Our new ranking, developed in conjunction with research partner JUST Capital, assesses how well the 100 largest employers among U.S. public companies mobilized to meet the challenges of the coronavirus.
As the pandemic swept through the nation, America’s businesses had to reevaluate their approach to everything from their employees and customers to the greater community. Many shut offices and shifted work online; others overhauled sick leave and dependent care policies; some increased pay or gave bonuses. For at least a time, the paramount concern for most corporations was not just profit and the bottom-line.
The new Forbes Corporate Responders ranking assesses how well the 100 largest employers among U.S. public companies responded to the public health crisis. It is a snapshot in time, analyzing companies’ policies from mid-March through May 7 across 22 categories, from relaxed attendance policies to community relief funds, on a rising scale of 1 to 5. The numbers were then averaged into an overall composite score. Verizon came out on top with a score of 3.87.
These companies are not free of controversies. Some have been criticized for ending policies, such as “hero” pay, too soon. Others are facing lawsuits for wrongful death of workers or allegedly failing to safeguard the health of staff and customers. Perhaps a bigger question is whether the policy changes brought out by Covid-19 will be temporary or have a lasting impact on corporate America. Only time will tell.
The largest U.S. wireless carrier by subscribers has instituted one of the most expansive sick leave policies of big employers. It also scored top marks for backup dependent care and efforts to help surrounding communities. As of early May, the company had not laid off any of its roughly 135,000 employees. By the end of April, the New York City-based company had committed over $54 million in contributions and donations to nonprofits. “When it comes to our work in the society, helping communities, that’s also extremely important right now,” said Verizon CEO Hans Erik Vestberg in April. “Large corporations need to take the responsibility.”
• Offered extra compensation for full-time employees still working in the field or offices.
• Held back on cutting service for customers struggling to pay because of the pandemic.
• Launched a Covid-19-specific leave-of-absence policy that provides 100% of pay for up to eight weeks, reduced to 60% of pay for up to 16 weeks.
“Throughout this pandemic, we’ve continued to make sure we put our team first, knowing they are front and center in serving American families,” Target CEO Brian Cornell told Forbes recently. The retailer rolled out a wage hike and expanded benefits for employees and contributed to relief funds. Its various safety measures, which earned Target top marks in that category, include “installing Plexiglas partitions at check lanes, embracing rigorous cleaning and social distancing processes, metering the number of guests in our stores at any one time and providing our team with high-quality, disposable face masks and gloves to wear as they work,” Cornell added.
• Raised wages for more than 300,000 frontline workers.
• Offered 30-day paid leave for employees 65 or older, pregnant, or with underlying medical conditions.
• Implemented measures to help ensure a clean and safe shopping environment for customers and staff.
The media and telecom giant routinely practices emergency responses to a host of disaster scenarios. Still, no one could have predicted just how far-reaching the impact of the pandemic would be, said Jeff McElfresh, head executive of its AT&T Communications unit and one of the company’s chief engineers of its Covid-19 response. “I have never seen anything like this. ”
• Shifted 130,000 AT&T employees to work from home, raised worked pay and provided parents excused time off.
• Gave financially struggling customers extra time to pay past due bills.
• Donated $10 million to expand online learning.
The largest U.S. retailer by revenue announced in mid-May an additional wave of bonuses for employees totaling around $390 million. “Our associates’ efforts have been exactly what the country needed during this historic and uncertain time. They’ve made a real difference,” said Kathryn McLay, president and CEO of Sam’s Club, a Walmart subsidiary, in a press statement. Still, despite its efforts. Walmart faces a wrongful death lawsuit, filed in April, that alleges that management of a store in Evergreen Park, Illinois ignored a Covid-19 outbreak among the staff, leading to the death of two workers. “We are heartbroken at the passing of two associates at our Evergreen Park store and we are mourning along with their families,” a Walmart spokesperson said in an email statement. The lawsuit is pending.
• Committed almost $1 billion for special cash bonuses for U.S. hourly associates.
• Hired 200,000 workers, more than half of whom are temporary. Some came from hard-hit industries such as restaurants and hospitality.
• Established Covid-19 sick-leave policy with up to two weeks of pay.
The wireless carrier shuttered about 80% of company-owned stores in mid-March. “It might have been because Seattle was the early epicenter here in the U.S…We jumped in right away,” said Mike Sievert, chief executive of the Washington State-based company, at a virtual conference in May. “We immediately took actions to simultaneously keep our customers safe and our employees safe and keep our operations going.”
• Granted unlimited smartphone data for current customers with data plans through June.
• Relaxed attendance policy for workers and provided additional paid time off.
• Teamed up with several companies in April to donate some 40,000 phone chargers to hospitals nationwide.
