Published: March 12, 2020

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Contact: Ben Morris,, 703-338-9650


SEIU 503 Issues Guidance to Employers, Government and Policy Makers on Protecting Working Families During COVID-19 Pandemic 

Portland, OR – This week many institutions are taking serious steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We’ve seen school closures, cancelation of large events, and some employers moving completely to remote working arrangements. Such actions, while important steps in preventing the spread of disease, have a huge impact on working families, and there are a lot of unanswered questions.

Today our Union is issuing guidance to employers, government agencies and policy makers on how to take working people into perspective when making decisions. These recommendations include broad principles to guide decisions as well as specific recommendations, which may not apply to all employment situations.

This crisis has laid bare shortcomings in most workplace policies around leave, staffing and equipment supplies. It’s exposed critical shortcomings in our long-term care and health care systems, where workers do not have the luxury of not working, and a staff quarantine can put vulnerable populations as workforces are stretched thin.

These issues are not new or surprising. They are a part of the day-to-day lives of many working families in America.

SEIU 503 Coronavirus Recommendations for Employers, Government Agencies and Policy Makers:

  1. Employers, government and policy makers have a responsibility to protect their employees from financial hardship. If they don’t, we’re asking people to weigh their personal financial security against public health – a decision that only a bad system would ask people to make.

  2. Expand telework and leave policies: 1) All requests for telework should be “presumed to be accepted” unless specifically denied within a reasonable time frame. 2) Administrative leave – that is leave covered by the employer not the employee – should be used to cover quarantines and worksite closures. 3) Employers should also stop using any absences from work due to illness for coronavirus or flu-like symptoms to support disciplinary actions.

  3. If people have to go into work, provide them with the right equipment. Employees designated as essential staff, who cannot telework, should be provided all necessary and recommended safety equipment if required to work during an active outbreak of coronavirus.

  4. Help employees find childcare. In the event that schools are closed and employees have to miss work to provide childcare, employers should allow their employees to use any accrued leave to cover time missed.

  5. Communicate about preventative measures and exposure to the virus. Many employers have sent out fact sheets and information about preventative measures. That’s encouraged, but not sufficient. If there is a concern that an employee has been exposed to the novel coronavirus, the employee’s manager should notify the employee, employees that share space with that person, and their union.

  6. Sign Letters of Agreement with your union, if you have one. Employers should codify the steps they’re taking to protect employees in LOAs, short-term agreements that deal with issues not covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

As a union of care providers, we also have specific guidance for homecare and facility-based care programs.

  1. Facility-based care providers need to have access to supplies that allow them to do their jobs without being unnecessarily exposed to the coronavirus or exposing the vulnerable population they serve. Workers should be supplied with all necessary and recommended safety equipment.

  2. Government agencies and private employers operating homecare programs need to understand that this work is fundamentally different than facility-based work. They need to develop plans that are specific to this population of workers, taking into account the lack of a central worksite.

  3. Tailor communications to the care sector. In all parts of the long-term care sector, it’s the responsibility of agencies and employers to recognize the deep emotional connection between families, consumers and workers. In many cases, people are literally afraid for the life of a loved one. Communications about the coronavirus should be specifically tailored to the audience to take this into account.

SEIU 503 is communicating these guidelines to our employers this week and working with leaders in our union to push for rapid action.