July 11, 2020

COVID-19

How Florida businesses are responding to employees during the COVID-19 crisis

Amy Martinez | 5/27/2020

Publix, Southeastern Grocers

Lakeland-based Publix provided two weeks of additional paid sick leave for employees directly affected by the coronavirus. While not the only one to do so, Publix was more expansive in its eligibility criteria than some of its competitors. In addition to infected or self-quarantined employees, the new benefit was extended to employees who showed symptoms of COVID-19 but had not been diagnosed, as well as those caring for someone with the virus. By comparison, Kroger and Amazon-owned Whole Foods expanded paid sick leave only for workers diagnosed with the virus or placed into quarantine. Jacksonville-based Southeastern Grocers, parent company of BI-LO, Fresco y Mas, Harveys Supermarket and Winn-Dixie, held a designated shopping hour for health care professionals and first responders and, in a surprise move, picked up the shoppers' grocery tabs.

Publix installed plexiglass shields at cash registers, service counters and pharmacies to make its stores safer for customers and employees. The chain, however, drew criticism for not requiring or allowing its workers to wear masks earlier. Other measures included more frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces such as carts and door handles, reduced store hours to allow extra time for cleaning and designated shopping hours for seniors.

Theme Parks

After closing its theme parks indefinitely in mid-March, Walt Disney World held off on staff cuts for a month, paying workers while they stayed at home. In a negotiated agreement with the Service Trades Council Union, Disney began furloughing about 43,000 employees in mid-April. They won’t get paid while on furlough but will keep their medical, dental and life insurance benefits. Likewise, Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios paid full-time employees at 100% until April 19, when most workers had their workload and pay reduced to 80%. Part-time hourly employees were furloughed beginning in early May.

Darden Restaurants

In March, Orlando-based Darden added paid sick leave for hourly employees at its 1,800 restaurants. Darden, whose brands include Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse, also offered emergency pay to employees who couldn't work as many hours or shifts as usual because of lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders. In an earnings call, Darden President and CEO Gene Lee said the emergency pay would cover hourly employees for two weeks at restaurants that were closed, had their capacity restricted or been ordered to offer takeout and delivery only. Additionally, Darden canceled its quarterly dividend and plans to fully draw down a $750-million credit line.

Seacoast Bank

Many employees of Stuart-based Seacoast Bank began working from home in March. But not everyone could do that, prompting the bank's management to give "relief" bonuses of up to $1,000 each to hourly employees whose work still required them to come into the office everyday. “These bonuses will be granted to eligible associates to recognize the sacrifices they continue to make in order to serve our customers,” Seacoast Chairman and CEO Dennis Hudson wrote in a March 26 e-mail to employees. Seacoast made a profit of $98.7 million last year, up from $67.3 million in 2018.

Jackson Health System

In early April, Miami's public health network announced pay cuts and furloughs for non-clinical workers. Jackson Health CEO Carlos Migoya said executives and managers would take a pay cut of up to 20% and furloughed employees would see their hours and salaries reduced by up to 40% to help offset the financial impact of a halt in elective surgeries and other non-emergency care. A week later, however, Migoya walked back his plans to furlough staff after backlash from county commissioners, who gave preliminary approval for Jackson to seek a $150-million line of credit. Migoya said the planned furloughs were “deferred indefinitely.” Joe Arriola, chairman of the Jackson Health board, told the Miami Herald it wasn’t fair to ask hospital workers to lose pay during the pandemic when they’re being called on to lead the response. "How can I not defend them at this time?”

Sinclair Broadcast Group

While some regional sports networks continued to pay their game producers, camera operators and other freelancers for at least some missed work during the shutdown, Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcast Group offered members of the freelance crews who broadcast Tampa Bay Lightning and Rays games via Fox Sports "only a $2,500 loan — interest-free, but on an aggressive repayment schedule of $250 for each of the first 10 games worked when sports do resume," the Tampa Bay Times reported. Replay operator Greg Bryant, who, like other freelancers, is paid on a per-game basis with no health insurance, criticized the loan program as not helpful, telling the Times that it “basically makes the freelancer an indentured servant ... when sports do come back around.”

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