In March, the company handed out payments of $300 to full-time hourly workers and $150 to part-time and seasonal workers. The company repeated the gesture in May. “We know how hard associates are working to help us keep our promise to communities that we will be here for them during difficult times,” said Marvin Ellison, Lowe’s CEO, in a statement announcing the bonuses. In April, Lowe’s unveiled an app that allowed store managers to monitor customer traffic to enforce social distancing.
• Spent $160 million on increased pay and bonuses for employees since March.
• Extended emergency leave and set aside relief funds.
• In May, began requiring workers to wear masks at stores or when working in customers’ homes.
The coffee giant began temporarily shuttering stores in the U.S., the company’s biggest market, in mid-March, shifting to a “to-go” model of service. The company continued to pay employees until May, even if they chose to stay home. In response to growing unemployment, the Starbucks Foundation donated $1 million to Feeding America’s Covid-19 fund. In support of global relief efforts, the Starbucks Foundation donated over $3 million to various organizations, including the UN Foundation and Give2Asia, as well as local grants in the U.S. and Canada.
• Offered employees who reported into work an additional $3 per hour and extended hardship grants to workers grappling with financial woes.
• Established a new mental-health benefit and expanded backup care policy.
• Sent thermometers to company-owned stores.
The home improvement retailer shortened store hours, allowing more time for cleaning and restocking; limited the number of customers allowed in stores; and eliminated major spring promotions to avoid luring traffic to stores. The retailer also froze prices on items in high demand. The Atlanta-based company gave full-time hourly workers a $100 per week bonus, and part-time hourly employees $50 per week; hourly associates also got double overtime pay. Home Depot also relaxed its time-off policies and extended dependent care benefits.
• Added 240 hours of paid time off for full-time hourly employees age 65 and older or determined by the CDC to be high-risk.
• Handed out thermometers to workers at stores and distribution centers to perform health checks before shifts.
• Donated N95 masks to healthcare providers.
The nation’s largest bank by assets offered customers struggling financially a 90-day grace period for mortgage, auto and card payments. While the bank faced criticism that it prioritized emergency loan requests from bigger clients, JPMorgan Chase said that in the first wave of the Paycheck Protection Program, its average loan was $123,000, with roughly half of loans going to companies with fewer than five employees. In May, JPMorgan Chase announced that it was giving out an additional 211,000 loans through the second round of the PPP, totaling $15 billion.
• Offered tellers $1,000 bonuses and granted all employees extra paid leave.
• Through its medical plan, agreed to cover testing for Covid-19 with no employee co-payment.
• Established several relief funds.
In late April, Kroger Health, the healthcare division of the company, unveiled plans to expand drive-thru Covid-19 testing to 50 locations in over 12 states to perform up to 100,000 tests by the end of May. “As part of Kroger’s commitment to help America reopen safely, we are proud to help expand access to Covid-19 testing as a partner in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Public-Private Testing Partnership,” said Rodney McMullen, Kroger’s chairman and CEO, in a statement announcing the initiative. Union leaders, however, criticized the grocer for ending a temporary $2 per hour pay increase, or “hero bonus,” in mid-May, after these rankings were calculated. (This complaint is increasingly common as companies that offered temporary pay increases ended the emergency measures.) As the hourly bonus expired, Kroger granted employees an additional one-time bonus of $400 to full-time workers and $200 for part-time associates.
• Expanded sick and emergency paid-leave policy.
• Made testing available to frontline employees.
• Offered a temporary $2 per hour pay increase, or “hero bonus,” through mid-May, then granted an additional one-time bonus of $300 to full-time workers.
The fast-food giant, with nearly 40,000 restaurants in 119 countries, responded by shutting down most play areas and dining rooms, depending more heavily on their drive-thru service and delivery. Company CEO Chris Kempczinski offered a 50% reduction in his base salary while other C-suite leaders took a 25% paycut from April 15 through September 30. In May, a group of McDonald’s workers in Chicago filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging that it failed to safeguard the health of staff and customers. A spokesperson for McDonald’s USA said “inaccurate characterizations” and “misinformation” was being spread about the company. “Crew and managers are the heart and soul of the restaurants in which they work, and their safety and well-being is a top priority that guides our decision making,” a company statement read.
• Served more than 10 million free “Thank You Meals,” valued at more than $50 million, to public safety and health workers.
• Expanded paid-leave policy.
• Company leaders cut their base salaries by 25% or more.
As the impact of the public health crisis emerged in March, the cable TV and internet provider offered its Spectrum internet for free for 60 days to students. Charter eventually opened the offer up to include educators and extended the aid through June. On April 2, the company announced that it would permanently raise its minimum wage to $20 an hour for all hourly employees, to be rolled out over two years. Charter’s advertising unit also donated $12 million worth of commercial time in support of Covid-19 public-service announcements.
