How Employers Can Advocate for Vulnerable Employees

How Employers Can Advocate for Vulnerable Employees

By Tricia O'Connor

As businesses begin to reopen and explore alternative operations plans, the effects of this pandemic on vulnerable populations are becoming increasingly visible.

  • Women are being forced out of the labor force to handle home duties
  • Employees of color are disproportionately affected
  • Immunocompromised people are fearful of returning to the office

Here’s why some employees are more vulnerable than others and how employers can help them return to work – or maintain their jobs – with dignity.

Working Mothers

Several newspapers recently published articles highlighting the new plight of a generation of working mothers. It reports that during this pandemic working women have carried a larger share of household and child care responsibilities, and have been more likely to lose a job.

Here’s the most recent evidence: In April, the unemployment rate for women increased to almost 3 percentage points above the rate for men — 16.2 percent compared with 13.5 percent, according to an Institute for Women’s Policy Research analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data.

For those working women still fortunate to have a job, the uncertainty surrounding schools and daycares reopening is forcing many of them to voluntarily leave the labor force. The latest economic research shows women provide nearly 70 percent of child care among married couples who both have full-time standard working hour jobs.

If women do leave their jobs, they often have a harder time getting back in, and they reduce their earning potential if they do try to reenter the work force. This vicious cycle perpetuates pre-existing wage inequality and occupational segregation.

What Employers Can Do:

Providing flexible working hours for multitasking moms (and dads) is a start. You may consider loosening time-based standards for working mothers, and instead focusing on output and completion of objectives. Allowing fathers to also work from home also helps retain female employees. Men who work remotely do about 50 percent more child care than men who can’t, finds one leading researcher.

Employees of Color

The coronavirus is infecting and killing black Americans at a disproportionately high rate. Hispanic women’s unemployment reached about 20 percent in May. Black and brown workers are overrepresented in “essential” roles putting them at increased exposure risk. Then, of course, there are the heightened tensions and pleas for racial equity following George Floyd’s death.

Consider this as well: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fewer black and brown employees have the option to telework during this pandemic:

  • 37% of Asian workers
  • 9% of Caucasian workers
  • 7% of Black workers
  • 2% of Latinx workers

This means more employees of color must show up to work.

The Asian American community has also been targeted with racism during COVID-19, in part, experts say, because of the origin of the virus. Reports of racial slurs, assaults, hate crimes, and xenophobic speech have all risen through the pandemic.

What Employers Can Do:

The Harvard Business Review points to three ways employers can support people of color (click the link for a more thorough breakdown).

  1. Have meaningful conversations that address all layers of a person’s identity – race, individual needs, and unique support
  2. Provide tailored organizational support, communications, and spaces that acknowledge disparate impacts and experiences
  3. Investigate corporate social responsibility (CSR) measures that can directly improve the lives of the vulnerable populations impacted by a crisis


The coronavirus pandemic has understandably provoked intense feelings of anxiety and stress for people with underlying health conditions, those who are immunocompromised, people on certain medications, and other chronic health issues. As we now know, COVID-19 is a brutal, unrelenting virus that is easily transmitted and fatal for many.

Some employees may not have a chronic health condition, but they may care for, or live with, someone who does. Additionally, you may have employees who are part of the Sandwich Generation – caring simultaneously for young children and parents. The coronavirus is known for disproportionately killing older people and using kids as asymptomatic carriers.

The mental stress this virus is causing on these communities of workers may make them scared to return to work. They are worried for their physical and emotional safety, and may be asking these questions:

  • Is it safe?
  • Will I stay healthy?
  • Will my friends and colleagues come back?
  • What rules do I need to follow?

What Employers Can Do:

Showing empathy for your employees’ concerns is an important piece in reassuring them you’re taking their worries seriously. Just like your other vulnerable populations, employees who are scared to go back to the office need their feelings validated and assurances their physical health will be cared for.

The Society of Human Resource Management recommends supporting these high-risk employees three ways. First, allow flexible work schedules and environments. Consider keeping some staff remote or using hybrid work weeks or shifts. Second, implement physical distancing and workplace safety plans that meet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance. Third, research the latest findings and recommendations and then communicate appropriate, timely information and action plans to your employees. Employees feel less anxious and stressed when they feel adequately informed and that their employer is taking responsive steps to meet their needs.

EBI Cares

EBI understands the return to work hurdles employers face as they recover from COVID-19. And we want you to know you’re not alone. We’re all seeking answers and our goal is to always advocate for your business goals. Let us know how we can help you.

Get to know EBI and email us, connect with us on our LinkedIn page, or speak with one of our experts.

About the Author

Tricia O'Connor

Tricia O'Connor

Writer. Digital marketer. Storyteller. An award-winning writer and editor, Tricia O'Connor is the Marketing Content Manager at EBI. Tricia worked as a broadcast and print journalist for nearly two decades writing and producing programming for high-profile networks like ESPN Radio, History Channel, and Hallmark Channel, as well as contributing editorial work to publications nationwide. Tricia joined the EBI marketing team in 2019 and is responsible for content strategy, development, and engagement. Tricia earned a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and is a proud undergraduate alumna of Wheaton College in Massachusetts.

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