such gatherings would include celebrations with people outside an employee’s household. Staffers not following guidelines may be asked to work remotely for some time, said Ellen Crooke, a vice president of news.
Some Tegna employees have criticized the effort as an invasion of privacy. Ms. Crooke said employees aren’t forced to communicate specifics about their whereabouts. “All they need to say is, ‘I was at a gathering, and I feel like I probably shouldn’t be around other people until I’m sure that they haven’t contracted the virus,’” she said. “We have to outweigh just giving that small piece of information versus the health and life of another human being.”
If companies ask people to stay away from the workplace after traveling or spending time in large groups over Thanksgiving, Mr. Logsdon advises they offer to pay workers to stay home to avoid appearing punitive.
Drugmaker Ferring Pharmaceuticals Inc., which runs a manufacturing facility in New Jersey, is doing just that. The company has added a new benefit, allowing workers to take up to a two-week paid quarantine, if needed, after traveling for Thanksgiving or other winter holidays.
“We don’t want them to make a poor health decision to get back to work,” said Ayana Champagne, the drugmaker’s U.S. chief human-resources officer. Those who can do their jobs remotely would be expected to work during the quarantine period.
Even companies where workers are still largely remote are preaching holiday caution. This week, credit-card giant
Discover Financial Services
advised employees working from home to wait 14 days after the last day of contact with extended family or friends, if possible, before coming into the office, should they need to pick up items. If employees test positive, they are asked to report that result and the company temporarily shuts off their badges to restrict office access.
“We’re only halfway through this at best,” said Andy Eichfeld, the company’s chief human resources and administrative officer, of the pandemic. “It’s still deadly.”
Write to Chip Cutter at email@example.com and Anne Steele at Anne.Steele@wsj.com
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
How are you tailoring your Thanksgiving plans this year? Join the conversation below.
Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8