• Increased wages for all hourly employees by $1.50 and vowed no layoffs or furloughs through at least June 19.
• Added two weeks of paid sick time for Covid-related illnesses; gave every employee an additional 15 days of flex time to care for children or other dependents.
• Pledged not to terminate service or charge late fees for customers facing economic difficulties linked to Covid-19.
In March, the second-largest U.S. bank by assets announced plans to offer eligible branch staffers a biweekly $200 bonus. Bank of America expanded employee benefits to include no-cost coronavirus testing and strengthened backup child- and adult-care services. The bank extended support with payments to consumers and small business clients, offering assistance with overdraft fees, non-sufficient fund fees, monthly maintenance fees, credit card and loan payments. Beginning in April, its small business clients became eligible for financial relief through the federal Paycheck Protection Program. Bank of America also donated more than 4 million masks to various organizations.
• Established a $100 million relief fund for local communities.
• Vowed not to have layoffs linked to coronavirus through 2020.
• Paid workers for a full-time schedule even if their hours were reduced; raised overtime pay for call-center employees to twice the normal hourly rate.
Centene purchased 50,000 gift cards to be delivered to people in need. The gift cards, with a value of $35 apiece, were to be used to buy critical healthcare and essential items such as diapers, cleaning supplies and books. “As we have seen both a public health and an economic crisis of unprecedented nature and scale unfold, we are acutely aware of the vital role we must play,” said Michael Neidorff, CEO of the company, in an April earnings call. “I am proud that we’re able to transition approximately 90% of our workforce to work remotely within just three days.” In April, the company established a leave policy for members of its clinical staff, who want to volunteer their medical skills. If the employee’s assistance is requested by state authorities, the medical staffer can take a leave of up to three months with pay and benefits. And in a partnership with testing company Quest Diagnostics, Centene launched an initiative to distribute 25,000 Covid-19 testing kits weekly to health centers in 10 states.
• With Feeding America, committed to donating 1 million meals a month for 12 months.
• Covered the cost of Covid-19-linked treatments for Medicare, Medicaid and marketplace members.
• Provided staffers with 10 additional days of paid leave; for those who remained in the office, granted a one-time payment of $750.
Anthem expanded employee health benefits and matched 200% of employees’ donations to certain charities. The company relaxed its prescription refill policies to aid customers practicing social distancing by sheltering at home. Anthem CEO Gail Koziara Boudreaux contributed two months of her salary to the Anthem Foundation to support an employee relief fund and food banks and to provide protective equipment to healthcare workers in Indiana, where the company is headquartered. “We know there is great fear and uncertainty among consumers right now, particularly when it comes to safe and affordable access to care,” Boudreaux said in an April call with analysts.
• Committed $50 million in relief funds.
• Waived customers’ out-of-pocket costs for Covid-19 tests and treatments; provided up to 80 hours of employee paid leave.
• Provided reimbursement of internet fees for hourly workers.
The tech giant offered the World Health Organization, along with more than 100 additional government agencies, $250 million in ad grants to help spread information on how to stop the spread of Covid-19. Alphabet also extended $20 million in such grants to community financial organizations and nonprofits to help get the word out on relief funds and resources for small businesses. The parent company of Google teamed with Apple to develop software updates to iPhone and Android devices to allow apps to track contact with anyone that uses a similar app and self-identifies as ill with Covid-19. The joint initiative will not develop apps but provide technical support to help apps work. Supporters say it will provide a crucial bit of information to people as workplaces and public spaces relax restrictions. Critics say that privacy concerns limit its usefulness as the tech giants will not allow apps to reveal contact location or share information with authorities.
• Committed over $800 million in grants, funds and other aid.
• Allowed workers to remain remote through 2020.
• Offered free access to Google Meet videoconferencing capabilities for G Suite customers through September 30.
The pharmacy operator is opening up to 1,000 drive-thru testing sites that use self-swab tests across the country. CVS aims to process 1.5 million tests per month. At the time of the mid-May announcement, the company operated rapid test sites in five states, with a capacity of 30,000 tests per week. “Our frontline employees will continue to play a critical role in the testing process, with members of their communities directly benefiting from their dedication and selflessness,” said Larry Merlo, CEO of CVS Health, in a statement announcing the move.
• Announced plans to fill 50,000 jobs.
• Waived charges for home delivery of drugs.
• Announced a backup dependent-care policy.
The tech giant closed all its China stores in February but reopened them by mid-March. Elsewhere around the globe, Apple voluntarily closed all stores, at least through March 27, and continued to pay hourly workers. The company also matched employee donations 2 to 1 in support of Covid-19 response efforts. Apple also allowed users of its Apple credit card to skip payments for March and April. “In this difficult environment, our users are depending on Apple products in renewed ways to stay connected, informed, creative and productive,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, in an April press release.
