Some large retailers maintaining pay, benefits for store staff amid temporary closures

While many retailers are maintaining pay and benefits for their store-based staff amid temporary closures caused by the coronavirus crisis, what about employees who are still coming into work and serving the public?

Loblaw Companies Ltd. is stepping up. Following discussions with the United Food and Commercial Workers union, it’s adding $2 to the hourly wages of frontline employees across the country.

“The commitment shown by UFCW Canada members to their communities as frontline workers to provide safe, high-quality food and essential goods throughout this situation has been truly amazing,” said Paul Meinema, UFCW Canada’s national president, in a press release. “We commend Loblaw for showing leadership on this wage increase and call on other employers to follow this important example.”

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Just 10 per cent of Canadian employers surveyed by Willis Towers Watson last week said they’re exploring options to specially compensate employees who come to work when others won’t, including situational overtime and extra paid time off to be used at a later date.

“Most organizations have not yet established new practices to recognize the efforts of employees who stay at work to carry on operations while other employees are unable to work,” said Darcy Clark, director of rewards at Willis Towers Watson. “We expect this critical area will get more attention in the coming weeks.”

The survey also found the majority (84 per cent) of Canadian employers are planning to pay hourly workers who have to be quarantined after testing positive for coronavirus, while 52 per cent said they’d keep paying these employees if the workplace experienced a mandated closure.

Indeed, as many retailers across Canada temporarily shutter their bricks-and-mortar stores due to the coronavirus, some are announcing they’ll maintain employees pay.

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Hudson’s Bay Co. announced it was closing stores on March 17 for two weeks and will reassess the situation at the end of this month. “The health and well-being of our associates, customers and communities is our top priority, and remains at the forefront as we make decisions in this rapidly evolving situation” said Iain Nairn, the company’s president, in a press release. “This is the right thing to do as we all work together to stay healthy and limit the spread of the virus.”

Hudson’s Bay said it will pay store associates for all scheduled shifts that were planned for the two week closure, said the release.

Indigo Books & Music Inc. has taken similar steps, closing its stores until at least March 27. “Please be assured that we are committed to doing all we can to support our employees during this difficult time, including full pay to our teams for their scheduled shifts during the closure period,” said Heather Reisman, chief executive officer of Indigo, in a press release.

Meanwhile, Nordstrom Inc. also shuttered its Canadian stores for two weeks, and said it will provide pay and benefits to store employees during the closure.

With so much uncertainty around the pandemic, particularly the length of time it will last, it begs the question of how long these employers will continue to pay their staff. According to the Willis Towers Watson survey, most respondents intend to continue to pay hourly workers for 10 to 15 days.

In a mandated closure scenario, 85 per cent of employers said they’ll pay staff 100 per cent of their current rate. And 45 per cent of respondents said they’ll pay employees who must quarantine themselves either 100 per cent or less of their current rate, without employees having to draw on any of their paid time off.

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