While many Americans are taking paid leave or working from home to stop the spread of the coronavirus, some workplaces have still asked employees to continue to show up for work.
Despite health officials’ recommendations that employers let employees work from home, some businesses have pushed back on that policy. But a few have begun to capitulate in the wake of criticism on social media and media coverage.
Pay TV and internet provider Charter Communications said Thursday it would provide work-at-home options “to employees we believe can remain productive outside the office without endangering our obligation to provide critical services,” the company said in a statement to USA TODAY.
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Some Charter employees began voicing concerns about the inability to work from home earlier in the week on Reddit and in comments to tech news sites Gizmodo and TechCrunch. “Yes, some will have to be in the field for continuity of service, but forcing folks into the office is highly irresponsible,” wrote one commenter on Reddit.
The outcry came after a letter from Charter CEO Tom Rutledge to employees – posted on Reddit and cited by Gizmodo and TechCrunch – in which the chief executive said, “You may have heard that some companies are instituting broad remote working policies for some of their employees. While we are preparing for that possibility by geography, Charter is not doing the same today. … We provide critical communications services and we believe our approach to supporting front line employees is the right way for us to operate at this time to continue to deliver those important services to our customers.”
The Stamford, Connecticut-headquartered Charter is the No. 2 broadband and pay TV provider in the U.S. with more than 29 million Spectrum customers and about 95,000 employees.
Charter’s new plan of action also includes an additional three weeks paid leave for all employees “to be used for any COVID-19-related personal need” and “increased social distancing plans in our call centers and operations facilities. … These steps will enable our employees to continue providing essential communications services to 29 million customers, including institutions like hospitals, first responders and government facilities, which help flatten the curve and protect the country.”
Michael Saylor, CEO of co-founder of MicroStrategy in Tysons Corner, Virginia, also shifted strategies Wednesday letting employees of the business software firm choose to voluntarily work from home until at least April 3.
On Monday, Saylor had sent a memo to employees stating his opposition to “social distancing” and asked employees to report to work unless local officials had prohibited it, or they had issues with child care, The Wall Street Journal reported.
“There is undoubtedly stress on the medical system and a tragedy for the senior population, but no reason to believe it is risky for otherwise healthy people to go to work, school, or live our lives,” Saylor wrote in the memo, which the Journal reviewed. “It is soul-stealing and debilitating to embrace the notion of social distancing & economic hibernation.”
Subsequently, Saylor said, in a memo Thursday, a copy of which was given to USA TODAY, “I recognize that the tone of my messages sent Monday was off-the-mark and caused unintended confusion and discomfort. As I reflect as someone who cares deeply about MicroStrategy and its employees, it’s time for me to listen to our employees, leaders, and governments.”
MicroStrategy now encourages employees to work remotely, his memo said, “Our offices will remain open for those who need to or want to come in,” it continued.
Employees also get two additional days to use at their discretion, he said. “I understand there is great disruption to many of your day-to-day lives,” Saylor said. “Whether that be trying to work while balancing kids or caring for your elderly parents and grandparents, these can be stressful times.”
Video game GameStop is among retailers remaining open and having staffers report. The company told store managers Thursday to keep stores open even if local authorities attempt to shut them down, video game news site Kotaku reported.
“Due to the products we carry that enable and enhance our customers’ experience in working from home, we believe GameStop is classified as essential retail and therefore is able to remain open during this time,” said the memo to GameStop staff, obtained by Kotaku.
The retailer has midnight events planned for two big game releases going on sale Friday: “Doom Eternal” and “Animal Crossing: New Horizons.”
Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.