• Voluntarily closed stores around the world and continued to pay hourly workers.
• Helped find and donate more than 30 million masks to frontline medical workers.
• Released mobility data-trends tool to aid efforts to combat Covid-19.
The company, headquartered in Illinois, waived delivery fees for all eligible prescriptions. To temper panic buying, Walgreens limited the purchase of certain staples. With more than 9,200 drug stores nationwide, it temporarily reduced store hours in March before restoring most stores to original hours in May. Even as the chain moves to longer store hours, Walgreens assured that it would maintain enhanced safety measures, including social distancing guidelines and face covers. In late April, Walgreens announced plans to open Covid-19 testing locations in 49 states and Puerto Rico.
• Conducting daily health checks of select employees.
• Relaxed attendance policy and expanded paid sick leave.
• Gave full-time hourly employees in stores and distribution centers a $300 bonus.
Ford retooled production lines and partnered with 3M to make respirators; it announced in early May that it had assembled more than 10,000 units, with the ability to make 100,000 more. By late May, Ford had built over 32,000 units, a company spokesperson said. The carmaker, which also committed to producing hundreds of ambulances and 50,000 ventilators among other items, has also assisted Thermo Fisher Scientific and other companies with producing protective gear and medical equipment. “People in other industries have come to us during a time when we all need to help each other,” said Jim Hackett, Ford’s CEO, in an April statement.
• Promised to continue to provide health insurance to employees who elect to take sabbaticals.
• Top 300 executives deferred between 20% and 50% of salary.
• Pivoted to produce respirators and masks for Covid-19 protection.
Cigna launched a new program that provides affordable medications to anyone who has lost health care coverage because of the pandemic. The program capped costs at $25 for a 30-day supply of generics and $75 for a 30-day supply of select brand-name drugs. The initiative was offered through Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefit management organization and a subsidiary of Cigna. The Connecticut-based company also sought to push along the search for a treatment for Covid-19 by providing medications to Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Cigna aimed to help the school launch a clinical trial to assess antimalarial and antibiotic treatments for Covid-19.
• Gave employees 10 days of emergency paid time off for Covid-19-related absences.
• Offered free home delivery of medicine and waived out-of-pocket costs for Covid-19 tests.
• Temporarily boosted pay of U.S.-based employees with worksite-essential roles by 20%.
The parent company of Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse gave its hourly workers paid sick leave, a rare move in the service industry. The Florida-based company granted current employees an hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, a number calculated based on their recent work history, with up to a maximum balance of 60 hours. The permanent policy was in addition to an emergency pay program that was launched when the company shuttered its dining rooms and many employees were unable to work. Darden, which furloughed some 150,000 hourly workers and 20% of its corporate staff, began reopening restaurants in the last week of April.
• Granted paid sick leave to hourly employees.
• Senior leaders accepted pay reduction.
• Established an emergency-pay program for idled hourly workers.
The beverage company allowed employees who couldn’t report to a closed facility and couldn’t work remotely up to 12 weeks of full pay. Workers caring for someone either stricken with Covid-19 or showing symptoms were eligible for their pay during a 14-day quarantine period. “Facing very difficult conditions, we worked hard to ensure that our food and beverage products were on the shelves when shoppers needed them most,” said PepsiCo CEO Ramon Laguarta, in April. The N.Y-based company also provided 20 million meals to communities in need through PepsiCo Foundation’s Food for Good program.
• Expanded paid sick-leave policy.
• Vowed to invest some $50 million globally into affected communities.
• Offered enhanced benefits to all U.S. employees, with additional pay for frontline workers.
The dollar-store operator extended discounts to medical personnel, first responders and activated National Guardsmen. The company enforced social-distancing precautions in its more than 16,000 locations. Employees who need to stay home, because of their own illness or to care for immediate family, will still get paid for their hours. The Tennessee-based company shortened store hours to allow for cleaning of facilities, established hours for seniors and suggested a purchase limit on certain items to discourage hoarding of goods.
• Installed sneeze guards at registers.
• Instituted special store hours for vulnerable seniors.
• Set aside approximately $60 million in employee appreciation bonuses.
One of the largest U.S. banks, Wells Fargo announced in March $175 million in donations to bolster communities, small businesses and vulnerable populations impacted by the health crisis. The bank shuttered about 25% of its branches, roughly 1,400 locations, and updated its U.S. medical plan to eliminate out-of-pocket costs for necessary screening and testing for Covid-19. Wells Fargo shipped hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, masks, bandanas and other items to workers still reporting to an office and intensified cleaning procedures at its facilities. Wells Fargo also offered payment arrangements and a 90-day deferral to students and other lending customers.