Public Sector Employer Challenges During a Pandemic

I have been talking to libraries, fire departments, municipalities, and counties. Most have challenges that run the gamut from laying off or furloughing employees to making sure they have sufficient first responders to handle the emergent issues that arise each day. Also, they must respond to the ever-growing needs of their communities during this time. I see heroic efforts every day, and I am humbled.

Lean on Employers Council

It is important, now more than ever, that our public sector members get the help they need from Employers Council. We have COVID-19 resources on our member home page, and we have staff well acquainted with your needs, which can answer the many questions that you have. We have some understanding of what you are faced with, and we are here to help.

Furloughs and Layoffs

When it comes to furloughs, remember that the Fair Labor Standards Act regulations have specific sections applying to the public sector. Under these rules, if exempt employees have wages cut during certain workweeks, the employer will need to pay overtime if the employee works more than 40 hours a week.

Right now, for those cutting hours or positions, employees are entitled to unemployment benefits, and those are likely to be more robust than in the past. It is important to notify employees that they are entitled to unemployment benefits so that they can count on an income stream.

Employees who cannot work due to COVID-19

Public sector employers are subject to the provisions of the Family First Coronavirus Response Act, even though they do not receive tax subsidies like private-sector employers. It is also true that public sector employers are covered if they have one employee. This would mean that the employer must follow the law if it has 500 employees or more, unlike the limit in the private sector.

First Responders

First responders are likely to be working more, rather than less, during the pandemic. While job security may not be an issue, other issues may arise. The CDC has specific information for first responders and states:

Responders experience stress during a crisis. When stress builds up, it can cause:

  • Burnout– feelings of extreme exhaustion and being overwhelmed.
  • Secondary traumatic stress– stress reactions and symptoms resulting from exposure to another individual’s traumatic experiences, rather than from exposure directly to a traumatic event.

Coping techniques, like taking breaks, eating healthy foods, exercising, and using the buddy system, can help prevent and reduce burnout and secondary traumatic stress. Recognize the signs of both of these conditions in yourself and other responders to be sure those who need a break or need help can address these needs.

Reminding those who manage first responders of what needs to be done to prevent burnout and trauma might be helpful when the crisis becomes more acute.

Employers Council is learning alongside you during this very difficult time. We know you are on the front lines, and we know you need support. If there are actions we can do to help, please let us know.